Arkansas Review 2011

 

ARKANSAS REVIEW

I wonder what it must be like to pour your little heart and soul into a game plan, spending countless hours of preparation for an opponent, only to see it all get flushed down the toilet in a matter of minutes.  It’s got to be like the dream we’ve all had (you guys have had this dream, right – it’s not just me, right….right?) – you know the one.  You are frantically running down the high school hallway, wearing nothing but your underwear, and you are trying to get to the classroom where your exam is taking place.  You overslept and, while you did study, you are just not prepared for this.  Not today.  Not while you are just wearing your grippies and a smile.  What exam??  Today?  But I’m in my underwear!  Oh, why thank you ma’am – no, it’s real and you’re far too kind, but still, I’M NOT PREPARED FOR MY EXAM!  WHAT DO I DO? 

Such is the case for Bobby Petrino.  Rumor has it that Saban is currently paying taxes to the IRS on Petrino because Saban damn sure owns his ass.  For the second time in the last three years, Petrino’s high flying passing circus was supposed to be a tremendous challenge for Alabama’s defense.  And, each time, it’s been a tremendous opportunity (please tell me you are catching the Dubosian reference) for Alabama to whoop dat soohey ass in such a way that you almost feel sorry for the poor sucker slinging the pigskin.  No, sorry, I don’t mean Nick Gentry (more on that later).  No, I mean Owen Wilson…or Brian Wilson…or Tyler Wilson – whoever #8 was.  And don’t ask Wilson what his first name is because he won’t exactly know the answer.  You see, #8 is a little loopy today since his brain most certainly shifted around during his flights over the Bryant Denny turf.  It’s not often you get to see a de-cleater on a QB but ole #8 probably caught more air than Tom Hank’s volleyball (named Wilson, of course) ever did!  By the end of the day Wilson (the QB, not the volleyball – though he was certainly spiked like a volleyball a few times) was Petrino’s own little Castaway on the sidelines because Petrino removed #8 from the game.  Removed.  From the game.  With 10 minutes to go.  In the fourth quarter.  No, seriously.  You’ve heard of a team not having any quit in them?  Well, that team is unlikely to be coached by Bobby Petrino.  First he quit on the Falcons and Saturday he quit on his piggies by yanking their uninjured, though clearly shaken and stirred, starting QB.  Weird.  Paging Roberto Duran!  NO MAS!  NO MAS!

But, hey, you didn’t tune in to hear about Arkansas, did ya?  “Can I get a Wha Wha?”  Well, that’s what Nick told Petrino on the opening possession with one of the best fake field goals Gary Danielson will never see.  (Writer’s note:  After years of singing Jay Z’s “Can I Get a Wha Wha” aloud, it turns out a “Wha Wha” means something else entirely.  You can google “Wha Wha” but your hint is that C-Lo Green just had a #1 song about it – even though Gwyneth Paltrow sings the song better than C-Lo does).  Hey Bobby – during your summer of preparing for this single game, did you prepare for the best fake FG ever?  No?  Well can I get a “Wha Wha”????  Saban had a checklist of Wha Whas and he got to check every single one of them off during this game.  Special teams TD –fake FG and punt return (more on that later), check!  Defensive TD – Menzie pick six, check.  Running TD – check.  Passing TD – check.  Sacks – check.  Making Petrino cry Uncle – CHECK!  Yep – “party rockin’ in the Bryant Denny house tonight!”  But enough musical fun – ON TO THE NOTES……………………and “Shake That”!

SPECIAL TEAMS

Ladies and gents, I present to you a first in my review history as we’ll begin the Notes with our very special teams play!!!  Where do I start?  The fake FG?  The punt return(s)?  Kickoff coverage?  Heck, even Cody “Barbara” Mandell punted the ball over 40 yards a couple of times!  It was a complete performance by the special teams units and it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that these units are so good.  Did you see Dre Kirkpatrick as a gunner?  Yeah, ya did.  Next time you get a chance, look at the punt coverage team – many, many regular defenders are in this role, as this aspect of the game can win or lose a game just as easily as defense or offense.  Heck, Sunseri almost blocked another punt – his second near miss this season.  Kudos to Bobby Williams and anyone else who is helping this unit!  Now, let’s break it on down and see why we were so good Saturday.  We’ll look at the anatomy of the fake FG and the punt return for a TD – you do like anatomy, don’t you?  Time to play a little doctor…

WHERE’D WHOOOOO GO?:  Probably my favorite movie line ever was in Top Gun (and no, my favorite scene is NOT the volleyball scene in Top Gun).  As a fighter plane raced past, Mav says “Where’d he go?”  The plane had whooshed by so fast, Goose’s response was, “Where’d WHO go?”  Well, that pretty much describes the fake FG to Michael Williams, as no one, not even Gary Danielson, knew where he came from out of the FG formation.  It was 4th and 4 from the Arky 36 and I turned to my buddy and said we needed to just go for it and that I’d be pissed if we ran some goofy fake – just line up and get 4 yards.  As Cade Foster raced up to the line of scrimmage, the crowd stood in stunned silence.  Oh, no, I don’t mean the crowd in the stands, I mean those with the pigs on their helmets and on their shirts.  You could almost hear the collective “DUH” from the Arky bench as the FG formation became a shotgun formation.  Foster & Billingsley raced from left to right downfield waving their hands.  Underwood slipped out from the right side and went into the flat as AJ gave a slight roll to the right looking right all the way.  Meanwhile, Michael Williams slyly moved from right to left behind the line’s fine blocking and he found himself out to practice early down the left sideline.  Credit AJ with a perfect throw because when he released it, I just knew he’d overthrown it.  Also, credit Williams for being that divine vertical threat he always wanted to be!!!!  Great design.  Great execution.  Great Googly Moogly!

MAZE’S ANATOMY:  Down ladies.  This is about his punt return, not his, er, anatomy.  One of the best returns you’ll ever see happened on Saturday and, while Maze did Ah-Maze, in breaking it down he had a ton of helpers.  If you still have the game on tape, Tivo, DVR or digitial remix, look around the 12 minute mark of the 3rd quarter and watch the return again.  When he caught the ball, Sunseri, Gibson and Hanks held perfect blocks allowing a wide crease for Maze to begin his 83 yard jaunt (which really was like 183 yards – he had more weaves than Queen Latifah).  Maze accelerated quickly but was able to allow Will Lowery to throw one more key block at the 35 yard line which allowed him to bounce to the outside.  At the 45, Maze then brushed off the punter like a large piece of dandruff and raced down the sidelines.  Funny thing about punt returns that you see on TV – usually the punt returner is alone while running down the sidelines.  This time, a flock of Crimson jerseys flanked Maze and provided an escort to the Arky 30.  There, Maze showed incredible patience to allow DePriest to block one more would be defender and Maze cut back inside on his way to glory.  There, the blocking wasn’t finished as John Fulton took out the last defender who had a chance to make a play.  I think the entire return took around 12 or 13 seconds and it was an exhibition of blocking perfection.  Of course, along the way Maze de-pantsed 5 Arky defenders and corkscrewed the last Arky defender with one last vicious cutback just because he could.  The final tally was 4 cutbacks, 5 defenders removed of their jock straps, 6 key blocks and six key points on the scoreboard!

THE EXTRA POINT:  Listen, if you think these neato returns are happening just because they are happening, then you are sorely mistaken.  While Maze is clearly a very gifted returner who exhibits acceleration, speed and patience, it’s just as important or even more important to get those blocks that allow him to get free.  On the TD, the blocking was phenomenal at the beginning and then you had a host of guys busting their cans downfield to clean up the remaining defenders.  But, if you still have the game somewhere, watch the next punt return.  At around the 11 minute mark of the third quarter, Maze caught another punt and raced up the middle again.  As Verne shouted “not again” (presumably he meant another Maze return though he could have just peed on himself again – going problem?), Maze was brought down after a 20 yard gain.  If you go back and watch, look for #10, John Fulton.  His initial block allows Maze to get upfield but because Fulton couldn’t hold his block his guy makes the tackle on Maze.  Did Fulton celebrate the 20 yard return?  NO!  Fulton was pissed!  That’s the kind of effort these kids are making on special teams and it’s impressive.  As Les Miles might say, “The want to want to want to block is so strong, they just block the want to do bad.  So good!”

OFFENSE

Since the prelude and the special teams are taking up so much space, I’ll cut this down as much as I can.  Thanks to two special teams TDs and one defensive TD, not much else was required from the offense.  However, Trent Richardson had one of his finest days as a Tider as he caught a screen for a 61 yard TD and amassed more all purpose yards (235) than Arkansas’ offense gained (226).  He also trucked a little piggy on his way to the one yardline which made the Arky defender cry “wee wee wee” all the way home.  Alabama gained 397 yards of offense against Petrino’s “best defense he’s ever had at Arkansas” so we clearly moved the ball Saturday.  But, it’s this side of the ball that left me feeling like a Tyler Wilson pass – incomplete.

C’MON RIDE THE TRAIN:  The worst place to be on a Saturday afternoon is in a one on one matchup with Trent Richardson.  There is no wiggle in #3.  As the truck stops say, Trent is one bad mother trucker and on Saturday he nearly hospitalized some poor Razorback.  After an alert play by AJ to flick the ball to TR on a third and 10 from the Arky 13, Trent found himself one on one around the 7 yardline.  As he lowered his head for impact, I’d swear a little lady to our right passed out or had herself a moment as she watched the impact.  BOOM!  Trent barely lost his balance and fell down one yard short of the goal line.

DON’T WANT NO SHORT SHORT MAN:  So, there we were at the one, first and goal.  Our first play was to have our 190 lb QB “push” the pile.  Granted, he scored (no seriously – watch the tape), but still.  Trent.  Richardson.  He’s right behind the QB and brings a little more pushin’ to the cushion at 220 lbs.  Next, we try the BEAST on a counter and he’s stuffed by an unblocked defender.  On third and goal from the one, Trent barely gets the handoff as two unblocked defenders crash the party.  Anyone remember the Penn State series from the one?  This is a power running team, right?  Sigh.  This should be an automatic score with TR and Lacy in the backfield.

LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS:  AJ passed for an efficient 15 of 20 for 200 yards.  Three incompletions were near misses on deep balls.  Only two incompletions were bad decisions where he forced the ball into coverage, so that’s good – very good.  But.  Did you know 118 of the 200 were on screens and dumps?  He rarely looked downfield and, to these eyes, only two balls were completed over 15 yards downfield – one nice throw to Smelley and then the TD to Williams off the fake FG.  Meanwhile, it appeared that AJ bailed on the pocket several times before it was necessary.  Look, I’m not bagging on the kid – I’m just talking straight.  If he hits one of those three near misses downfield, we probably aren’t having this discussion but in the last two weeks he’s thrown three deep balls short and three long.  Florida will force us to complete passes downfield and they’ll certainly collapse the pocket so we’ll need a better effort this week against Florida.  I’m just sayin…

LINE DANCING:  Kudos to the big uns up front!  The musical chairs finally stopped and what you saw was a VERY solid performance by the OL.  All day long they created an excellent push and probably had their best game to date.  While missed assignments ruined our goal line opportunity, everything else was well done.  Shout outs, props and, if we were Miami, hookers for those guys!

DEFENSE

 

Goodness.  Where to start?  Let’s jump in on the sacks, or lack thereof, and tackle that up front.  Did you see the pretty piñata dressed up in the #8 jersey back there?  Ask Wilson if was beaten like the red headed step child Arkansas is.  At one point, I thought he was “lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did (Writer’s Note:  A Barenaked Ladies concert isn’t what you think it is).”  I can’t recall seeing so many vicious hits being doled out by an Alabama defense as they rocked the Petrino casbah all night long.  Whether it was Hubbard, Dial, Hightower, Upshaw or Harris, they all arrived in the Arkansas backfield in a nasty ill tempered mood.  Honestly, it was so bad Petrino felt compelled to pull his QB even though he wasn’t truly injured physically.  Mentally?  I think he was fried. 

Meanwhile, what can you say about the secondary?  Yeah, they got us on a couple of wheel routes to the backs just like we said they would but, by and large, the Arky receivers were dropped where they caught the ball time and time again.  At halftime, Petrino said the receivers needed to make some plays after the catch.  Well, we’ve been talking about this all season – our secondary is in outstanding coverage all the time and, even when they are beaten for a catch, they bring down the receiver immediately.  IMMEDIATELY!  Watch other games on Saturdays and Sundays and compare.  It’s truly astounding!

DRE-OH…DREEEEE OH:  Football come and me wanna go home.  I’m thinking about going out to Bryant Denny later with a metal detector.  With gold being such a valued commodity, I’m thinking of looking for the gold fillings that Dre popped out of a few Arky skulls.  Holy mother of pearl.  Dre has gone from being a skinny “all cover, no hit” kind of corner to some kind of ridiculous enforcer.  Heck, did you see who was right in the middle of two pushing and shoving scrums?  Dre!  Did you see who took on Courtney Upshaw and got him back in line????  DRE!  I can’t remember a more complete and a more surprising transformation in a football player than Dre Kirkpatrick.  I used to say, “How many I’s are in Kirkpatrick” because it was clear he was a me first player.  Well, that’s a thing of the past.  When you talk about leadership missing from last year and being there this year, look no further than #21.  Oh, but please don’t catch a football around him – he gets kinda pissed about that.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY:  Anyone notice that we didn’t blitz a whole bunch Saturday?  We probably dialed up two or three 6 man rushes and the rest of the time we went with 3, 4 or 5 man rushes.  We played a ton of zone to protect the middle from the crossing routes and some of the most vicious hits were from DBs coming up from their zones to play whack-a-pig.   The much maligned front four hurried Wilson 10 times and knocked him down nine times and, in essence, forced his removal from the game.  I’d say that was the best game our defensive front has played and it’s nice that we could do so much damage without having to blitz.  Again, this will be key this week against Florida & Brantley.

 

PICKING AND GRINNING:  How many near misses have we had for picks this year?  20?  Lester and Milliner dropped two more Saturday but Milliner got his back later on a nice defensive play down the sideline.  And, of course there’s Mr Menzie.  If at first you don’t succeed, look in the air for the football, run towards it, grab it and walk into the end zone.  His pick six was a game changer.

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL:  I’m willing to bet you all that you don’t even remember this play but, to me, it was the extinguishing of the Arky candle.  You’ll likely read this and think “oh yeah, that did happen.”  In a day filled with big plays in every facet of the game, the Bama D rose to the occasion in a big way late in the 3rd quarter with a quiet stop on 4th and 1.  After taking a weak personal foul penalty against Donte, Arkansas was at midfield facing a 3rd and one.  As Verne screamed “what a fake”, the entire Bama secondary surrounded the lone Arky receiver and Barron & Kirkpatrick combined to knock the ball out of each other’s hands.  Gutsy call on 3rd and 1 but Petrino saw this as an opportunity to take a shot.  Then, on 4th and 1, the team that couldn’t run the ball all day long decided they could get a yard.  They could get one yard but it was in the wrong direction as Donte cleaned the clock of Dennis Johnson for a loss of one and a turnover on downs.  Think it wasn’t a big play?  Check out Kirby Smart’s reaction afterwards.  HUGE play and largely unnoticed…

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO, FOUR CAN DO BETTER:  When CJ Mosley left the game early in the 1st quarter, DePriest, Hubbard, Johnson and Jerrell Harris all spent time at the position.  This is a critical position with Florida coming up.  All four guys played well with Hubbard really surprising me by doing well in coverage.  Hubbard also had a decrapitator on Wilson’s touchdown pass – very active day for #42.

PIG TOSSING:  Sorry but I just had to laugh with Nick Gentry flug the Arky QB for a couple of yards.  Talk about throwing the pigskin!  And, the winner of today’s pig tossing contest is…..NICK GENTRY! 

 

EXTRA POINTSYeah, I know, you think I used this up above in the Offense section.  Well, that was extra point (singular) and it was the follow up to the Maze TD.  Extra points follow TDs – you get it, right?  Sigh.  Anyway, here are just a few additional thoughts and graphics (graphics are just neat things I saw on the telecast or from other sites so I can’t take credit). 

  • Arkansas was averaging 517 yards of offense coming into this game.  They gained 226 Saturday.  Advantage Saban.
  • Alabama used the “hurry up” and “check with me” offense for the first time this season.  In the last three years, this is Saban’s preferred look when going up against a tougher defense.  You’ll likely see this again against Florida.
  • Lacy and Richardson appeared together twice in the Bama backfield for the first time this season.  Each time they flanked AJ in shotgun formation – once Lacy led for Trent on a run and once AJ hit Lacy with a pass out of the backfield.  Interesting look.
  • My man Jesse Williams had two solo tackles for loss.  STUD!  Not getting the attention he deserves (hence my “Down Under the Radar” segment last week).
  • Cade Foster has been told by the coaches to kick high and short but he got a touchback Saturday
  • Our D has flattened just about every screen thrown this year.  Tremendous discipline.
  • After Barrett Jones’ facemask received some extra curricular attention from an Arkansas cheap shot artist, Saban absolutely lost his ever loving mind on the sidelines.  Good to see he has his players’ backs – and you know they know he has their backs, too.

Statistical comparison: That McCarron has had 72 attempts without an interception reminds many of his predecessor, Greg McElroy. Here’s how they fared in their first four starts (McElroy’s numbers from 2009).

Greg McElroy C-A-I, Pct., Yards, TDs, Efficiency
Virginia Tech 15-30-1, 50.0 Pct., 230 yards, 1 TD, 118.73
Fla. International 18-24-0, 75 Pct., 241 yards, 1 TD, 173.10
North Texas 13-15-0, 86.7 Pct., 176 yards, 2 TDs, 229.23
Arkansas 17-24-0, 70.8 Pct., 291, 3 TDs, 213.93
Totals 63-93-1, 67.7 Pct., 938 yards, 7 TDs, 175.15

AJ McCarron C-A-I, Pct., Yards, TDs, Efficiency
Kent State 14-32-2, 60.9 Pct., 226 yards, 1 TD, 140.37
Penn State 19-31-0, 61.3 Pct., 163 yards, 1 TD, 116.10
North Texas 15-21-0, 71.4 Pct., 190 yards, 0 TD, 147.43
Arkansas 15-20-0, 75.0 Pct., 200 yards, 2 TDs, 192.00
Total: 63-95-2, 66.3 Pct., 779 yards, 4 TDs, 144.88

A comparison between the Arky game from 2010 to this past Arky game:

Category 2010, 2011

First down 20, 14
Rushing yards 64, 17
Passing yards 357, 209
Total yards 421, 226
Avg. per play 7.3, 3.8

Statistic of the game: Of the 15 times Arkansas had third down, the average gain it needed for the first down was 10.7 yards. It had third-and-10 or longer 11 times compared to only twice enjoying third-and short (3 yards or less).

We ran a little long this week (insert joke here) but there was a lot to cover.  I’ll try to send out a W2W4 for Florida just to whet your appetites for Saturday’s main course!

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North Texas Review 2011

 

North Texas Review

Hey there folks – I hope you had a tremendous weekend!  Growing up, my father taught me that a perfect day of college football is a Bama win and an Auburn loss.  Well, as a PelhamHigh School graduate and fellow classmate of Dabo Swinney, my “perfect day” of football consists of a Bama win, a Clemson win and an Auburn loss.  Can I just say that I had a PERFECT day of college football this past Saturday?????  About 20 of us were in Clemson cheering on the right Tigers in their victory over Auburn and it absolutely couldn’t have been a more beautiful day.  Sing it with me:  “Ted Roof, Ted Roof, Ted Roof is on FIRE!  We don’t need no water, let that motherfu..er burn!  *U-BURN mother….er!”  Ah, good times.

As a result of streaking around the campus and mooning anything with blue and orange (note to all – Clemson’s purple is often mistaken for blue…OOPS!  Sorry for the “friendly fire” Clemson fans!), I was unable to watch the Bama game live.  Instead, I had to follow it via the wonders of our unlimited data plan from Sprint (and we aren’t paying the extra $10 per month for the unlimited data – sticking it to the man, that’s how we roll).  After looking at the final stats from the game, you’d swear they looked like something out of NCAA12 by EA Sports, so I settled in to watch the epic beat down of North Texas.  I mean, c’mon, TWO 150 yard rushers for the first time in school history?  An average of more than 10 yards per rushing play?  And our defense pitching a shutout?  I pressed play and hollered “LET THE BEATINGS BEGIN!”   Well, a funny thing happened as I tried not to spit up my popcorn.  It simply didn’t look like the epic beat down that I thought it would be.  In fact, there were several WTF moments that made me rather uneasy heading into this weekend’s battle with the piggies and if we want those little piggies to cry “wee wee wee” all the way home, we’ll have to get better OL play.

But, Saturday was a perfect day of college football and as we finish the first quarter turn, Alabama is right where we thought they would be.  Bama is 3-0 and sports a defense that is second to none in the country.  Trent Richardson is the bad bad man we all thought he would be and he’s backed up by another guy who is just as big of a stud.  In fact, Lacy’s success has probably been the brightest spot regarding the offense and might alleviate some fears about TR getting hurt.  Again, TR is a VERY physical being who would just as soon hospitalize you as run around you so Lacy’s emergence cannot be underestimated.  Meanwhile, AJ McCarron has been a pleasant surprise to these eyes.  I wasn’t sure if he’d be patient enough to stay away from the bad plays.  We thought he’d be a downfield gunslinger but to this point he’s really been an effective, dare I say, game manager?  His most impressive plays to me have been his checkdowns and his throw aways (though he pissed me off this past week – how hard is it to throw it to the sidelines when you are out of the pocket?????) when he could just as easily roll the dice downfield.  Yes, to this point, it’s been pretty much what we thought it would be but, as they say in prison, now it’s time to separate the men from the men (in Auburn they say separate the men from the sheep, of course).  And with that………..ON TO THE NOTES!

OFFENSE

Let’s get this out of the way right now.  Having two RBs go for over 160 in 11 carries or less is just silly.  The four long runs, including 2 back to back, was like a little game of “anything you can do I can do better.”  Lacy started it with a 43 yard TD.  TR then sprinted 58 yards for a TD.  TR then upped the ante with a 71 yard TD run but Lacy followed that on the very next play with a 67 yarder.  So many things have to go right in order to make that happen.  Backs have to have the talent (size and speed), see the hole and make a defender or two miss.  The OL has to be solid in their assignments and then actually block the man they are responsible for.  Even the WRs have blocking responsibilities (I do love you Darius Hanks – more on that man love later).  Without all of that coming together in perfect harmony – Ebony and Ivory kind of harmony – then big runs simply are not going to happen, and that’s precisely the difference between the first half and the second half.  In today’s segment, I’ll take a little different approach (yes, another different approach – jeesh you guys whine more than Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley at halftime) and I’ll look at the tale of two halves of the offense.  We’ll look at the plays that lost yardage as well as the big gainers and we’ll try to explain how the rushing offense was so bad (at halftime Alabama had 76 rushing yards) in the first half and so good (271 yards rushing) in the second half.  You kids better strap in back there b/c I have no idea where this ride will take us!  Remember, the true joy is the journey and not the destination so, while the end zone is an important destination, it’s more important to know how we did (or didn’t) get there!

FIRST QUARTER

  • 2nd & 2 TR 3 yard loss:  1 back. This one is easy.  Williams didn’t block the edge so the backside LB brought him down.  A little slow developing but Williams whiffed.
  • 2nd & 6 TR 1 yard gain:  Williams appears to miss block here as he and Smelley double team the edge guy, leaving the LB free to make the tackle.

SECOND QUARTER

  • 2nd & 5 TR 2 yard gain:  Pistol set.  Fluker can’t hold block – everyone else was blocked.
  • 1st & 10 Sims sacked:  Fluker doesn’t hold block.  Thought a LB was coming so released his block.
  • 1st & 10 TR 1 yard gain:  Shotgun.  Trent missed a gaping hole to his right.  Bad run.
  • 1st & 10 AJ sacked:  AJ simply held the ball too long.  Should have hit Lacy on check down.
  • 3rd & 1 Lacy 2 yard loss:  Shotgun.  Cyrus misses block but defensive line shift altered the blocking assignments and we didn’t pick that up.  Still Cyrus whiffed badly.

THIRD QUARTER

  • 1st & 10 AJ no gain:  Warmack is called for holding as he lets his man thru but, in his defense, there were two guys rushing past him at the same time.  Meanwhile, Steen and Fluker were double teaming a block and Barrett Jones blocked no one.  Total breakdown of blocking assignments.  North Texas showed a blitz with one OLB but came from the other side and we’d fanned to the wrong side. 
  • 1st & 10 TR 58 yd TD:  Shotgun. Vlachos and Warmack pull and North TX is outmanned on the flanks.  Odd to see Vlachos pull as we don’t do that often.  When Williams turned his man inside, the conducted picked up his sticks to bust out a little Yea Alabama.
  • 1st & 10 EL 35 yd gain:  1 back.  Barrett Jones turns his man inside while Williams blocks out and Lacy is out the gate.  Excellent job by Vlachos to get to second level to prevent pursuit.  By the way, Maze was 30 yards downfield holding his block.
  • 2nd & 10 EL no gain:  Play is designed to go right.  Warmack pulls from left to right and Cyrus is supposed to close that gap by blocking down.  Instead, Cy fans outside, leaving a massive hole for the LB to knife in and make the tackle.  Really bad play by Cy-Ko there.
  • 1st & 10 AJ sacked:  This is the bad AJ.  He had plenty of time but bailed on the pocket and then, to make matters worse, he doesn’t flip the ball out of bounds.  Instead, he decides it’s better to just go out of bounds 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  Really a dumb, dumb play.
  • 3rd & 17 AJ sacked:  Surprised we weren’t in shotgun here.  North Texas brings a LB and he comes thru clean.  Once again, another missed assignment.  North Texas shows blitz by all three LBs and once again, we fan the wrong way, leaving a LB free.  Jones, Steen and Lacy all block no one while the LB makes the sack.

FOURTH QUARTER

  • 1st & 10 TR 71 yd TD:  One back set.  Really solid zone blocking all across the front as every Bama blocker is locked up on a defender.  Vlachos, Steen and Fluker create a huge hole but Brandon Gibson and DeAndrew White make key blocks downfield which allow Trent to be off to the races.
  • 1st & 10 EL 67 yd TD:  Let’s be honest, this one was all Lacy.  The blocking really didn’t provide a push so Lacy cut back into a defender and quickly disposed of him.  This stopped everyone’s momentum except for Lacy and he hit 5th gear while everyone else was shifting into second.  Tremendous individual effort.
  • 2nd & 1 P Sims no gain:  Sims just dropped the damn ball.  Way to make that push for the starting role, Phillip.  Great look on the sidelines, too.  I think we’ll need to find a surgeon to remove his head from his anus.
  • 2nd & 5 B Sims 15 yd gain:  Harrison Jones executes a perfect chip block as he allows Cyrus to lock up on his man by chipping the DE.  Jones then quickly moves to the second level to create even more room for B Sims.  Nicely done!

Out of 11 negative plays above (I counted a 2 yard gain as a negative play), eight of these plays were the direct result of a missed block.  Of these eight “missed block” plays, only two of them were really physical blocks that were missed – the other six were mental blocks that were missed.  By that, I simply mean there was a missed assignment.  To me, this is the direct result of the OL shuffling, though a few of these missed assignments continuously showed up last season when LBs would come on a delayed blitz.  Honestly, we have a lot of work to do here and I’m not sure we’ve established enough continuity as we head into the SEC season.

North Texas has one first down in the first half, one trip to the red zone and didn’t score a point as Alabama notched its first shutout since beating Chattanooga 45-0 in 2009. North Texas went three-and-out eight times,

Upshaw, who has been bothered by an oblique strain, didn’t play in the fourth quarter. He had four tackles, three tackles for a loss and three hurries

Sunseri finished the game with six total tackles, including four on the final drive.

LB Courtney Upshaw (5): Defensive player of the week selection by the coaching staff after racking up four tackles, including three for loss, and three pass breakups against North Texas. Leads the team in tackles for loss (4.5) and quarterback hurries (three). Will be counted on to pressure Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson this week.

LB Dont’a Hightower (9): Recorded five tackles, including two for loss, and a quarterback hurry against North Texas. Tied with Barron for the team lead in tackles with 16 stops. After three games, Hightower is one tackle for loss away from matching his 2010 season total of 3.5. Will look to pressure Wilson while rushing the passer from a number of angles this week.

Jeremy Shelley attempted four field goals, but only made two of them. His makes were from 26 and 37 yards, and he missed from 36 and 42.

in part due to seven tackles for a loss, including four sacks, two lost fumbles, drives stalling in the red zone, two missed field goals, and five carries that gained two yards or fewer.

McCarron’s had 52 consecutive attempts without an interception

Penn State Review 2011

 

Penn State Review

As we saw last week against Kent State, sometimes having great expectations can ruin what otherwise should be a good time.  None of us imagined Trent would be held to 38 yards rushing and we certainly didn’t think UA QBs would combine for FOUR interceptions.  So, while the score turned out the way we all expected it to be, the route we took to get there had a few unexpected detours.

The night before we left Philly, we were inundated with traffic information regarding our journey to Happy Valley.  Epic rainfall had produced tremendous biblical-like flooding throughout the Quaker state (Fletch’s favorite anti-freeze when dealing with pesky fetzer valves) and many of the highways and byways to get to Happy Valley were being listed as impassible.  In fact, one article I received questioned whether or not it was really THAT important to travel to the game at all, given the road conditions.  Armed with as much information as we could gather, we then had to make a difficult decision.  Should we risk being washed away by the Susquehanna River and its tributaries or should we stay in Avondale and attend the 25th Annual Kennett Square MushroomFestival taking place nearby?  I know what you are thinking and now, as best I can tell, they weren’t those kinds of mushrooms so that made the choice a very easy one.  ONWARD to Happy Valley!

The football stuff will be along shortly but I just have to brag on my meticulous planning which, combined with my near flawless execution, resulted in getting to Happy Valley in record time.  Mapquest and Google Maps told me that I should expect about a 3 hour and 15 minute ride to State College (honestly – where do they get these “creative” names of Happy Valley and State College) and that’s without equipping my sister-in-law’s Civic with floaties and a rudder in order to pass a few sections of the river.  And, given the fact that we’d experienced airline delays, rainouts for our US Open tickets, a near rainout of our Yankees game and torrential downpours each time we emerged from the subways of NYC, it was a given that our trip to the Valley wouldn’t be Happy in any sense of the word.  The 40% chance of thunderstorms (which only increased into the afternoon) made me at least be thankful that we’d be underneath the overhang during the game (which was the clincher to ditching the ‘shroom festival).

At any rate, we identified a section of the river that was to be avoided at all costs (Duncannon and Paxton), according to the Birmingham News and reports out of Pennsylvania, and we plotted our course.  Well, Garmin had its own agenda and, as you all know, you NEVER argue with Garmin.  So, after a few twists and turns, we landed precisely on the section of road we were trying to avoid.  As Bud Light likes to say, “Here we go.”  As I looked for the easiest place to do a U-turn, we saw a sign that said Hwy 322 was partially open.  Well, that meant we were only partially screwed, right?  So, on we went.  The river had overflowed significantly and it was a sight to see.  However, we were able to pass thru the area that was labeled as impassible with no delays and the trip revealed some of the most beautiful scenery these eyes have seen.  It’s truly beautiful country up there and our misfortune turned into fortune as the rest of the world had obeyed the warnings and avoided this road to State College – SWEET!  Our Tides had turned! 

I’ve spent too long with the foreplay but I know that’s how you boys like it.  Before the Flight of the Conchords strike up “Business Time”, I would be remiss if I didn’t lend a paragraph or two about the tailgating in Happy Valley.  Imagine placing a large stadium (107+K) in Gatlinburg and removing the tourist crap that litters the area and that’s pretty much what you have at Penn State.  Donors purchased little one foot by one foot sections of Nittany Mountain, securing their scenery for all eternity.  The Valley is, as you’d expect, surrounded by mountains that were gorgeous.  The tailgating that took place all around us was completely off the chain.  Girls were dancing on pickups.  Funnels were being turned up and shots were being offered in every single tailgate.  Music was pumping and everyone was more friendly than you can imagine.  Numerous tailgates asked us to come over and have a beer, a shot or bite to eat and all wanted us to have as good of a time as they had in Tuscaloosa.  Picture it as an extended family reunion of alcoholics who adore football and that’s about what you had in Happy Valley.  We’ve had tremendous times in Baton Rouge, Fayetteville, Notre Dame and Pasadena but this trip probably outranked them all.  If you EVER get a chance to visit, it’s must see TV I promise you.  We simply couldn’t have had a better time!  Oh, and then the game started so……………ON TO THE NOTES!

OFFENSE

After turning the ball over 5 times against Kent State (KENT STATE!), I think the lead sentence on the Offense HAS to be about ball security.  On Saturday against PSU our balls were secured better than if they were in a custom molded Kevlar Cup.  Zero turnovers.  ZERO.  This in front of the largest crowd EVER to see an Alabama football game.  I don’t think this can be understated – in all the years that Alabama has played football, it has never played in front of that size of a crowd (and a loud group at that).  At the beginning of the game, my wife remarked that this was the loudest she could remember a stadium being – it was loud, my friends.  But AJ, who’d been named as THE starting QB on Thursday in front of the team, executed a very smart game (more on that later) and the ball carriers protected against fumbles throughout the contest.

It was interesting to me that we only completed two bubble screens, as I figured that would be a key part of our arsenal.  Granted, AJ had a few balls batted down and one of them was going to be a bubble to White, but it was interesting that we really didn’t work that into the flow.  Also, for the second game in a row the Wildcat was not used a single solitary time.  In case you are wondering, this is the breakdown of formations we used against PSU:

  • 1 Back:  28 runs & 3 passes
  • Shotgun w/back:  23 passes & 6 runs (AJ getting flushed and running is counted as a pass)
  • Shotgun empty backfield:  5 passes
  • Pistol:  1 run, 1 pass
  • Inverted Wishbone:  1 run (though they lined up in this frequently, they only ran one play)

As you can see, the Pistol and Wildcat seem to have left the offense about the same time we lost our economic stability.  Will it come back around?  I think the Pistol will as that was one of our most effective formations in the past so I suspect we’ll use it more in the future.  However, I’ve come to think that Blake Sims and the Wildcat may not ever come to pass and I’m really disappointed about that – Sims can play.   If it doesn’t happen against North Texas it may not happen much this season.  But, at any rate, as you can see we were pretty vanilla and we showed little to no creativity.  This was basically the same formula that we used last year against a bad PSU team and this year’s version may be even worse.  I think they could remove the State and just be PU b/c they stink.  I’m sorry but they are all hat and no cattle, regardless of how many people are there or what traditions they have.  PSU is not a good football team so I’m not sure we HAD to show ANYTHING.

McHeady:  While AJ wasn’t flawless by any means (see like 15 batted balls or something like that – ok, maybe five), he had three very real opportunities to screw up.  His best play was when he grabbed the defender who batted a pass and tackled him so that he couldn’t pick it off.  His second best play was a play when he recognized the screen to TR was covered and AJ tucked and ran for three yards.  Later, he also showed enough recognition to throw the ball away.  Three heady plays for a newbie QB.

Ahh, Push It:  In this case, Salt n Pepa are Steen, Fluker & co and they “ahh, pushed it,” pushed it real good.  In going back and watching the tape, I was amazed at the collective push we had at times.  In our first FG drive (2nd qtr), three separate occasions the line got about a three yard push.  Our last two drives, when everyone knew we’d be running it, we were able to shove it down their throats.  It appears our running game takes its toll in the second quarters of the halves.  On TR’s 22 yard run, all three PSU LBs were blocked on the second level out of a 1 back, 3 wide set.  Pretty impressive.

Zipper Up:  My goodness what a zipped throw AJ made to Michael Williams for the first TD.  Rest assured, there will be a Zipper Down segment as this was not the smart throw by any stretch.  He had TR and Maze on one defender (our 2 against their 1) while Williams was bracketed by two defenders.  Amazing throw – I still have no idea how he got it in there.

Dueces Fold:  With Carter and Hanks set to take the field in the near future, it appears DeAndrew White’s role will go back to being somewhat limited.  He was targeted only once and was non-existent throughout the game.  Meanwhile, Norwood elevated his game and showed the toughness to run crossing patterns into traffic.  Norwood has surpassed White, IMO.  North Texas becomes a critical game for #2 as this may be one of his last times to impress since his playing time is sure to diminish.

Vertical Horizon:  Well, well, well, Michael Williams made a liar out of me!  Maybe he can get vertical!  How about the big man going up and reeling one in down the sidelines?  After dropping a pass & causing an interception last week, big Mike came back with a vengeance.  Outstanding game blocking & catching by #89!

Tight Beginnings?:  Lamonde Russell is just about the last relevant TE we’ve had at the capstone and the last time the TE was seen as anything but a third tackle.  For the first time in a long time, the TE position was used as a weapon.  Williams, Smelley and Underwood combined for 8 targets in the passing game and one carry.  Speaking of…

The Good, The Bad, and the Smelley:  To the good, Brad got the first down.  To the bad, we understand why he’s not a ball carrier.  Had Smelley gone to the left, he’d still be running.  Instead, he chose to charge the middle and nearly got his coach PISSED!  So, that covers the good and bad.  It was not Smelley’s best game as a blocker.  At the 8:04 mark of the second quarter, TR loses five yards on a carry.  If you watch, Smelley completely ignores and brushes by the DT who flattened Trent.  Strike one.  Then, as he continued downfield, Smelley whiffed on his next block completely (strike two), falling over one of his own OL.  Strike three!

Save a Horse:  TR posted his first real effort as a lead back.  His first carry of the game was the most impressive 3 yard gain you’ll see as he was squarely hit three yards in the backfield.  He still is not seeing some opportunities in the running game but 26 carries for 111 & 2 TDs will get ‘er done.  I would like to have seen a bit more of Lacy (and the BEAST!) in order to save the big horse that we’ll be riding this season.

Third Down a Charm:  After an abysmal third down effort against Kent State (KENT STATE!) last week, AJ rebounded by going 9 for 13 on third downs.  Remarkable improvement.

Little in the Middle but We’ve Got Much Back:  Blame my parents for sending me to basketball camps where rap was king (and thank you Sir Mix-a-Lot for Baby’s Got Back).  Anyway, this is the best way to describe our running game.  By my count there were two outside running plays and one reverse and those three times are the only times we threatened the flanks.  EVERYTHING else was up the middle.  196 yards equals some good production but wow – threaten the flanks why don’t ya!  (Note: To his credit, Lacy did bounce a couple of runs outside but they were supposed to be up the gut runs.)

WTF?:  Sorry, nothing clever in the title for this.  Alabama’s identity is power football.  McElwain said as much when he came here.  So why on earth would you be passing on 3rd and goal from the 1 when your line has been getting a nice push?  If Warmack doesn’t miss the block on 2nd down, TR walks in.  RUN THE BALL!

DEFENSE

We are who they thought they were…and that is one bad, bad mammer jammer defense.  Someone remarked that we have 8 players in the top 100 defensive players in the nation so basically we are an NFL defense that plays on Saturdays.  For the second week in a row there were virtually NO yards after a catch.  The few times the ball was caught, a defender was right there to bring down the receiver.  There are so few open windows to throw the ball.  In fact, we combined for an incredible 17 (SEVENTEEN!) passes broken up.  On five straight plays in the third quarter we nearly picked off a pass (twice Lester was credited with a pick).  There were 8 or 9 occasions where Alabama woulda shoulda coulda had a pick – that is simply amazing.  And, while there were no sacks credited to the D, the tape revealed that we flushed the QB from the pocket numerous times.  Also, I picked up on a little defensive adjustment after the first drive that changed things drastically.   Read on for more goodies!

Down Under the Radar:  A buddy of mine asked me if Jesse Williams (“that Australian dude”) played against PSU as he never saw him.  I said “exactly” without watching the tape.  Holy crappers, people, Jesse the Body was everywhere Saturday.  He actually was in the backfield a lot on their first drive and continued to be a force throughout the day.  He even batted down 2 passes!  His penetration was really impressive and I’d suggest going back and watching him if you are down on him!

Dre, Oh!  Dreeee, Oh!:  Daylight come and me don’t wanna throw to his home.  Dre Kirkpatrick has finally realized all of the five star potential that he’s carried with him.  His coverage was outstanding but he actually forced two fumbles in run support.  RUN SUPPORT!  You heard me right!  Dre is becoming a complete player and an elite corner and it’s been amazing to watch his transformation from putting an M and an E in ME to putting and M and an E in TEAM.

Red Barron:  Just about every big time hit had #4 involved.  He’s big time.  You are watching the best corner and the best safety in the country as far as them being complete players.  Coverage?  Check.  Run support?  Check.  And this Red Barron brings the hammer, folks.   7 tackles, a pick and a fumble recovery – nice day’s work.

I’m a Man, Yes I Am:  I giggled while watching Donte Hightower during this game.   When he’s assigned to fill a gap, he does so in a very violent way.  Numerous times he came on a blitz and just waylaid the poor OL in his path.  I’d say he’s healthy once again.  He even was running sideline to sideline.  He shifted from DE to LB throughout the game without ever looking tired as he did all of last season.

Simply Interchangeable:  So, on the first PSU drive, the majority of their yards came on third down while facing a 4-1 front.  Donte and Upshaw were on the edges with Mosley as the lone LB.  Barron walked down to form a 4-2 look but he was in pass coverage each time.  PSU gained 31 yards against this look and, after this drive, I noticed that we changed to a 3-2 look primarily on third downs (with the exception of the entire last PSU drive).  Donte moved from DE to LB and stood next to Mosley to form the 3-2 look.  They would then blitz from their positions up the middle (sometimes shifting late to work the edge) and this shut down the ability to run against this front.  On the last PSU drive, Bama played almost an exclusive 4-1 alignment with Watkins and Hubbard as the outside rushers and PSU gained 30 rushing yards against it.  I didn’t like this look against Kent State (KENT STATE!) and PSU worked it over in the running game.

Special Teams:

I’ll just give you some quick bullet points on special teams.  All in all good day and good progress this year with the lone exception (as usual) being the punting game.

  • Shelley remains perfect on the year in FGs.  Mr Consistency!
  • Nice play design on the fake FG, even if Smelley didn’t follow his blockers.
  • Opponents are averaging 16.9 yards per KO return which is 10 fewer than last year.
  • 37.2 yards per punt ain’t gonna cut it.  I know it’s Mandell and not Mandrell but please, sister, punt the ball!  We are 75th out of 120 D1 teams in net punting. Sigh.

Mama Said Knock You Out!:  Many of you chided me last week for not acknowledging Vinny “The Hit Man” Sunseri and rightly so.  Since Vinnie is primarily a special teamer, I tend to cut down on the amount of words by eliminating some special teams moments.  I told you guys last year that Sunseri and DePriest were the two most impressive performers at the Under Armour All American game and they’ve done nothing but prove that they belong since they got to campus.  DePriest is going to be great and Sunseri will be as well.  Last week, our cousin Vinnie put the FLASH in the Golden Flashes with multiple big hits and this week he channeled his inner Waterboy to completely jack an unsuspecting PSU defender.  Sunseri must be Italian for sunset because he turned the lights out on some dude.  Have you ever seen someone propel themselves in the air like he did?  WOW!  Now that’s what I call some high quality H2O!

Extra Points:

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades:  Sunseri, DePriest, and Clinton-Dix are absolutely de-crap-itating people every Saturday.  And, did you notice the Kouandjio bookends when the second string line came in?  Cyrus planted a little Nittany on his first snap – that little Nittany was all Big 10 player Devon Still.  These guys keep showing up and impressing each week.

You Ain’t Gotta Go Home, But…:  I’m just going to shoot straight with you.  I’ve verified that the rumors about Sims threatening to transfer last year are true.  Some said that when P Sims left the field on Saturday, he was beyond pissed.  I’m sure he feels that he should be the starter and nothing is going to change that feeling.  And, being ranked as the #1 pro style QB coming out of high school, he obviously has some talent and should be able to find some team out there that needs his talents.  Do not be surprised if Sims leaves the program at the end of this season unless something changes drastically in his playing time.

Jumbo Package:  Everyone see the new TE Brandon Lewis?  They moved this 285 lb big un to FB and he’s a big piece of the goal line package.  And what a big, big package it is.  And, when he comes in, they run right behind Fluker and Steen – this is our go to side of the OL.

Next up is North Texas.  If you haven’t seen a freshman player play after this game, he’s redshirting.  That may include Duron Carter but I kind of doubt it.  I think if he gets cleared, Carter will play as several players have mentioned a wow factor with DC.  Great size and hands – he could be the kind of chip you play even if it’s only for half the season.  When you know you are THIS close to competing for a Championship, you’ll play a kid like DC, no matter how many games are left.