Ole Miss Game Review
The Rolling Stones said it best when they sang, “You can’t always get what you want – but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” While the big elephants on the Bama offensive line didn’t exactly blow holes thru the Rebel defenses like a Bangalore torpedo, the emergence of Amari Cooper as the Tide’s “go to” receiver cannot be understated. Oh sure, Tide fans wanted to see Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake doing the Texas two-step over, around and thru the Ole Miss defense just like the Longhorn backs did two weeks ago, but eight Black Bears in the box made it much more difficult to run than we imagined. Thankfully, as the running game struggled, Alabama’s two year search for the next Julio Jones ended Saturday night with two phenomenal touchdown grabs by true freshman Amari Cooper – just what we needed. Speaking of Julio, it’s interesting to note that Coop’s 8 catch performance was actually more than Julio’s best single game as a freshman (7). Hello Amari Cooper!
Defensively, Ole Miss’ up tempo offense clearly challenged the Tide defense as we expected and predicted in the W2W4. Nick employs different personnel groupings for different situations so the hurry up offense limited the Tide’s ability to substitute throughout the game. In fact, Saban stated the two touchdowns the Rebs scored could easily be attributed to the Tide D being fatigued. But, at the end of the day you have to acknowledge that, even with the challenges of the pace and the spread attack, Alabama’s defense played fairly well. By the end of the evening, Bama’s defense recorded eight tackles for loss, five sacks, eight pass breakups and three interceptions – a pretty solid effort by any measure. Additionally, the Tide D held Ole Miss to 80 yards rushing which is significant because the Rebs led the conference in rushing coming into the game. Once again, the Bama coaching staff conspired and took away what their opponent does best – in this case they put cement blocks on the Rebel running game.
So, that’s the good – the emergence of Amari Cooper and the Bama defense’s ability to turn the ball over and eliminate the Ole Miss running game. The bad was hearing the news that, during the game, Dee Hart and DeAndrew White were lost for the rest of the season . The cost of victory was quite high this week. For those of you who follow the blog regularly, you know this isn’t exactly your typical sunshine pumping blog so you know we’ll be looking at the ugly from the game as well. So, brace yourselves as we prepare to uncover it all…..in the Notes!
Alabama on Offense
Let’s face it, Alabama’s offensive performance from Saturday night was, well, offensive. Only 305 total yards? Wow. While the offensive line didn’t allow any sacks (yes, there was one sack but AJ bears the responsibility on that one), it also didn’t open many holes for the running backs to exploit. When I watched Texas play Ole Miss (and gain 676 yards), I was amazed with the ease in which the Texas backs were able to absorb and shed Rebel defenders. Mack’s backs shed Ole Miss tacklers more quickly than a Sammy’s dancer gets down to her “business attire”, so that was my expectation for the Bama backs. Even with the Rebs stuffing 8 and 9 men in the box, on average the Tide’s offensive line outweighed the Rebs d-line 314 to 267, and the two Ole Miss outside linebackers only weighed 195 and 205 lbs. It was a mismatch, right? Nope. Sixteen of Alabama’s 34 carries gained three yards or less. Yikes! Due to the stellar play of Amari Cooper, the lack of a running game didn’t cost us the game but some day it might. Remember, in an earlier article we showed you that in Alabama’s four losses, the one common denominator is the Tide running game got stuffed. Let’s see what happened to the running game this week….
Mrs Jones: Oh, Barrett. It hurts me to single you out but it is what it is – “the eye in the sky don’t lie,” as they say. Barrett had a rough game as the smaller, quicker Rebels proved to be too elusive for Jones to block on numerous occasions. On Alabama’s opening play, Jones was blown back into the backfield and it literally went downhill from there. On two occasions, Jones simply went down and was unable to secure his block at all. Barrett even had a couple of poor snaps which, in one instance, kept AJ from handing the ball off and forced him to dive and take a two yard loss. I’d love to see his grade for the week – can’t be good.
Double Trouble: While Barrett was having a tough time, at times Anthony Steen looked like something off the cast of the Hangover. On one running play, Jones and Steen allowed interior pressure which forced Lacy to hesitate and look somewhere for a hole. In Alabama’s blocking scheme, to account for the numerical advantages of Ole Miss’ stacked front, the Tide leaves the backside defender(s) unblocked. When the interior of the offensive line was pushed back (and this happened several times), it forced the Tide backs to hesitate and then get taken down from the backside. For this blocking scheme to work against an eight man front, the interior of the line of scrimmage has to be controlled and the backs have to hit it full speed.
Slow Down, You Move Too Fast: Alabama’s running game is predicated on first, controlling the line of scrimmage at the snap, and, second, moving down the field to take out the second level (linebackers). Until I watched this tape, I’ve never understood how a small defense can be effective against our big maulers but now I understand. Watching Steen, Jones and even Fluker try to block these little guys was like watching someone try to catch a pesky gnat. More times than not, the Bama OL found themselves two or three steps short of executing the needed blocks which left too many defenders for the backs to elude.
Wake Up Call: After Ole Miss decleated Christion Jones and Kevin Norwood on shallow crossers, the Bama passing game adjusted and hit deep square ins, instead. With the Ole Miss linebackers dropping to a shallow depth, the open area in the Rebel secondary was the deeper middle, which we hit several times. Norwood (17), Jones (22), and Cooper (15 and 16) all caught deep square ins in the middle of the Ole Miss secondary (yardage in parentheses to indicate the depth).
Somebody That I Used to Know: Anyone seen our tight ends in the passing game this year? Anyone? Bueller? Just sayin…
Figured You Out: I don’t understand why everyone in the ESPN Gameday crowd is hating on Nickelback, but whatever. Anyway, we said when Jalston Fowler was lost for the season that we’d likely see Brent Calloway take on more of a role and we saw that for the first time Saturday night. Calloway trotted out to his H back role and found himself matched up with a linebacker in coverage. Calloway was in on only two plays and on each play we threw passes to him – the second of which was a gorgeous circle route where he beat his man badly but the pass was underthrown. Calloway could be an interesting weapon and perhaps one we can utilize down the road. But, we might want to mix in a running play when Calloway is in the game just to keep opponents from figuring out it’s a pass.
Beat It: So, when a team stacks the box like Ole Miss did, that typically leaves opportunities for the screen game. By my count, Alabama attempted to throw seven screens: 4 bubble screens and three screens to Lacy. Cooper and Lacy were effective here and the line executed this as well.
Convoy: One great adjustment was an outside running play that called for Jones and Steen to pull and lead a convoy of blockers to the edge. Two hapless Ole Miss defensive backs tried to hold their ground but ended up getting crushed by Jones and Steen (likely taking out some of their earlier frustrations) and Lacy gained 23 yards on the play. It’s unusual to see this type of pulling action but it worked beautifully!
World War-mack: Chance Warmack is a beast. He’s like a wrecking ball with a #65 on it. In the first quarter, the carnage from Warmack’s block actually took out Steen and Cyrus K on a Yeldon run. In the third quarter, you could hear an audibly loud “POP” from the impact of the big pulling guard when he destroyed a Rebel defender. In the fourth quarter, Chance had the hit of the game. First, he pancaked his man right off the line of scrimmage. Then, he ran towards the pile that was forming around Lacy and he demolished some poor Reb, pushing the pile a few yards. Warmack is such a BEASTY!
Suped up Cooper: When I first saw Amari Cooper, he was blowing up last year’s Under Armour All American game and you could tell the kid was special – now we know for sure. He shows his elusiveness when he catches a bubble screen or quick hitch and easily shakes his defender to pick up a first down. He shows his speed by outracing defenders on his deep routes. He shows his refined route running (he’s a true freshman, remember) abilities on his deep square ins that make defenders think he’s going deep. He shows his leaping ability by going up over defenders to make catches. But, personally my favorite attribute is his hands. While the leaping TD grab was awesome, my favorite catch was a simple crossing route in the second quarter. On third and 4, AJ threw low, forcing Cooper to reach down around his shins while running across the middle of the field at full speed. He effortlessly plucked the pigskin from his shoetops and converted a critical third down. BTW, AJ targeted Coop on six third downs, converting five of them – two of which went for touchdowns. Think AJ likes his new toy?
Alabama on Defense
We knew this game would present some challenges for our young defense and we were right. The spread option threatens the middle and the flanks of a defense all at the same time so it’s imperative that there are no breakdowns in gap assignments. By and large, the young Tide D performed admirably in this regard. However, according to Saban, the pace of the Rebel attack took its toll on the two touchdown drives as they were not able to get any subs into the game to give anyone a rest. But, any time that you can record eight tackles for loss, five sacks, eight pass breakups, and three interceptions while holding down the league’s leading rushing attack to just 80 yards, well, you’ve done your job and done it well.
The Gift: Seether says, “Hold me now I need to feel relief,” and on this night that’s exactly what the offense needed – some relief. Thankfully, Alabama’s opportunistic defense was up to the challenge as they recorded three picks on some “gifts” from the Ole Miss QBs. The first pick was an awful decision by Bo Wallace to hit Milliner between the 2 and the 8 on Milliner’s jersey. Three plays later, Alabama turned a 13-7 nail biter into a 20-7 snooze. The next pick was a floater that Robert Lester ranged over to snag. He returned that one 18 yards before he “fumbled” it back to Ole Miss – no, I’m not convinced that was a fumble but that’s what the call was. Undaunted, 3 plays later Deion Belue recorded his first pick of the season on a tremendous grab, thwarting any momentum Ole Miss may have had. Once again, Alabama’s offense capitalized as 13 plays later the game was essentially over when Alabama scored again to make it 27-7. Thanks Ole Miss!
No Laughing Matter: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix showed me a lil sumpin’ sumpin’ Saturday night. He made two outstanding plays on the ball, showing range, awareness and leaping ability. I was VERY impressed with his ability to make plays from the safety position. With Perry and Suseri struggling in coverage at safety, this is a HUGE revelation. There was some talk that Ha Ha could conceivably play corner and now I see why – dude has some skillz!
Animal I Have Become: Meet Dee Milliner, the next multi-million dollar Bama cornerback in the NFL. He’s simply outstanding in all phases of the game. He shut down the Rebs’ Moncrief, got half a sack, deflected four passes and picked off a pass. In other words, the usual game by Dee.
Life on the Edge: Ole Miss was sure to challenge our edge containment and they certainly did. Courtney Upshaw is the best I’ve ever seen at holding containment, playing the edge and stuffing outside running plays, and I figured filling his shoes would be virtually impossible. I was right. In this game I counted nine times the Rebs turned the corner on us which is eight times more than usual. Stinson’s side seemed to show up more than anyone else’s but he certainly wasn’t the only one to blame. The Bama D did have several tackles for loss when Ole Miss ran wide so, while it wasn’t a bad effort, it just wasn’t our best work on the perimeter.
Beat It: One way to beat the perimeter runs is to blitz a safety into the play. Nick and Kirby love to do this and did so throughout the game. Just before the snap, you can see Sunseri, Dix or Perry come down late into the box and, when they blitz from there, they find themselves right in the path of the ball carrier. I don’t know how the coaching staff figures this out but they are almost always right when they send their safeties in for the kill.
When I Move You Move: My favorite aspect of a Nick Saban defense is the audibles they use. In order to employ defensive on-the-fly audibles, you have to have a leader in the middle of the defense who can coordinate assignments, and that person is Nico Johnson. When Ole Miss would audible, Bama would then make their own audibles and a wonderful game of cat and mouse would ensue. On one play, Nico audibled and then had to remind Clinton-Dix that he was now supposed to blitz. Ha Ha nodded in an “oh, yeah, my bad” kind of way and, by the time he got aligned to blitz, the play was running right to him – he was able to help stuff the play or no gain.
Cry For Help: Nick Perry is not very good in pass coverage. That is all.
Theme from Jaws: Is there anything more fun than watching Adrian Hubbard hunt down a QB from the backside? Hubbard recorded a sack and a half and WILL change a game with a sack that forces a fumble at some point. He’s really, really good. “That’s some bad cat, Harry!”
Enter Sandman: Over the last couple of years, Saban has experimented with a three-man line in passing situations. Saturday night, Alabama showed a three-man front on 13 occasions and blitzed 10 times from this look. Here are the results from the blitzes (cue the Sandman music):
- 3 sacks
- 1 batted ball
- 3 completions on 5 attempts for only 25 yards
- 2 rushes for 2 yards
I’d say that’s pretty effective, wouldn’t you?
Alabama on Special Teams
In the W2W4, we wondered if Alabama could improve on their kick return average as they entered the Ole Miss game ranked 114th in the country. Well, I guess we can now cross that little problem right off the list, right? What a return by Christion Jones! We’ll break down the return in detail below. First, I’d like to once again acknowledge the Bama kicking game! This time, the Lighthouse will shine on Jeremy Shelley. With the Tide offense breaking down in the red zone against FAU and Ole Miss, Shelley has come to the rescue by going a combined six for six on field goal attempts (including 4 for 4 on Saturday night). Shelley is now 7 for 7 on the season and Cade Foster is 4 of 6, with both misses coming from 50+. Meanwhile, Cody Mandell is still looking for the stroke he had earlier in the season but I thought he hit the ball relatively well. He punted three times, only one of them was returned, and he finished with a decent 41 yard average.
The Anatomy of a Kickoff Return Touchdown: First, start with a low line drive kick that is fielded cleanly. Next, follow your two-man escort up into the seam where blocks are being sustained, keeping the seam open. Then, have your one of your escorts take out two men while the other takes out one and finish the blocking clinic with one more outstanding block on the last man standing. The result is a 99 yard kickoff return and a backbreaking blow to the Ole Miss Rebels. Here are some bullet points for the details:
- Jones cleanly fielded the low line drive on one hop and quickly accelerated upfield with no delays and no unnecessary wiggles.
- Clinton-Dix and Dickson held their blocks which opened the seam and it remained open as Jones’ escorts (Square and Milliner) rushed past to seek and destroy Rebel defenders.
- As Milliner moved up the field (you have to go back and watch this), he “thudded” one Reb with his shoulder pad which threw the Rebel wide of the trailing Jones. Even with the “thud”, Milliner never broke stride and quickly took out a second Ole Miss defender with a finishing block.
- Meanwhile, Jones’ other escort, Damion Square, had a nice kick out block of his own, so the two escorts removed a total of three would be tacklers.
- Further up the field, Brent Calloway became engaged in a block early on and he was able to sustain his block throughout the return. This was a huge key because this was the last Reb who had any kind of shot to make the tackle.
- It took Alabama 12 seconds (15 by the clock) to race 99 yards and erase their only deficit of the season. The return deflated the Rebels and erased any thoughts of an Ole Miss victory.
Never in the history of bye weeks has Alabama found one on the schedule that is so perfectly timed. Alabama media relations confirmed both DeAndrew White and Dee Hart were lost for the season with knee injuries Saturday night. Additionally, we are still awaiting news regarding Deion Belue’s shoulder injury – some are speculating he could be out a couple of weeks. Alabama’s deep roster is actually wafer thin at the cornerback position so Belue’s injury bears watching. Meanwhile, the loss of Jalston Fowler is now multiplied with the loss of Dee Hart and suddenly what once was an incredibly deep stable of running backs has now been reduced to a three dawg night. With this developing situation, don’t be surprised to hear that either Blake Sims or Brent Calloway is taking a few reps at the tailback position during the next two weeks. The Lighthouse’s money is on Calloway taking reps at the tailback position.
While the offensive staff will use the next two weeks to prepare for the loss of Dee Hart, they should also have the time to conduct a little introspection and find the root cause of two consecutive weeks of red zone woes. Settling for 8 field goals against the likes of Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss does not bode well for the Tide as they prepare for the meat of their schedule. This must get better – and soon. With the offense struggling, particularly in the running game, and the injury to Belue, it’s not exactly what the Tide wants but ,with the bye week, Alabama will get what it needs – time to heal up, practice and get prepared for the toughest stretch of the schedule.