Missouri Game Review
As Alabama’s LaMichael Fanning flipped Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough over his head like a rag doll and then splattered him onto the Faurot Field turf, you couldn’t help but feel for the Missoui fan base, as this play epitomized Mizzou’s first foray into SEC football. Like Hansbrough as he landed upside down and on his head, this likely isn’t the position Missouri ever wanted to be in, and they certainly didn’t picture themselves here when they joined the SEC. But, there was Hansbrough, peering at the sky thru his feet, being body slammed by an Alabama behemoth. And, similarly, there was Missouri, peering up at the SEC standings as they were being body slammed by the league’s behemoth, Alabama. In a word, it was messy. The weather. The score. And the carnage inflicted. Mr Slive, cleanup on aisle nine…and ten…and eleven…
Saturday was a day that saw the beleaguered Tigers endure a mighty storm crashing down from the heavens along with the on-field destruction that blew in from Tuscaloosa. The “Show Me” state was transformed into the “I Get It Now” state as they found out why the SEC is the best conference on earth. This was the fourth consecutive loss to their new SEC foes, three of which have been absolute woodshed beatings – the Bama one being the worst of the three. From Bama’s side of things, evidently the last two weeks of practice produced a battering ram in the form of a suddenly rejuvenated running game. The Tide’s offensive line, failing to live up to expectations in the two games leading up to this matchup, took the field with the ravenous hunger of an unfed attack dog. Oh, those poor Mizzou kitties. When the lightning struck (from the heavens and not in the form of Eddie Lacy) and play was suspended, sadly it was the only reprieve the Tigers would receive on this day. But, the lightning delay did prove what many have suspected all year long – only acts of God can stop this Alabama team. Well, at least the Mizzou fans can move along to basketball season…..and you can now move along to…..the Notes!
Alabama on Offense
So, in preparation for this game, I honestly sat in my basement and watched Missouri’s games against Central Florida and Vandy. Can I just tell you that I deserve some type of meritorious service award for sitting thru those two awful games? Gimme a medal of valor, a purple heart – something! The one thing I did come away with, other than a cure for insomnia, was that the Tigers’ defense was pretty darn good, and a quick check of their statistics confirmed what I saw on tape. So, when I sat down to watch this game, I suspected Bama’s offense would struggle a bit, especially in the running game. Well, that “struggle” lasted exactly two plays and 73 yards later, it was clear to me that Alabama was certainly not Vandy nor Central Florida. HELLO – DUH!
The execution of the running game (or was it the execution of Mizzou?) was nearly flawless for the first several possessions of the game. THIS was the Bama offensive line that we all expected and witnessed in games against Michigan and Arkansas. All six men on the line of scrimmage executed their blocks to perfection, opening holes wide enough that even a drunk Verne Lundquist (what do you mean redundant?) could run thru. The communication was nearly as good as the execution as each Missouri defender was identified and taken out Jack Bauer style. No muss. No fuss. And, 379 yards later (putting back the 17 yards that Cody Mandel lost), Alabama had solidified their #1 BCS ranking and “showed” Missouri how painful “old man football” can really be.
C’mon Ride the Train: The bye week worked wonders for Bama’s offensive line as they worked together in concert better than the Boston Pops. Speaking of pops, wow – there were some pretty solid licks being passed along by the Tide O-line. Gary and Verne pointed this out on the telecast but Bama employed a blocking scheme that had Michael Williams block down on the defensive end which freed up big DJ Fluker to inflict pain on the first linebacker or, worse, a defensive back. To make matters worse for the defenders, Barrett Jones was pulling from his center position which is typically very, very, very hard for a center to do. As a pulling guard, Barrett Jones is at his best and this was a great wrinkle in the running game.
Anatomy of a Death Blow: 44 seconds into the game, the game was over. At the snap of the second play from scrimmage, Barrett Jones fired past the defensive tackles and took out the middle linebacker. On the weak side, Cyrus K fired off the line of scrimmage and cleaned the clock of the weak side linebacker, leaving no pursuers left to get to Lacy. On the play side, DJ Fluker blocked down, causing a heap of trash at the middle of the line. This allowed Anthony Steen to loop out to the edge and provide a gorgeous kick out block on the strong side linebacker – the last man in the way. From there, Lacy did the rest. He showed his old burst and strength by running thru and past the safety and then, at the Mizzou 35, he cut back and picked up a devastating block by Christion Jones. Give. Him. Six! The execution on this was perfect and executed any hopes of Mizzou pulling the upset.
Club Can’t Handle Me: Alabama ran a particular play over and over and over again and then added a wrinkle or two off of it to make it nearly unstoppable. Missouri simply couldn’t handle it or the variations off of it. On the play, AJ lines up in the shotgun with the back offset to his right (or left). Whichever side the back lines up on, three wide receivers flank to that side – the wide side of the field. Alabama would then hand the ball off to the back going to the short side of the field away from the wide recievers and, with Jones, Warmack and Steen pulling, they created a numerical advantage and creases galore to the short side of the field. This is actually the play that Gary Danielson pointed out where Williams blocked down and Fluker and Jones got out on the edge. It’s almost unfair. Alabama rode this play harder than Brittney on spring break but, just like Brittney, they got a little freaky with it, too.
- Out of the same formation, AJ gave a play action fake to the RB and then threw a screen to the wide side of the field. They tried this twice but failed to complete the pass. It was there.
- In the same formation and with Blake Sims at QB, he faked the handoff in the zone read and kept the ball for a 36 yard gain. The Tiger defenders had become so accustomed to flowing out to get the back that they over pursued and allowed Blake to nearly take one the distance.
- This was the same play where TJ Yeldon changed in the phone booth and emerged as Superman.
You Light Up My Life: Bama’s unsung offensive hero is Michael Williams. His ability to cave in defensive ends from his TE position is what allows Bama to be creative with their blocking schemes. He almost never misses a block and was even savvy enough to release quickly to help AJ avoid a blitz. The result was a 17 yard catch but you probably don’t even recall it. When he left the game, Vogler whiffed on a block and, subsequently, committed a holding penalty. Williams came back in and Yeldon went airborne on the next play in large part due to Michael Williams.
Handy Man: We’ve gone from Flo-rida to Debbie Boone and now on to a James Taylor reference – a little something for all ages here at the Bama Lighthouse. As for a handy man, Bama’s offensive handy man is Christion Jones and, from what I saw on Saturday, they simply cannot afford to lose him at any point this season. He’s like your favorite Swiss Army Knife. He covers kickoffs and punts, he returns kickoffs and punts and he can occasionally be found at his listed position of wide receiver. What is typically ignored about his game is his decleating blocks from the WR position but he is ruthless. The next time you see this, pay attention. Alabama will come out in a three wide receiver formation with Jones in the slot. Jones then motions down to a position just off the hip of the tackle or the tight end and it’s his job to engage and destroy the outside linebacker in the run game. When Jones left the game, Cyrus Jones came in and tried to fill his shoes but to no avail because he simply doesn’t bring the kind of physicality to the position that Christion Jones does. In a word, Cyrus was awful in this blocking role. AWFUL. By the way, in a first, I saw Alabama insert a little wrinkle here as they motioned him to a position off the hip of the tackle and faked a run away from him (which is typically where the run goes when he’s in this position). AJ then rolled back towards Jones and found him out to practice early. It was a beautifully designed play, a big gainer and a play they’ve been settting up for about 2 years. Hopefully, Christion’s leg injury isn’t serious because he is, how do you say, indispensible….
Superman Dat Ho: Did. You. See. That! TJ Yeldon’s Superman impression left Superman gasping for breath. In fact, rumor has it that Superman now wears TJ Yeldon underoos. Yep. Troof! TJ’s run came out of the aforementioned formation (Club Can’t Handle Me) with three wide receivers to the left and Yeldon offset to AJ’s left, as well. At the snap, once again Williams blocked down and Jones and Warmack created an ally for Yeldon. As Yeldon raced to the sidelines, he suddenly straightened up his run and got north towards the end zone. In one fell swoop, Yeldon planted with his left foot and lept from the four and a half yard line into Columbia’s rainy deluge. As he tightened up his cape with his right hand, he switched the ball to his left hand so as to keep the ball in the field of play and, in a driving rainstorm, he easily palmed the ball and outstretched his left hand to the goal line. When he landed, TJ was more than two yards deep in the end zone but he was out-of-bounds. But, because of his ambidextrous abilities (I like to say amphibious and, given the rain, that would fit, too) he was able to keep the ball just inside the pylon and scored himself a ridiculous touchdown.
Fly Guy: Not to be outdone, Eddie Lacy showed some flight skills of his own when he jumped from the three, bounced off a defender and landed four yards deep in the end zone. Heeee’s baaaaaack…
Boom Boom Pow: I love to see Jesse Williams at the fullback position, don’t you? It’s funny but the backs almost never follow him into the end zone. Anyway, on a Yeldon touchdown run, there was an audible POP as Jesse made contact with some poor Tiger and drove him back to the Big 12. It. Was. Awesome.
That’s a Wrap: Against Western Kentucky, the Lighthouse mentioned that AJ was wearing a wrap on his knee and he was favoring it quite a bit. Against Mizzou, AJ was struck on the same knee in this game and I think it’s more than a bruise. This is a situation we’ll need to continue monitoring.
Fly Guys: Alabama actually used Christion Jones on a fly sweep. We really haven’t seen that a bunch this year so it was a new little wrinkle. They faked the fly to Cyrus Jones out of a four wide receiver set, so that was fun as well.
I Mean I Missed Again: Look for opponents to utilize some “A Gap” blitzes. Alabama struggled mightily to pick up these middle blitzes aainst Mizzou. While it didn’t really show up in the results, this type of blitz was how AJ got hurt. We missed picking this blitz up three or four times Saturday and I think we’ll see Sunseri use it against us against Tennessee.
Alabama on Defense
I won’t waste a lot of your time on this side of the ball. Missouri’s offense was as bad or worse than the Lighthouse predicted and it provided very little for us to talk about here in this review. Aside from Ole Miss, this has seemed to be the case most of the season as no one has been able to challenge the Bama defense. But, there were a few notable things to discuss….
Hammer Time: Yeah, I know, it was a penalty. Yeah, I know, it was dangerous. But, have you ever seen that done on a football field? Lord have mercy…because LaMichael Fanning has none. Fanning played Tiger toss by flipping him over his head, Hulk Hogan style and this cat didn’t land on all fours. WOW!
Keep Away From Me: I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. This Alabama secondary has the best set of hands I’ve seen in a secondary. The catches that Sunseri and Clinton-Dix made off of ricochets were awesome and only a tremendous “defensive” play from a wide receiver kept Deion Belue from recording a pick of his own.
Here We Come: As usual, Saban and Smart were dialed into the spread option sweeps and they had Vinnie Sunseri blitzing right into the play on four separate occasions. Only once did Missou run away from a Sunseri blitz and, on that play, they ran to the short side of the field for no gain. It’s uncanny the way the Bama staff uses safety blitzes to easily stuff the run from the spread option.
I Won’t Back Down: “Hey, baby. There ain’t no easy way out…” outside, that is, of the Alabama defense. The toughest thing for a Bama defensive end to do is hold the edge and contain the sweeps. Against Ole Miss, the Bama defense let the Rebels turn the corner nine times – an unheard of number against a Saban defense. Against Mizzou, Bama allowed none. Credit Hubbard and Dickson for their ability to contain the edges and, therefore, contain the run. As a result, Mizzou rushed for three whole yards.
Handy Man, Part Deaux: If Christion Jones is the handy man on offense, then SEC defensive player of the week CJ Mosley is the Swiss Army Knife of the Bama defense. Saturday he never seemed to leave the field, collecting 12 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. All in a days work for CJ.
Play of the Game: With the momentum completely shifted to Mizzou after the lightning delay, they stood at the Bama 12 yard line, ready to cut into a 28-7 lead. Out of a 4-1 look, Mosley and Perry blitzed, freeing up Adrian Hubbard for the hit of the game. Hubbard’s crushing sack and fumble was eventually recovered and returned to the 50 yards line. There endeth the lesson….the threat…the half….and the game.
Alabama on Special Teams
Where to start. I mean, it’s not an Alabama football season unless the opposition is taking back kickoffs for touchdowns, you know? Saban’s teams are consistent in everything they do but, wow, let’s get this fixed, shall we? Now you see why I’ve been bragging on Cade Foster’s touchbacks all year – if the ball is bouncing out of the end zone, then they can’t exactly house the kickoffs against us. Cyrus Jones was on the kick coverage team and took the bad angle that allowed the return. He was promptly replaced on the next kickoff.
Worse yet, Cody Mandel dropped a perfect snap for what amounted to a turnover. Christion Jones fielded a kickoff seven yards deep in the end zone and was only able to return it to the 15. He also fielded a punt on his own five and had to run into the end zone before reversing field to get it back up field. He was only able to make it back to the Bama 8 yard line. Cyrus Jones performed decently but there was a block in the back that negated his best return. It was certainly a day to forget for the Tide special teams.
Lastly, why in the world is TJ Yeldon on the punt coverage and kick off coverage teams? My man Jay texted me about this and, while I hoped he was wrong, I was able to quickly confirm it. With only three healthy running backs on the team and a plethora of talented freshmen linebackers, is it really necessary to risk TJ’s health on special teams? I think not and I hope that they can find someone else to fulfill this role soon.
Saturday was just another dominant effort from the country’s most dominant team. With Missouri trotting out neophytes at guard and center to protect a neophyte at quarterback, you knew it would not be a fair fight and it wasn’t. While it was alarming that, for a quarter and a half, the Tide seemingly failed to come back from the lightning delay, eventually they found their way and Showed Me they were far and away the superior team. From here on out, the schedule gets progressively tougher. Next up, Bama faces Tyler Bray and his elite corps of receivers that will test the Bama secondary in a way that they haven’t been tested this season. After that, the undefeated Mississippi State Bulldogs come to town with an accomplished offense of their own. And, as if that’s not enough of a challenge, the Tide then travels to Red Stick to take on the Bengal Tigers of LSU in their usual game for all the SEC West marbles. Yes, finally the days of squashing inferior opponents into Bolivia, as Mike Tyson would say, seem to be over and now the fun part of the season begins. Tune in Friday and we’ll discuss W2W4 against Tennessee! Before you poo-poo the UT game, know that they’ve put up big offensive numbers against everyone they’ve played this season. If Bray is on, their receivers will pose enough problems that the Bama offense may be called upon to step up and win the game. Of course, if Bama treats Bray like a piñata, then he’ll likely fold and Volunteer to retreat back to his apartment to drain some beer bottles and throw them at the cars in the parking lot. I mean, he does have a history….
Until Friday, Roll Tide!