Notes From Alabama’s First Spring 2016 Scrimmage

Alabama’s football team scrimmaged this past Saturday and there were several Tide booster clubs who were able to attend.  As usual, the Lighthouse spies were out in droves, cobbling together as much information as humanly possible for you all to consume.  Yes, you are welcome!  I like to think this little segment is our contribution to society – a sort of bread line for those of you who are starving for some Alabama football.

Fear not my friends!  The Lighthouse is here to offer up one last bountiful feast before we all go into a forced football hibernation until August.  So, grab yourself a fork and a spoon and let’s dig in….

Alabama on Offense

On what was a very windy Saturday afternoon, all eyes were on the quarterback situation once again.  You know, recently it seems the Crimson Tide can’t get thru a spring without some type of quarterback controversy.  Since AJ McCarron graduated in 2013, the Tide has seen spirited battles at the QB position.  First it was Blake Sims vs Jake Coker.  Then it was Jake Coker versus David Cornwell and a host of others.  This year, it’s….?????

Cooper Bateman admittedly boasts the most experience at the position and Saban himself said Bateman is currently the best at running the offense.  Bateman started off the scrimmage by leading a touchdown drive and then he followed that up by driving the Bama offense to a field goal.  Bateman never did anything flashy but he rarely made any horrific mistakes.  His worst throw was on a seam route where he badly missed a wide open receiver.  The ball floated into the waiting arms of Tide safety Hootie Jones but he dropped it while he was seemingly figuring out which end zone dance he would use.  Bateman did throw a beautiful ball to Calvin Ridley on the first drive…

Most practice observers are saying that David Cornwell had an OK day and that he performed well enough to continue to be mentioned for the starting gig.  Postgame comments from Saban indicated that, indeed, Cornwell is the best passer and has the strongest arm on the team.  Unfortunately, our spies (who concentrated their focus on the offensive side of the field) reported back that nearly every throw Cornwell made “wrong shouldered” his wide receivers.  This led to many throws behind his intended target that were either dropped, picked or he slowed his receiver down so much that he couldn’t make a play after the catch.  Overall, our crack team of “Spies Like Us” were unimpressed.

That leads us to Lighthouse favorite, Blake Barnett.  As you all know, Barnett won the Elite 11 competition two years ago and we here at the Hizzie put a tremendous amount of stock in that competition.  The leadership that Barnett exhibited during the Elite 11 was impressive but his throws were even better.  Quick, decisive.  Strong.  He looked exceptional and he won the Elite 11 competition going away.   However, on Saturday he wasn’t typically decisive and he spent much of the day under duress.  While he arguably made the two of the three best throws on the day – one 25 yard strike on a second read that revealed a wide open receiver down the middle and a two-minute drill beauty down the left sidelines for a long TD – he also made the three worst throws of the day.

Barnett’s first pick was thrown while he was under pressure waiting for a slow screen to develop.  Instead of taking the sack or throwing the ball away, Barnett decided to have some fun with what was essentially a jump ball.  Minkah Fitzpatrick came down with it and 55 yards later he was in the end zone with the first pick six of Barnett.  Yes, that was just the first Barnett pick six.  The second pick six came on Barnett’s next throw as he tried to fire a quick out in the slot.  A quick three step drop and a whoosh resulted in the ball being thrown right into Rueben Foster’s hands and he scored easily on the play.  Honestly, it was a great read and reaction by Foster but the ball never should have been thrown.  The last interception was perhaps the worst one as Barnett rolled right and flailed a 40 yard duck into double coverage.  Not. Good.  Blake Barnett still can stun you with his elusiveness as he had a 40 yard scamper that set up his two-minute drill touchdown throw but, with the mistakes, Barnett would have to be third on the depth chart at this time.  Sigh.

Lastly, our eyes in the skies were surprised at the amount of time Jalen Hurts got to spend at the QB position.  Hurts is a run first QB who will eventually have to learn how to turn his very good arm into a very accurate arm.  Unless there are injuries of epic proportions, Hurts will redshirt this year.

Running Backs

We’ll shorten these segments up now that you kids have all the information that you really and truly wanted.  However, you should know that the best player on the field Saturday was Bo Scarborough.  Mercy me, that kid can run.  Over.  Around.  Thru.  Bo Scarborough can flat-out tote the rock.  On his 95 yard TD run, he started to his left but cut back sharply to his right as he noticed the backside of the defense had caved in way too much.  He stiff armed the end and then exploded thru the arms of Kendall Sheffield.  As he stepped out of Sheffield’s corpse, Bo’s turbo kicked in and he outraced everyone the final 70 yards to the end zone.  Wow.  I mean, this was a WOW kind of play.

Damien Harris looked much, much more confident at RB and could see a decent amount of time as the third down back.  Scarborough has had some WR experience in his career but he dropped a couple of easy ones on Saturday.  Harris looks like he’s ready to emerge as a very solid #2 RB for the Tide (but Bo is the unquestioned #1).

Saban mentioned in the post-practice Q&A that the freshman RB from North Carolina would have to provide some relief at RB.  BJ Emmons – you have been warned!

Offensive Line

The only thing really noticeable along the OL was the fact that everyone seemingly played everywhere across the line.  Lester Cotton will start at either RT or LG – he’s easily one of the best five linemen.  Pierschbacher is the unquestioned center but he did have a few low snaps that he’ll need to improve on.  He held up pretty well otherwise and should do some real damage against a four man front.  I think when a nose tackle lines up inches from his grill that he’s still a bit shaky with that.  Alphonse Taylor has fallen to the second team and I don’t think he’ll get up.  Jonah Williams appears to be in line to start as a true freshman – this is a rare feat that is typically reserved for the likes of Andre Smith and Cam Robinson.  He was used at every position except center and seemed to fare well with every rep.  IM-Pressive!

Receivers

I think the lead story here is that OJ Howard committed three egregious drops.  The first, and the worst, of them was on a ball that he inexplicably jumped for.  First, he jumped prematurely.  Second, he didn’t need to jump as the ball hit him around the waist area.  Third, it was a floater that he just flat-out dropped.  Not good.

Ardarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley both looked good when given the opportunity.  Robert Foster was a blur as he was the only one on the field who could gain any ground on Scarborough’s 95 yard run.  With Foster wearing a black jersey, it was easy to see him passing up everyone on his way to Bo.  He fast!

Returners

Ridley and Stewart lined up as the primary kick returners at the beginning of practice.  Later, Xavian Marks lined up back there, as well.  Ridley appeared to be the primary punt returner but Daylon Charlot and Xavian Marks also lined up deep on occasion.

Alabama on Defense

The spies who love us spent the vast majority of their time watching the Bama offense so there isn’t a whole lot to report on the defense.  The front four, six and seven largely controlled the line of scrimmage and more or less dominated the red zone work at the end of practice.  With that being said, there were a few particular defensive foes that stood out from the rest…

Linebacker

Reuben Foster’s break on his pick six was phenomenal.  When he caught the ball, he was already accelerating to his top speed.  Also, Rashaan Evans played alongside Foster much of the time and never seemed lost at the position.  On one play, Evans read the pulling guard and he shot the gap for a tackle for loss.  Athleticism will not be an issue for Evans.

You’ve Got Hand

Da’shawn Hand is massive.  I mean massive.  Christian Miller looks to be a good size, as well.  Miller stood out in a kind of “who the heck is #47” kind of way.

Corner

Alabama has some really, really good starting corners with Humphrey and Fitzpatrick manning the position.  On Saturday, Anthony Averett appeared to be a kid who is vying for some playing time in the Tide secondary.  He’s exceptionally fast and was always in position to make plays on the ball.  Averett is making a move in the secondary.

Size Matters

Alabama’s front three of Josh Frazier (315 lbs), Da’ron Payne (315 lbs) and Dalvin Tomlinson (294) looked mighty, mighty impressive.  The three of them seemed to be the immovable force along the Tide’s front line.

Final Thoughts

With the flip-flopping and massive experimentation along the offensive line, it’s no wonder the defense seemed to own the day.  Sprinkle in four young QBs who are each trying to find their own way and you can see why Saturday was just a necessarily awkward first step towards having a viable offense for 2016.  To the good, playmakers like Bo Scarborough, Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart reminded us that Lane Kiffin needn’t reinvent the Air Coryell Chargers’ offense for Alabama to be successful.  Kiffin has accomplished much, much more with lesser talented QBs than are on the current roster so the expectation is that the Tide brain trust will cobble together something pretty outstanding.  They key to the 2016 offense, and any offense in our humble opinion, will be to solidify the front five along the offensive line.  Talent will not be an issue with guys like Lester Cotton and Jonah Williams so the trick will be to find the right spots for these kids to succeed.  Bradley Bozeman and Alphonse Taylor will provide valuable depth and experience, as well.

Defensively, Alabama will simply reload their arsenal with a new group of 4 & 5 star studs.  The secondary may actually be the strength of the 2016 defense while the front seven continues to be ridiculously deep and insanely athletic.  Perhaps the greatest recruiting wins for the Tide coaching staff in the offseason were keeping defensive guys like Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and Eddie Jackson on the 2016 roster.

Should be another fun season on the defensive side of the ball.  Now, about that QB position….

W2W4 Alabama vs Clemson

This is the W2W4 that I hoped I’d never have to write.  I’ve been going to Alabama games since I was three years old.  I applied to one single, solitary college coming out of high school because there was no doubt where I was going to school.  Alabama has been in my blood since birth.  I’m a proud graduate of the University of Alabama and, of course, I’m a huge fan of the football program.

Before I went to college at Alabama, I grew up in Pelham, Alabama.  We moved there when I was four and the majority of the kids that I went to first grade with ended up graduating with me from Pelham High School in 1988.  One of those kids was Dabo Swinney.

Dabo lived in my neighborhood and, for a short time, visited the girl across the street whom I had a bit of a crush on (we were 10 years old or so).  Naturally, she didn’t talk to me but she sure talked to Dabo!  Several afternoons I’d see Dabo, peddling his way down our hill headed back to his house.

I felt like I was a bit of an awkward kid growing up and from an early age I pretty much idolized Dabo Swinney.  He had the looks, the charm, the charisma, the athleticism and smarts – he had it all.  I never knew of any family issues that have been widely reported.  All I knew was that he was everything I wanted to be.  My haircut?  Dabo’s.  My clothes?  Dabo-esque.  I was a Dabo wannabe.

Back then and to this day, Dabo has had every reason in the world to ignore me but he absolutely never has.  He’s just a good dude.  When we were teammates on the Pelham High basketball team, he was the consummate teammate.  He was always upbeat and outgoing and he never big leagued anyone – he was just a great guy, all day every day.  He was a three sport athlete and our SGA president.  Dabo was absolutely the nicest guy you’d ever meet and he still is to this day, even with all the success and fame that he has earned.

In 2008 when Dabo took over the job at Clemson, a group of us from Pelham High School travelled up there to see visit him for a game.  Again, he had every reason in the world to not make time for us but, as usual, he was warm, welcoming and humbled that we came up to see him.  We got a great tour of the facility and we had the opportunity to see him film his coach’s show after the game.  Later, he told us about his vision of having an indoor practice facility just off the back of the football offices that we were standing in.  On November 9th of 2015 Clemson broke ground on the vision he had in 2008.

To this day, eight years later, he’s still the same great guy we knew in high school and he’s still just as excited to see us as he was in his first year on the job.  He and his wife, Kathleen (a Pelham High cheerleader), are as good as it gets and they are so perfectly matched.  Like Dabo, Kathleen is always an incredibly gracious host each and every time we come up to visit with them.  As you might expect, they are pulled in 100 different directions on game day but they always made time for the Pelham Posse and always seemed truly humbled that we had come up to visit.  That’s just the people they are…

Dabo is everything that is right about sports.  He’s everything that is good in a person.  He’s everything a parent or a university could ever hope for in a coach.  He keeps God first, his family a close second and he has earned everything that he has been given.  Along the way, he’s never forgotten the family, friends and relationships that he’s had throughout his life…

Tuscaloosa is a place that I will forever hold dearly in my heart.  My degree is something that I’m intensely proud to have, especially since I was the first person in my family to earn one.  But, places and things are not as important as people.  Friendships and our interactions with others are the legacies that we will leave behind long after we are gone from this earth and are to be valued much more than places or things.  So, as we begin this W2W4, know that I’m a Dabo fan first and a Bama fan second because I grew up idolizing him, became friends with him and admire him as a person, a husband, a father and a coach.  How can I not root for him?

Alabama on Offense

Here at the Lighthouse, we watch tape, analyze stats and listen to the various voices of reason that populate the airwaves.  But, primarily, we watch tape.  Our mission statement here is to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of Alabama football (and their opponents) so everything stated from this point on is my unbiased take on these two teams.  The analysis is the analysis and, as they say, “the eye in the sky don’t lie.”  The film is what it is, so let’s get to it…

In looking at Clemson’s defense, it’s mighty fun to watch.  Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables loves to blitz the bejeezus out of teams on any given down.  He has supreme confidence in his secondary and leaves them isolated in man to man with a single high safety much of the time.  This allows Venables to mix and match his blitzes at will and he makes things very, very difficult for the opposing offensive line.  Clemson will show a six man rush and then rush three.  They’ll then show a six man rush and bring five.  You just never know who is blitzing until the ball is snapped so finding a way to read out what’s coming will be very important for Jake Coker Monday night.

Across the front line, Clemson boasts four guys who are certainly SEC caliber.  Defensive end Kevin Dodd (98) showed up time and time again in the Oklahoma backfield and at 6’5, 275, he’s pretty stout against the run as well.  Freshman DT Christian Wilkins (42) has shown up throughout the season and at 6’4, 315 he’s hard to miss.  His athleticism is crazy good at that size and, again, he’s just a freshman.  The other DT is #94 Carlos Watkins and he brings 6’3, 300 lbs to bear on the defensive line.  A key question is whether or not their best defender, #90 Shaq Lawson, will be able to overcome an MCL sprain he suffered against Oklahoma.  My guess is that he will give it a go but he will be less than 100% on game day.  Anyway, the point here is that their front four is big, physical and athletic.  Sound familiar?  Any misgivings you have about the talent in the ACC should be tossed aside…

At linebacker, Ben Boulware (5’11, 240) and BJ Goodson (6’1, 250) are oftentimes lined up at the line of scrimmage forming a five or six man front and are used in run blitzes on early downs.  They bite hard on play action and, with the corners and safeties locked up in man to man, these ‘backers are used in blitzes repeatedly.  They seem much better against the run but both Boulware and Goodson made sweet interceptions against Oklahoma while dropping into zone coverage.  Venables will mix coverages so, again, identifying this pre-snap will be a goal for the Tide.

Even with all the accolades of the Tigers’ defensive line and linebackers, perhaps the strength of the Clemson defense is their secondary.  These guys honestly look like guys you’d see in the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary.  Their corners are fast and at 5’11, 195 and 6’1 198 they are physical as well.  Oklahoma had them beaten deep a few times so there will be opportunities for Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart down the field Monday night.  At safety, Clemson has one of the more physically dominant players we’ve seen at this position – Jayron Kearse (related to Jevon) is 6’1, 224 and is used all over the field.  At that size, he’s not quite as nimble as the others in the secondary so look for Lane Kiffin to try and match up Calvin Ridley against Kearse whenever possible.

Make no mistake about it.  Clemson’s defense is big, physical, fast and aggressive.  They want to establish a physical dominance at the line of scrimmage and they are not afraid to bring the house in order to make that happen.  Let’s get physical, baby!

W2W4 Alabama’s Offensive Plan

  • Oh Henry: Look for Derrick Henry to play a very large role in this game.  Unlike Michigan State’s secondary, Clemson’s defensive backfield is outstanding and is not the weak link by any stretch of the imagination.  Therefore, Alabama will likely be a run first team in this game.
  • Tight Ends: Look for Alabama to use a lot of heavy sets in an effort to eliminate the impact of the Clemson run blitzes.  Clemson tries to outnumber the OL at the line of scrimmage so Alabama will probably use two tight end sets more than usual.  This should even out the numbers and force Clemson to play more “straight up” on D.
  • Interior runs: Clemson rallies to the ball very well so we think Alabama will try to attack between the tackles Monday night.  Again, this should be a classic Derrick Henry centric attack.
  • Deep shots: Look for a number of deep shots designed to challenge Kearse and #25 Tankersley.  Alabama will favor those matchups and will look to take advantage any time they can (and Clemson will be in man to man coverage a LOT).
  • Max protection: With Clemson blitzing everyone except Dabo’s sons, Alabama will likely counter with max protection looks.  Brandon Greene may actually play a large role in this game as the second tight end both as a blocker and as a pass protector.
  • Slots of fun: Clemson plays tight bump & run on the corners but they play off coverage in the slots. Oklahoma found a lot of room when they motioned their slot receivers from one side to the other, getting free releases from the slots.  Look for Kiffin to utilize Ridley in the slot in an effort to get him some easy, free releases and to get him isolated on the aforementioned safety.
  • Motion: Clemson mixes their coverages beautifully and turned in two picks against Baker Mayfield last week by switching to zone.  It was puzzling to me why the Sooners didn’t have a man in motion to identify whether Clemson was in man or zone.  Look for Kiffin to move his receivers and tight ends around with shifts in order to get Clemson to declare their coverages.  Speaking of declaring…
  • Hard Counts: Clemson jumped offsides a couple of times against the Sooners so look for Coker to employ some hard counts.  Also, look for Bama to get to the line very early and bark out some signals in an effort to get the Tigers to show their blitzes.  This will be a fascinating chess match as Alabama will see the blitz and audible to another play…but then so will Clemson.
  • Edge rush: Dominick Jackson and Cam Robinson are both going to be tested repeatedly.  The key matchup will be whoever is asked to block (#98) Kevin Dodd – dude is a baller.  On the interior, #94 and #42 both made several plays so they will have to be rooted out of the middle in order to create some seams for the running game.
  • Screens: When you blitz, there’s a risk.  A well designed screen can exploit this risk.
  • Hot routes: OJ Howard better have his damn head on a swivel and recognize when he’s the hot receiver.  He will have opportunities but he will have to recognize them this week.
  • Coker runs: Again, when you blitz, you have risks.  Look for Coker to break containment and possibly have a couple of significant runs.
  • 98 degrees of heat: Watch out for #98 in orange.  Kevin Dodd.  Yes, I already mentioned this.  Yes, it’s worth mentioning twice.
  • Running lanes: Lastly, Henry’s biggest runs will likely happen when Bama exploits Clemson’s penchant for getting their DE’s up the field.  Their hell-bent upfield rush creates a lovely running lane for a back and should get Henry running free into the secondary.

Alabama will have numerous opportunities with one-on-one matchups down the field in the passing game so look for Ridley and Stewart to have several opportunities to make big plays.  These will likely come off of play action passes in early downs.  Meanwhile, the best way to attack Clemson’s blitzes is to run right at them.  If they begin stuffing Henry at the line of scrimmage, then Bama will have some severe problems as Coker will be throwing into the teeth of a very athletic secondary.

As we said, blitzing creates opportunities for big, big plays.  It’s interesting to note that Clemson gave up numerous big plays for touchdowns during the season:

  • NC State – 40 yard and 28 yard touchdown passes
  • Syracuse – 28 yard run
  • South Carolina – 57 yard TD pass
  • North Carolina – 46 yard TD pass
  • Florida State – 75 yard TD run
  • Notre Dame – 56 yard TD pass

That’s a lot of big plays to give up during the season so look for Kiffin to dial-up several deep shots during this game.  Monday, we expect to see some classic old school Alabama offense with Henry pounding away between the tackles and then Kiffin calling for some play action deep shots whenever the time is right.  But, this will be a very, very physical matchup and the fact that Shaq Lawson will either not play or not be 100% is a huge advantage for the Tide.

Alabama on Defense

This is by far the most diverse offensive attack Alabama has faced all season and is certainly more difficult than anything they saw in Pasadena, New Orleans or Miami in previous championship games.  Clemson’s offense of course begins and ends with Deshaun Watson.  Watson is an outstanding runner and is surprisingly a lot more physical than you’d imagine.  But, where he really excels is in throwing the deep ball.  He’s mighty good at that.  His ability to evade the rush and extend plays is what gives defensive coordinators the “night sweats” going into games.

On the ground, the kid that doesn’t get nearly enough credit is Wayne Gallman.  Gallman reminds me a little bit of Ezekiel Elliott as he has size, balance, power and speed and shows the ability to make defenders miss in a phone booth.  Clemson’s favored offensive play is the zone read and it is reminiscent of Auburn or Tennessee’s zone read offenses that Bama has faced in the past.  Make no mistake, Clemson wants to pound the rock as evidenced by ranking 18th in running the football this season (which ranks eleven spots better than Alabama, by the way).

One very effective variation that Clemson has of the zone read is to allow Gallman to lead Watson into the hole as a lead blocker.  This allows Clemson to essentially run a wildcat, outnumbering their opponents at the line of scrimmage.  Oklahoma’s small-ish linebackers struggled mightily with stacking and shedding blockers and, when they found themselves with a chance to make a tackle, they typically missed or got trucked.  Alabama usually stops this kind of attack with just their front four but with Clemson employing their tight end and running back as blockers, this creates a seven on four numerical advantage.  What this means is that Alabama’s safeties will likely be called upon for some serious run support.  Now, if you see #4 Eddie Jackson or #24 Geno Matias-Smith making a lot of tackles then you should know two things.  First, Bama’s front six is getting beaten.  Second, a deep shot is forthcoming.

Clemson has playmakers at every skill position on offense but the Lighthouse staff thinks their most dynamic player may be #16, tight end Jordan Leggett.  At 6’5, 255, Leggett is an adequate blocker but he does some real damage down the field as a receiver and is a favored target in the red zone.  Bama’s secondary historically struggles with defending backs out of the backfield and tight ends down the seams so we think Leggett will be a critical component of the Clemson attack.

Along the offensive line is where this game will be won or lost.  Clemson comes into the game ranked 14th in the country in giving up the fewest sacks (one per game).  But, when you turn on the tape, Watson is often seen being flushed from the pocket and being forced to scramble.  Now, it’s not like this is an issue for Watson but it is interesting to note that the few amount of sacks appears to be more about Watson’s incredible ability to escape than it is about Clemson’s protection.  During the Oklahoma game, we saw three different Clemson offensive linemen get thrown to the ground by Sooner linemen so it appears they have some trouble anchoring.  In particular, sophomore guard Tyrone Crowder (55) and freshman tackle Mitch Hyatt (75) appeared to have issues in pass protection against stunts and games and that bodes well for a front four (or front ten) that gobbles offensive linemen up for lunch.  Here’s what we think we’ll see from the Bama defense…

W2W4 Alabama’s Defensive Game Plan

  • Bama’s front four: Against other dynamic running QBs this year, Alabama’s front four has completely dominated to the point that they were able to shut down running games all by themselves.  The job Bama’s front four did against Dak Prescott and MSU was simply amazing.  However, I don’t see how that is going to be possible against Clemson given the numerical blocking advantage we mentioned above.  If Bama’s front four can somehow stifle the zone read running game then this game will be essentially over.  But with Clemson throwing seven blockers at the line of scrimmage, Bama’s front will need some help…
  • Run support: With Clemson’s ability to throw seven blockers in front of Watson, it’s imperative that Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster and Shon Dion Hamilton be able to make plays from the linebacker position.  Oklahoma’s ‘backers had several opportunities to make tackles against Gallman and Watson but they failed miserably.  Bama’s backers will have to come up huge in this game and they cannot afford to miss many tackles.
  • Stacking and shedding: Bama’s line and linebackers do a great job of posting up on a blocker and then shedding them in order to make tackles.  They will need to be at their best on Monday – but this is the best group I’ve ever seen at this.  Again, if Alabama stops the zone read with just their front four or even the front six, this game should be over.  Clemson’s bread and butter is their running game.  And it is not a soft running game…
  • Safety help: If you seen Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson making tackles, it’s a bad, bad day for Alabama’s defense.  They’ll be called upon for run support throughout the game.  Look for them to run blitz on early downs in an effort to stack the line of scrimmage whenever they read run.
  • Stay in your lane: Oklahoma’s defensive ends took themselves out of the play several times by arcing wide around the tackle.  Alabama will stunt and run games on the interior but their ends will likely not come wide unless it’s Tim Williams or Ryan Anderson playing “sic em” on a passing down.
  • Trick plays: Dabo is fearless and enjoys a gimmick play once or twice a game.  Look for Clemson to play a little trick or treat on some kind of reverse pass or double pass kinda thing.
  • Coverage: Watson has thrown 12 interceptions and he threw a few ill-advised passes against the Sooners.  Also, he missed high several times on some pretty easy throws.  On passing downs, look for Alabama to rush three and drop Evans or Ragland into a spy role.  Playing coverage could pay dividends, especially if Bama generates pressure from their front four (as they should).  I don’t think Alabama will blitz much at all on passing downs as they will be playing with fire.
  • Empty sets: If Watson is in an empty set, he’s either throwing a quick bubble screen or, more likely, he’s keeping on a QB draw.
  • Third and Watson: If it’s third and short, Watson will be called upon to run for a first down.
  • Read and replace: Alabama’s corners will be called upon for run support on the perimeter so look for the safeties to replace them in coverage.  Basically, you’ll see Humphrey or Jones come up from their corner position for run support, leaving their WR open.  Therefore, the safety will have to come over the top to replace the corner who is containing the edge.
  • Deep shots: Alabama isn’t the type of defense that allows 10 play drives.  Therefore, if I were Dabo I’d take a deep shot every other series (particularly looking for the TE down the seam).
  • Colt McCoy: If Watson runs the football a lot, he’s likely to encounter a hit that is remembered for centuries to come.  “If only we’d had Watson…”

Clemson’s offense threatens you in every way possible.  They take vertical deep shots.  They throw bubble screens and throw “now” passes on the perimeter.  They run the option.  They run the zone read.  They run the fly sweep.  And trick plays?  You bet.  The key to all of this is having an offensive line that can protect and provide running lanes so the battle for the Natty will be won right here along Clemson’s offensive line.  My notes show that there were several points of failure against OU along Clemson’s offensive line so that bodes well if you are an Alabama fan.

Alabama on Special Teams

Neither Alabama nor Clemson really excels in net punting average so this should be more or less a draw.  Of note, JK Scott had a sub-par game in Dallas so his first couple of punts will bear watching.

In the return game, it’s all Alabama.  Cyrus Jones has returned four punts for touchdowns this season and is ranked 20th in the country in return yardage (12.72 yards per return).  Meanwhile, Clemson is 126th in the country with a 1.64 yards per return average.  Huge advantage to the Crimson Tide.

On kickoff return defense, Bama excels again as they come in ranked 19th in the country by giving up only 18.71 yards per return.  Meanwhile, Clemson struggles here, as well – they are ranked 107th in the country and give up 23.76 yards per kick return, including two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season.

Clemson trotted out a fake punt (one on purpose and one disastrous ad-lib) in each of their last two games so “punt safe” may be something the Tide invests in a few times during the game.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

There are a few things that lead me to believe that Alabama will win this game and, again, I say this not because I’m an Alabama fan or a Dabo fan but because this is what the tape and what the evidence of the season leads me to conclude.  I know there are probably several upset Clemson fans (and friends of mine) who are reading the Lighthouse W2W4 for the first time and are thinking this Alabama football blog is simply pandering to its target audience.  That’s simply not the case.  I’ve picked Alabama to lose before (and was wrong) and I’m sure that I will again.  Clemson is the best team (by far) that Alabama has faced this season – both offensively and defensively.  So, here’s our reasoning for an Alabama win…

On film, Clemson’s offensive line is seen giving up penetration and, at times, getting tossed to the side (and that was against a small-ish Oklahoma team).  Alabama’s defensive line has full grown men with a very nasty attitude and I’ve seen them play “lineman toss” all season long.  The film doesn’t suggest that Alabama’s defensive line will be stalemated.  Alabama’s line has the ability to grab an offensive lineman by the jersey and cast him aside.  At times, this is stunning to see.  If Alabama’s line dominates this matchup, which the film says they will, then the game tilts heavily in Alabama’s favor.

And, the turnover margin is a big, big deal.  In this kind of game that features two extremely talented teams you simply can’t be careless with the football.  Clemson’s players are every bit as good as any SEC team you want to envision so this whole “ACC is soft stigma” is completely inaccurate when you look at their roster.  Clemson will be able to go toe to toe with Alabama and we envision this being a very close game.  So, ball security will matter.  Alabama is 20th in the nation in turnover margin and would be 8th in the country were it not for the five turnovers committed during the Ole Miss game.  Stunningly, Clemson has a negative turnover margin and is ranked 107th in the country in this category.  It’s nearly impossible to be undefeated while losing the turnover battle time and time again but that speaks to the talent and the coaching that Clemson has on their sidelines.  Clemson will likely not be able to get away with careless turnovers Monday evening.

Offensively, Alabama will have to run the football into the belly of the Tigers in order to succeed.  The strength of the Tigers’ defense appears to be in their defensive backfield and in their athleticism so it seems that running between the tackles would be the best recipe to success.  Oklahoma had early success with Perine running between the tackles but went away from him for whatever reason after their first drive of the game.  But, Clemson will attack the line of scrimmage with an overwhelming number of bodies so running lanes will be difficult to find (and those pesky Bama negative plays will be back with a vengeance) for Henry.  Blitzing, however, creates opportunities and Alabama has shown the ability to attack man to man coverage deep.  Calvin Ridley is a friggin stud and usually wins his 1-on-1 matchups so it’s risky to leave a DB isolated in man to man.

Aside from the tape, the stats and results from the 2015 season lean heavily towards Alabama.  Clemson’s biggest wins during the season were against Notre Dame and Florida State – two teams that got taken to the woodshed during bowl season.  Clemson gave up 32 points to South Carolina who is ranked 110th in total offense.  They gave up 27 to a Syracuse team that ranks 77th in total offense.  They gave up 42 points to NC State and another 37 to North Carolina.  That’s a lot of points!

When Alabama doesn’t turn the ball over 5 times, the Crimson Tide defense gave up more than 17 points only one other time this season (23 to Texas A&M).  So, the odds and the stats say it’s far more likely for Clemson to give up over 20 points than Alabama and I think the winner will need to score more than 20.

I think Alabama fans will be shocked at the athletes that Clemson will be throwing at them.  They will be shocked by the physicality of the Tiger defense.  They’ll be stunned at the strength of Gallman and Watson.  And, they’ll be biting their nails well into the fourth quarter.

But, in the end, Bama’s depth, strength and track record should mean they win this game.  But Clemson will have a helluva lot to say about it before it’s done.  And, if Clemson beats this Alabama team, they have every right to claim their 2015 Tigers are the greatest team in college football history.  15-0 has never been done in the history of college football and to attain that they’ll have to defeat one of the greatest defenses in the modern era.  Yeah.  Claiming the title of greatest team ever – that’s a Yabba Dabo-doo if they win this game.

Final Score:  Alabama 24  Clemson 20

*Note:  This should be one helluva game.

Alabama vs Clemson By the Numbers

We’ve been away for a while tending to the bulbs in the Lighthouse but this week the lights are on and somebody is finally home!  Later on this week we’ll post a couple of articles about the upcoming game against Clemson in an effort to give you a preview of the upcoming showdown so stay tuned…

But first, we offer you a number of statistical comparisons between Clemson and Alabama.  Here are the offensive rankings and stats for both teams:

Alabama Clemson
Stat Rank Stat Rank Stat
Total Offense 51 423.8 11 512.0
Scoring Offense 33 34.4 16 38.4
Passing Offense 68 219.4 26 283.4
Rushing Offense 29 204.4 16 228.6
3rd Down % 96 0.362 13 0.477 Note Clemson’s 3rd down D below
Sacks Allowed 31 1.43 13 1.14

The first thing you should notice is that Clemson’s offense ranks much higher than Alabama in every statistical category – even rushing.  Deshaun Watson plays a huge role in their running game but the guy who really has transformed their offense is Wayne Gallman.  The unheralded Gallman leads the Tigers in rushing with 1,482 and averages 5.5 yards per carry.  Watson also averages 5.5 yards per carry and his 1,032 rushing yards gives the Tigers two 1,000 yard rushers this season.  Both Watson and Gallman display excellent vision and patience and they have an uncanny ability to break free of tackles, so they earn what they get on the ground.

Meanwhile, everyone is pretty familiar with Derrick Henry’s accomplishments this season but, for a comparison, you should know that he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and has 2,061 yards rushing on the season.  Oh, and he has that sweet stiff-arming statue to commemorate his unbelievable season.  And, according to the stats below, Henry should be called upon to carry the load Monday night.

Other things to notice in the chart above – look at how few sacks Clemson has given up this season.  In the chart below, you’ll see that Alabama is ranked #1 in sacking the QB so something will have to give between Clemson’s OL and Alabama’s beasties.  Also, compare Alabama’s 3rd down % listed above to Clemson’s 3rd down defense shown below.  Ugly.   Lastly, for all the love and hype of the Clemson offense (all of it has been earned and is deserved), Alabama’s offense generates just four fewer points per game.

Now to the defensive side of the ball

Bama Rank  Stat Clemson Rank  Stat
Total Defense 2 256.8 6 301.6
Scoring Defense 1 13.4 16 20.0
Passing Defense 18 186.0 9 177.2
Rushing Defense 1 70.8 18 124.4
3rd Down % 5 0.277 2 0.257
Sacks 1 3.57 8 3.07

Ok, so it’s not surprising to see Alabama’s defense ranked atop a number of categories but…wow.  Scoring, Total Defense, Rushing Defense and Sacks – Bama is ranked first or second in the entire country.  Pretty impressive.  But, then if you look across at Clemson’s rankings, they are quite impressive as well!  They are in the top 10 in Total Defense, Passing Defense, Third Down Defense and Sacks – that’s probably not what you were expecting to see if you are an Alabama fan.  Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables employs a hyper aggressive “downhill” attack designed to disrupt and confuse the offensive line and he’s obviously been very successful this season.  Clemson’s defense has some fantastic athletes who are certainly SEC caliber defenders so they are legit – but we’ll talk more about this in the coming days.  Your takeaway should be “wow, I didn’t know Clemson’s defense was that good!”

Ok, so their rankings are good but I know you skeptics are going to ask “who have the Clemson Tigers played?”  I mean, they play in the woeful ACC so that’s going to skew their stats, right?  Hmm.  Let’s see…

Here are the top 30 Scoring Offenses that Alabama and Clemson have faced this season:

Alabama:  Ole Miss (8), Arkansas (27) and Tennessee (29)

Clemson:  Oklahoma (4) and North Carolina (9)

Here are the bottom 30 Scoring Offenses Alabama and Clemson have faced:

Alabama:  Florida (100)

Clemson:  South Carolina (110), Wake Forest (119) and Boston College (120)      *Note:  South Carolina scored 32 points against Clemson.

Ok, so that shows the really good offenses and the really bad offenses that Alabama and Clemson have faced this season but what about the overall strength of schedule?  Doesn’t the overall schedule impact these statistical rankings and strongly favor the Crimson Tide?

Well, as you probably know, Alabama’s strength of schedule is ranked #1 in the country.  Alabama has faced 12 bowl teams this season.  Clemson’s strength of schedule is actually quite impressive as their strength of schedule is ranked #8 in the country and they have played 8 bowl teams this season.  So, this is a long way of saying that the stats that we’ve posted in this article should not be dismissed as each team has played quality opponents.  In particular, Clemson’s defensive rankings should not be taken for granted.

Moving along, here are the special teams stats and some intangibles that you might be interested in seeing….

Bama   Clemson
Stat Rank Stat Rank Stat
Net Punting 82 36.71 64 37.29
Punt Returns 20 12.72 126 1.64
Kickoff Returns 109 18.97 52 21.54
Kickoff Return D 19 18.71 107 23.76

With the punt returns and kick return defense strongly favoring the Tide, Alabama appears to have a decided advantage here.  This could play a large role in the game.

Lastly, here are some key intangible stats to keep in mind…

Bama Clemson
Stat Rank Stat Rank Stat
Fewest Penalties 68 6.21 48 5.71
Turnover Margin 22 0.64 74 -0.07

Perhaps the most important stat in this entire article is turnover margin.  Alabama ranks 22nd in the country in turnover margin and, if you remove the FIVE turnovers against Ole Miss, then Alabama would rank 8th in the country.  Meanwhile, Dabo has lamented that the Tigers have lost the turnover battle in several games this season.  The fact that they have a negative margin (that’s per game) and are still playing in the championship game is a credit to the amount of talent and the quality coaching staff that the Tigers have.  Typically, when you are losing the turnover battle you are losing football games so protecting the football should be of paramount importance for both teams Monday night.

So, that’s a look at these two teams by the numbers.  Again, your takeaway (if you are a Bama fan) is that you probably didn’t know Clemson was ranked so highly on both sides of the ball.  Phil Savage stated that Clemson was by far the best team that Alabama has faced in any of their championship games and he went on to say that there are probably 16 Clemson players that would easily make the Alabama squad (and with Alabama’s embarrassment of riches on the roster, this is a strong statement) so look for this game to be a hotly contested game Monday night.

Tune in on Friday (hopefully) as we provide our usual W2W4 for this epic matchup!

W2W4 – SEC Championship Game

On Saturday, Alabama has a chance to become the first team since 1998 (Tennessee) to win back to back SEC titles.  For all of Nick Saban’s success at Alabama, it’s kind of amazing that he hasn’t won back to back SEC championships but he does own back to back National Championships rings.

So, the only thing standing in Saban’s way of winning his fourth SEC championship in nine years is a Florida team that can’t seem to score against tall grass.  Should be an easy win, right?  I mean, Alabama’s defense is the best in the country while Florida’s offense is ranked at or near the bottom of nearly every offensive category imaginable.  Alabama leads the conference in sacks.  Florida leads the conference in getting sacked.  Perhaps you are getting the picture?  Here are a few stats to mull over as you prepare for this game.  To sum it up, Alabama’s defense is very, very good.  Florida’s offense is very, very bad.  So, this game will simply come down to whether or not Alabama’s offense can find a way to score….

Category Alabama SEC Rank NCAA Rank Florida SEC Rank NCAA Rank
Scoring offense 34.5 3 34 25.3 10 92
Total offense 421.3 6 51 351.9 12 104
Rushing offense 206.2 3 28 137 13 103
Passing offense 215.2 5 73 214.9 6 74
Scoring defense 14.3 1 3 15.5 2 5
Total defense 264.6 1 2 283.6 2 5
Rushing defense 78.9 1 1 111.3 2 7
Passing defense 185.7 5 16 172.3 4 9
Turnover margin +7 3 27 +10 1 12

 

Alabama on Offense

After toting the rock 46 times against Auburn, most human beings would be a little leg-weary going into their next game.  Thankfully, Derrick Henry is not most human beings.  And while it’s true that Florida’s defense will be the very best defense that Alabama has faced this season, it certainly bodes well for the Tide that Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook rushed for 180 and 183 yards respectively when facing the Gator defense.  But, you should know that Cook banged out 112 of those yards on the last two drives of the game – evidently the Florida defense was tired of being out there all night long.

For as long as Nick Saban has been the head coach at Alabama, when he’s faced a defense that is stout up front like this one is, his offensive game plan typically begins with an air assault.  I’ve long admired the work of Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins – a former Bama staffer – when he was at Mississippi State.  One of the first hires Jim McElwain made was to pry Collins away from the Bulldogs and that move has paid dividends ever since.  At MSU, Collins’ defenses made Alabama work very hard to move the football and, invariably, Bama had to take to the air to do so.

Against FSU (who runs a very, very similar offense), Collins brought 8 men down into the box with regularity.  They pressed the Seminole receivers and provided very few passing lanes for QB Sean McGuire.  The Gators play a very aggressive defense and they can afford to do so because they have two of the best corners in the country so with them in the secondary, blitzing means never having to say you are sorry.  The final score of the FSU game was 27-2 but that’s pretty misleading.  The Florida D held up well until the fourth quarter and it was 13-0 with 10:00 to go in the game.  Here’s what else we saw…

Eight is Enough:  Collins stacked 8 men in the box repeatedly.  Look for Bama to throw on early downs off of play action – they should take deep shots here, too.

Third Down for What:  Collins will be sending Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet and Cupid blitzen on nearly every third down and long.  Bama may have to bring in Brandon Greene at TE in order to max protect on these downs.  The Gators use delayed blitzes extremely well as they identify if the back stays in to protect and, if so, the LB assigned to the back will blitz.  Of course…

Slippin’ Away:   FSU hit the Gators on a pretty nifty play where the back stayed in to block but then slipped out into the secondary for a pass.  Screens could be effective here but the line will have to identify the LB assigned as he will be in man to man and will be in position to blow up the play.  Florida plays man to man underneath on the backs so look for Kiffin to use Stewart out of the backfield on a play or two.

Wide Open Spaces:  Florida misaligned several times against FSU to the point where it seemed like they were coached to do so.  It’s hard to describe but the Gators play a four man front with one of their defensive tackles lined up over the center.  This puts three of the four DL on one side of the ball, leaving the other side of the ball vulnerable.  Dalvin Cook took advantage of this a few times so look for Henry to do so, as well.

Picket Fence:  In the red zone, Florida plays a bit of a picket fence coverage along the goal line.  Look for a slant or crosser in front of the fence to draw up coverage so that the back of the end zone is open.

At a Loss:  Florida’s defensive line absolutely destroyed FSU’s zone blocking as they slanted and got up field, using the OL’s lateral flow against them.  Jonathan Bullard (90) and Cece Jefferson (96) were regulars in the Nole backfield.  Look for Bama to use more isolation blocking and pullers in this game in an attempt to get a hat on a hat and drive Florida off the ball.  Florida’s line has decent size but not great as they have only one DL over 300 lbs.  Their ends are 280 & 265…

Tidebits

  • Given time, Coker should be able to hit some deep crossing patterns against the Gators.
  • Bryan Cox (94) has a heckuva speed rush so Cam Robinson will need to play well Saturday.
  • Linebacker Antonio Morrison (3) has a knee injury so look for Bama to attack him in any one on one situations.
  • Alabama should challenge Florida with deep balls off of double moves. The Tide line will have to max protect to allow enough time.
  • Rolling Coker out could be useful.
  • The linebackers bite HARD on play action so OJ Howard could actually have a role this week.
  • Florida’s defense capitulated in the 4th quarter, allowing Dalvin Cook to run wild. Look for their defense to wilt in the second half if the Gator offense is sputtering as expected.

Alabama on Defense

Florida’s offense is bad.  Really bad.  And, as you might expect, the offensive line is largely to blame (well, that and a terribly inaccurate QB).  The Gators’ line is a patchwork line and it’s anchored by a kid playing center (63 – Tripp Thurmond) who is barely able to complete his snaps back to the quarterback.  When he is able to fire off a good snap, Thurmond is then typically rag-dolled shortly thereafter by some big behemoth on the defensive line.  I imagine A’Shawn Robinson, Jarren Reed and the rest of the interior linemen are foaming at the mouth to take on these guys.

Coach Jim McElwain and his offensive coordinator (and former Bama OC) Doug Nussmeier were often able to scheme their receivers open only to find that their QB could not deliver the football.  Treon Harris is a running back playing QB and his accuracy leaves you to wonder if he’s throwing with the correct hand.  His footwork is lousy, he can’t read the blitz, he holds the ball too long and he can’t throw an accurate pass – other than that, he’s great!  Here’s what else we saw when we watched the film….

Ready, Throw, Aim:  Treon Harris is strugglin’ folks.  In our one game review we saw him miss seven different open receivers.  SEVEN.  And, he had five other passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.  Harris apparently is a member of the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight so look for Bama to rush four and play coverage or rush three and have a spy.

Right Round:  When Harris is flushed from the pocket, he immediately scrambles to his right.  If Alabama blitzes, look for them to attack from Harris’ right side.  But, Bama’s front four should own the line of scrimmage so blitzing really shouldn’t be called upon too often.

O-No-Line:  As we mentioned, the center is really bad.  His snaps are bad, he struggles at the point of contact and he can’t pick up interior blitzes.  Our notes show the right guard and right tackle struggled as well so it’s no wonder this offense struggles.  All the plays and playmakers in the world aren’t worth a nickel if the OL can’t get their jobs done.

Tight-end Up:  Jake McGee (83) was Harris’ go to receiver, catching three passes in the flats.  Look for quick passes to the backs and tight ends as McElwain tries to isolate the Achilles heel of the Alabama pass defense (LBs).

Not Pretty Fly:  90% of Florida’s runs were between the tackles with Taylor and Harris.  They very rarely threatened the perimeter even though they showed a fly sweep on nearly every run.

Tidebits

  • Look for several funky formations and multiple tight ends to be employed as Coach McElwain tries to scheme himself a few first downs and big plays.
  • Florida State stuffed the Gators running attack using only six defenders. This is good news for Bama fans.
  • QB runs will be the order of the day and will be the one facet of the Florida offense that presents any issues.
  • Antonio Calloway (81) and Demarcus Robinson (11) will threaten the Bama DBs on deep balls. Honestly, this will be the best opportunity for Florida to score.  Long drives simply will not work.
  • If Alabama does blitz, look for Florida’s backs to completely blow their assignments. They aren’t into blocking at all.
  • We saw the center and right tackle get tossed away like an old dirty sock several times – once by a Seminole safety!

Alabama on Special Teams

Adam Griffith and JK Scott have clearly (and quite literally) hit their stride over the second half of the season.  Conversely, Florida’s kicker is 5 of 13 on the season and the staff would rather listen to a Verne and Gary broadcast than send him out onto the field.  He’s really bad.

Florida is sixth in the conference in kick returns and sixth in punt returns so kick coverage will be critical this week.  Florida averages 44.16 yards per punt while Alabama is one spot behind them (5th) with an average of 43.35 so both punters should fare well in the Georgia Dome.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

There should absolutely be no way for Florida to win this game unless Alabama does the unthinkable and commits 5 turnovers again and I don’t think any of us believe that will happen.  This game should be a street fight for three-quarters simply because Florida’s defense and defensive coordinator are outstanding.  But, in the end Alabama’s depth and talent should win out and move on to Dallas for the final four of the College Football Playoffs.

Final Score:  Alabama 23               Florida 6

2015 Iron Bow Review

How did Alabama and Adam Griffith answer “The Kick Six?”  Well naturally with a kick seven!  Griffith kicked two extra points and five field goals, one of which was a 50 yard bomb that flew over the head of a Tiger return man, landing 10 rows deep in the end zone.  Seven attempts, seven solid kicks in the behinds of the Auburn Tigers.  Auburn even missed a field goal of their own leaving Gus Malzahn lamenting over the fact that they could have hung 16 on Alabama…

And how did Alabama counteract the presence of two Heisman trophy winners on the Auburn sidelines?  By introducing Bo Jackson and Cam Newton to their new roomie in the Heisman House – Mr Derrick Henry.  Bo got to witness history as Henry broke more records than the invention of CDs – here are just a few:

  • Most rushing yards in a single season in Alabama history – 1,797
  • Most rushing touchdowns in a single season in Alabama history – 22
  • Most carries in a single season in Alabama history – 46
  • Most rushing yards in an Iron Bowl – 271 (sorry, not sorry, Bo)
  • Most 200 yard games in a season in SEC history – 4

There was very little that Straightjacket Will’s defense could do to stop the King Henry train and now he owns the Iron Crown, the state , the entire SEC and, very soon, a Heisman trophy.  Ahh, it’s good to be the king…

As for Bama fans, it’s good to be us, as well!  Bama has now won two straight against the Tigers…and four of the last five…and six of the last eight.  When Auburn wins it requires miracles and heroics that their fans post on social media, hang banners and create catchy slogans.  When Alabama wins, they simply move on to the SEC championship game.  There are no murals, no slogans, no catch phrases and no miracles.  Such is the life of an Alabama fan as beating Auburn is simply expected.

And now we’re on to Florida…after the Iron Bowl review, of course…

Alabama on Offense

Welp, this shouldn’t be a difficult section to right.  Derrick Henry to the left.  Derrick Henry to the right.  Derrick Henry up the middle.  Of the 76 plays that Alabama ran, Henry carried the ball 46 times – a stunning 60.5%.  Of the 465 yards Bama gained, Henry was responsible for 271 – that’s 58% of the offense.  And, late in the game, all of God’s children knew that Henry was getting the football (14 straight times, in fact) and yet Straightjacket Will’s defense was powerless to stop him.  In essence, that was your ballgame and your “Alabama on Offense” report.  However, there were a couple of key plays that we wanted to bring your attention to…

Jake the Snake:  Coker make three exceptional plays that were directly responsible for 10 points so we feel strongly that his exploits should be mentioned.  The first play was a 3rd & 8 play where Coker somehow eluded the rush, escaping the grasp of an Auburn lineman in the process, and scrambled forward for seven tough yards.  The fact that he didn’t lose seven was amazing enough but to think he actually gained seven was unthinkable at the time.  This set up a 4th & 1 that Alabama was somehow forced to convert twice (which they did).  Two plays later, Coker eluded Carl “if only he could return Auburn could have an average defense” Lawson AND five-star “stud” Byron Cowart and fired the game winning touchdown pass to Ardarius Stewart.  Two amazing plays that exhibited the style and the leadership that put Bama on the cusp of another SEC championship.

Jake the Late Hit Snake:  Most folks forget that it was Coker’s ability to evade the rush once again that led him to the sidelines for an eventual late hit against the Auburn defense.  Coker’s escapability was on display once again as he avoided a sack and ran out-of-bounds, negating a loss.  There, he was pushed out-of-bounds (in the field of play) by one Tiger and then a second Tiger hit him three yards out-of-bounds (i.e. not in the field of play).  The flag for the late hit was a no brainer and while the medics and trainers attended to the poor ref who destroyed his backside when he slipped and fell, this gave time for Muschamp to lose his ever-lovin mind.  Thirty yards later, Bama was in position to kick another field goal and make it a two score game – all thanks to Coker’s ability to avoid pressure (and Muschamp’s inability to handle his internal pressure).

Straightjacket Will:  Will Muschamp isn’t the head coach of the Auburn Tigers.  That designation belongs to Gus Malzahn.  Gus has some latitude with the refs but any other assistant coaches simply do not.  Frankly, it’s amazing that Muschamp didn’t get a second flag for unsportsmanlike behavior (i.e. going Red Ross or David Banner/Hulk on the refs).  Had Muschamp received a second flag, he would have been ejected and, as a referee texted me, by rule Gus Malzahn would have been ejected, as well.  It was clear that Gus wasn’t happy with Will and, honestly, I do not expect them to coexist in the future.

Ridley’s Believe It or Not:  Calvin Ridley is a straight up playmaker.  On one WR screen, he left some AU undergarments on the field as he juked an Auburn defender right out of his shorts.  Two plays later, Ridley came down with a tremendous diving catch at the AU 4 yard line.  While Gary Danielson screamed for a review, the replays showed that Ridley had made yet another incredible play…as a true freshman.  Wow.

Nowhere to Run To:  Facing 2nd & goal from the Auburn one yard line, Auburn stuffed Henry for his only loss of the game.  From the left side of the Bama line, Ross Pierschbacher was absolutely blown off the line of scrimmage and tight end Brandon Greene was destroyed off the right side.  The result was a pinching action that left Henry with nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide.

Final Nail:  I’ve heard that some folks were upset about Bama “running up the score” with the last touchdown.  There was still over a minute left and Alabama was facing  4th & 1 – they needed to convert one final first down for the game to actually be over.  Bama ran a dive play off the right tackle and blocks by Stewart, Robinson, Jackson and Hentges (!) opened up a hole that easily Henry exploited, going untouched into the end zone.  Bama had to run a play and it was just a simple dive play so…..

Tidebits

  • Bama used three flip passes and five WR screens to work the flanks of the AU defense.
  • Henry slipped and fell on four cuts. The ref, though, had the worst slip & fall experience.
  • The offensive line blocked the interior about as well as it can be done on several occasions. Ryan Kelly and Alphonse Taylor were particularly effective on the interior.
  • I don’t understand how we are 12 games into the season and there is no other back on Alabama’s roster that they trust to carry the football. Damien Harris had one single solitary carry.
  • I don’t recall OJ Howard’s name being called. For anything.
  • The pistol formation was particularly effective in springing Henry as Auburn had to honor and respect the flip passes/fly sweeps from the receivers.
  • Coker threw four or five passes that were very poorly thrown. Not his most accurate day throwing the football.
  • I noticed Cam Robinson being used as a pulling guard. Pretty interesting and very devastating.

Alabama on Defense

Gus Malzahn darn near hung 16 on the Tide defense so I’m sure he’s not sleeping well this week.  But, in all seriousness, the Gus Bus was humming along early in the game while Bama committed just six men to the box.  Jovon Robinson (a beast in his own right) came out of the gate with a vengeance, ticking off 8 or 9 yards per carry.  As Auburn approached the red zone, Malzahn dug into his Harry Potter bag of tricks and that’s when things went south as Jeremy Johnson failed to complete a two yard lateral by throwing it out-of-bounds.  Oops.

On each of Auburn’s first two scoring drives they were able to isolate their running backs on Reuben Foster and the resulting blown coverages allowed the Tigers to pass for 28 yards to Peyton Barber and 20 yards to Robinson.  These two plays along with the 77 yard Jason Smith “Prayer at the Hare: Part 2” accounted for 125 of the 170 passing yards for the Tigers (73.5%).  For the rest of the game, Johnson was 7 of 20 for 45 yards.

The early body blows and coverage breakdowns eventually subsided and the Bama defense began committing a 7th man to the box with regularity, limiting the space in which Auburn’s offense had to operate – just as expected.  Here are a few other things we saw when we reviewed the tape…

Fill and Replace:  Alabama completely contained the Auburn fly sweeps and they did so with excellent communication between the corners and the safeties.  As the fly sweep presented itself to the boundary, Alabama’s corners would release the WR to the safety so they could fill the edge and contain the play.  The safety recognized this and immediately jumped the wide receiver, thereby taking away any tricky running-option-throw-it-down-the-field-while-our-offensive-line-is-10-yards-down-the-field plays.  Bama executed this flawlessly.

Reed-ing the Defense:  When Auburn had success running between the tackles, it was typically a result of double-teaming Jarren Reed.  Reed was blown out at the point of attack several times, opening running lanes for the interior runs.

Blitz Scheme:  Alabama employed a couple of awesome blitz packages that had tremendous effect.  Bama linebackers Ragland and Foster showed blitz at the right of the Auburn line so Johnson looked to the sidelines and adjusted the protection accordingly.  But, at the snap, Foster and Ragland fell off into coverage as the blitz came from Auburn’s left side in the form of Mincah Fitzpatrick and he was untouched on his way to the QB.  Later, in a similar concept, Bama blitzed Geno Matias-Smith and Maurice Smith and found a way to match them up on Auburn’s RB and H-back.  Both backs picked up Matias-Smith and Maurice came thru for the eventual sack.

Prayer at the Hare:  Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson were in perfect position on the 77 yard touchdown pass.  Unfortunately, Geno dove for what he thought was an overthrown football instead of simply whacking the receiver into next week.  As Geno dove, he took out Eddie Jackson and the rest was history.

Tidebits

  • I love the way Eddie Jackson read the Auburn guard who was releasing at him as he led the eventual reverse. The action of the guard tipped Jackson off that the reverse was coming and he made the tackle for a five yard loss.
  • Cyrus Jones defended Ricardo Louis about as perfectly as you can on a bomb down the sidelines. He turned late, found the ball and broke up the pass at the goal line.
  • After the 77 yard touchdown pass, Auburn called five straight pass plays.
  • With 2:22 left in the game and Auburn down 9, the Tigers ran a play action pass off of a fake reverse. As if Alabama would bite on a reverse…
  • Reuben Foster was all over the field on the very last drive, breaking up a pass down the field and destroying a hook and ladder play on the game’s final snap.

Alabama on Special Teams

What more can be said about Adam Griffith’s performance in this game?  The much maligned kicker seemed to put things together around the third game of the season and hasn’t looked back ever since.  The five field goals were all very well struck but the 50 yarder was an absolute bomb.  You could almost feel two years of “Kick Six” frustration getting pounded into the football as it flew well into the stands.  Griffith even nailed seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, negating a strong Auburn return game.  Nick Saban has confidently stood by this young man for the past two years so it was wonderful to see such a perfect performance from him Saturday.

It’s difficult to say there were any failures in the Bama kicking game at all, especially since JK Scott had three punts for a 48.5 yard average.  However, two of the three punts went into the end zone for a net of 28.5 yards per punt.  Too bad Bama couldn’t down one of these inside the 20.  On the other punt, Auburn schemed the Tide really well by having two returners back for the punt.  One of the returners waved for the fair catch, enticing both Bama gunners to that side of the field.  However, the punt went in the opposite direction and Marcus Davis was able to get 21 yards on the return (and Bama was lucky it wasn’t worse).

Final Thoughts

There’s so much to potentially cover here regarding the Iron Bowl that I’m not sure where to start.  First and foremost, we have to congratulate the efforts of Derrick Henry and Adam Griffith.  Each of them put forth a historic performance that will be remembered for years to come.  Second, Jake Coker continues to deliver in spite of what the fans, media and opponents believe he can do.  His Houdini-esque escape and the resulting TD pass turned a tight game into a game that Bama was certain to win, and it was one helluva play to boot.

Defensively, Alabama did what it had to do to win the game.  They shut down the fly sweeps and they limited the AU quick strike offense to one bobbling, juggling play.  Gus dug into his bag of tricks but in 2015, his tricks were for kids.

In this space, we also have to address the childish behavior of Will Muschamp.  If anyone believes that the penalty enforced against his antics cost Auburn the game then you simply have Will Muschamp to blame.  Head coaches have the latitude to argue a call (to a point) but assistant coaches have no such latitude.  As long as Will has been in this game and been on the sidelines, you’d think that he would have a pretty good understanding of how far he and his temper can push things.  But, he does not.  He doesn’t know his place as an assistant and he doesn’t have an ability to reign in his emotions.  I’m glad he is not on the Bama sidelines.  And, yes, Saban has certainly had his own vitriolic meltdowns but there are significant differences in his approach.  1) He’s a head coach so he can argue a call.  2) He doesn’t personally call the ref names but rather argues a “BS” call.  Cursing the penalty is different than cursing the man who threw the flag.  3) I don’t recall Saban netting himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a one score game that caused the game to become a two score game.  That’s just stupid.  The only thing more stupid would be to defend his actions like the Auburn broadcast team did.  That was horrendous.  Suddenly, I’m extremely thankful for the professionalism of Eli Gold, Phil Savage and Chris Stewart.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the field.  You should know that it’s a time-honored tradition of setting up the home field to best suit the home team.  Kinda like the Geico commercials, “it’s what you do.”  Notre Dame used to grow the grass very, very long before the Miami & USC games in an attempt to slow the Canes & Trojans down.  Both teams had to play on the same surface and since Alabama nearly doubled the yardage that Auburn gained, I’d say it had a minimal effect.

Now Bama is onto Atlanta once again and will face a Florida team that appears to be limping towards the finish line.  If Alabama handles business as they should, they will improbably be the only repeating team to make the College Football Playoffs.  Whodathunkit?