LSU Game Review
What would you do? In Death Valley – the place where dreams come to die. With a cacophony of venomous noise streaming down from a record crowd of Cajun haters who would love nothing more than to see you fail in the biggest moment of your life. What would you do? With the cynicism and the never-ending questions of “can he do it” from national and local critics ringing in your ear. They say you’ve never had to win the big game. They say you’ve never come thru in the clutch. Most doubt that you can come thru in the clutch. Maybe you doubt you can, too. What would you do?
With 1:34 showing on the clock, no timeouts and 11 yellow helmeted obstacles in his way, AJ McCarron stared down his hopes, his dreams and his future Bama epitaph. Growing up as an Alabama fan, he knew exactly what he stood to gain if he succeeded. He also knew exactly what would be said if he failed. What would he do? AJ had failed to deliver for his teammates during the entire second half, going 1 for 7, for zero yards passing when his team needed him most. He’d even failed to deliver a handoff that would have certainly cinched the game, instead fumbling the ball back to LSU and allowing them to take the lead. Down by three points, AJ twice had the chance to become a hero but twice he failed as LSU forced consecutive three and outs. But, the defense gave him a final reprieve and one more chance to be the hero. What would he do?
For AJ McCarron, after the game he said it was just another Thursday. Every Thursday, AJ and the first string offense have worked on their two-minute drill while going against the first string Bama defense. He’d faced this situation every Thursday against the #1 defense in the country so going against the #2 defense in the country would be a breeze, right? They’d practiced this. They’d prepared for this moment. Coach Saban said the coaching staff had seen what LSU liked to do on defense in the two-minute drill so it helped that the LSU defense did exactly what was expected. But, what would AJ do? Would he do as expected? Well, McCarron put all of those Thursday practices into reality and led perhaps the most dramatic touchdown drive in Alabama football history. And he only needed 43 seconds to do it. In 43 seconds he silenced the noise in the stadium and critics across the country. In 43 seconds he wrote himself into Alabama history and created the stuff that legends are made of. But, to him, it was just another Thursday …wow. What a ridiculously amazing comeback. Let’s see how it all transpired….
Alabama on Offense
Last year in Tuscaloosa, LSU stymied the Tide’s running game so, in the BCS National Championship, the Tide staff decided to take to the air to hold these Tigers. The plan was a thing of beauty. The execution was even more beautiful. The crystal trophy at the end of the day? Priceless. But, on Saturday night, things changed. A lot.
Saturday night in Death Valley was nearly where the Tide’s dreams came to die. And, if you take away two highly successful 2-minute drills, Mike the Tiger might be tripping over the tombstone of the Tide offense right now. However, in the two-minute drills, the Tide was high – drowning the Tigers with a couple of quick strike and surgical touchdowns. One to end the half. One to turn the lights out in Tiger Stadium. Combined, Alabama gained 135 of their 331 yards during the two-minute drills and, of course, 14 of their 21 points. Outside of the 2-minute drills, while the passing game was erratic at best, the Tide’s running game was exceptional and nearly drove the final nail into the coffin and nearly put the death into Death Valley. In a complete flip of the script, the running game was unstoppable while the passing game was erratic. No matter what you think you know, you just never know. Here’s what we saw from the Bama offense…
Born to Run: Last year in the two games against LSU, Alabama averaged only 2.2 yards per rush. Saturday night, Bama gained 6.6 yards per rush. Did you notice on the drive following the botched on-sides kick that Bama pounded the Tigers with the running game? Four straight Yeldon runs moved the ball from the LSU 44 to the LSU 10. LSU called a timeout and, on the next play, McCarron and Yeldon couldn’t connect on the handoff and LSU recovered the fumble. In looking at the tape, if Yeldon had secured the handoff then he would have scored relatively easily on that play – nearly making Les the Sad Hatter.
Communication: With a record crowd on hand and everyone on the field saying it’s the loudest atmosphere at any sporting event they’ve ever attended, it’s astounding that the offensive line didn’t commit a single false start infraction. Not one! Even faced with the speed from the daunting LSU defensive ends, the tackles held their water and never moved early. Additionally, the line was assignment sound as they typically made their run blocks and never allowed a free rusher due to a miscommunication. The line also allowed only two tackles for loss (one of which was Lacy’s fault). What an amazing performance in that environment.
Fake It: In a new wrinkle, Christion Jones continually came in motion for what amounted to being fake reverse. This action held the backside pursuit and allowed the gashing of LSU’s run defense. Of course, it was in the execution of this fake where AJ drifted towards Jones, leaving the ball just out of the grasp of Yeldon. As we said, Yeldon waltzes in with Julianne Hough if he gets the handoff.
Puttin’ on the Blitz: LSU didn’t blitz often but, when they did, they often paid for it at the hands of the Tide running game. The OL picked up the blitzers and creased the Tigers for runs of 5, 11 and 23 yards. Of course, on “The Drive,” LSU blitzed three times giving up passes for 15, 11 and the game winning 28 yard screen.
Wild Thing: Most will remember this as one of AJ’s worst games, well, at least before that last drive. A closer inspection of his 14 of 27 for 165 yards performance shows us this: two passes were dropped, two passes were batted down, two were broken up by great defensive plays and he threw two passes away. Now, he did miss badly on passes to Shinn and Bell and the overthrow to Cooper was criminal. But, he did lead two fabulous two-minute drives for touchdowns and he certainly put himself on at least one Daniel Moore painting!
The Anatomy of a Quickie (Part I): You guys looking for love advice in this section probably should scroll on down to the defense section (grin). Here’s how AJ put up a quick six after Les Miles stupidly trotted out his field goal team for a 54 yarder.
- With the ball on the Bama 37, 1:08 left and 3 timeouts, Bama could run anything they wanted to. Just to keep the Tigers honest, the first play was a delay draw to Lacy, good for 11 yards and it stopped the clock with a first down.
- On the next down, AJ was sacked by Sam Montgomery. Cyrus was holding up well but received a chip from Lacy as he went out for a pass. Montgomery used the chip to create a vicious spin move and a sack. I’ve never seen that tactic used before and, honestly, it was pretty sweet.
- The first screen of the game came against an LSU defense that was not blitzing. This screen was to Lacy and he followed Barrett Jones down the sidelines for a 19 yard gain, another first down and another stoppage of the clock. Awesome play call and execution, and something that they obviously felt good about in the 2 minute drill.
- With a first down at the Tiger 38, McCarron hit Norwood on a little out coming out of the slot and Norwood was able to drag a Tiger across the first down marker. Another stoppage of the clock for the resulting first down and Bama found itself at the LSU 28.
- In another foreshadowing of “The Drive,” after an interference penalty put the ball at the LSU 17, AJ rolled right and found Kevin Norwood along the sidelines for an easy completion.
- Then, from the 9, as Danielson beautifully described on the telestrator, LSU vacated the middle of the field in order to put an extra defender outside each boundry and AJ was able to walk in for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead. Sweet.
The Anatomy of a Quickie (The Drive): Seek a doctor for heartache if you can’t score in a minute and 34 seconds. Phone a friend of you can. My what a happy ending…
- Alabama got the ball back on their own 28 yard line after a missed 45 yard field goal. 1:34 showed on the clock. Bama had no timeouts. But, we had a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it was dark and we were in Death Valley. Hit it.
- In the five plays during “The Drive” Alabama never changed their formation. With Lacy injured, one wonders if he would have been have been the back instead of Yeldon. Instead, AJ was flanked in the shotgun by Yeldon and Bama stayed in a balanced four wide receiver set with two wide receivers at the top of the formation and two at the bottom. From top to bottom the receivers were: Bell & Norwood to the right and Christion Jones and Marvin Shinn to the left. Amari Cooper was injured, of course, or else he would have been out there.
- On the first pass, AJ hit Norwood between two defenders on a curl. Short of the first down, Norwood spun and got upfield in a hurry, getting the first down and stopping the clock with an 18 yard gain.
- On the second play, LSU blitzed a corner but dropped a defensive end to maintain just a four man rush. In a throw reminiscent of the BCS game, AJ dropped a perfectly thrown corner route right to the sidelines where a leaping Norwood gathered it on. The only thing missing on this play was a tiny Honey Badger biting at his kneecaps.
- With Bama on the LSU 39, LSU blitzed. Yeldon picked up the fifth pass rusher and AJ rolled right where he threw another perfect strike along the sidelines to Norwood just as he’d done in the 2 minute drill earlier.
- The fourth play was a near miss at the back of the end zone to Norwood. If you watch closely, if Norwood doesn’t fall down, it’s a touchdown. Perfectly thrown football again. So close.
- The fifth and final play was, of course, the screen to Yeldon. Before Barrett Jones left the bench, he told Coach Stoutland to not forget about the screen. Facing second and long, the Tide staff guessed LSU would blitz. The Tiger staff indeed sent 7 men on a blitz with one of them (Minter) having responsibility for Yeldon. As Minter showed blitz at the middle of the line, he realized that Yeldon was allowing his man to go by and was quickly releasing for a screen. It was already too late for Mr Minter. Chance Warmack was supposed to rub out Minter but he didn’t get much of him with his block. The block wasn’t needed – it was already too late. Meanwhile, Steen released and was charging down the field looking for any LSU defender to hit but there was no one around – they’d all blitzed. Christion Jones was the one guy who made a legit block and he pushed his defender past a hard charging Yeldon. By the time Jones let up, it was too late for that defender to do anything but watch. What he saw was Yeldon, a true freshman, holding the hopes of an entire Bama nation cradled in his arms. There was one defender left and he had a perfect bead on Yeldon but, in an instant, Yeldon undressed the Tiger’s Craig Loston (with an emphasis on lost) and was chest bumping Mark Ingram in the end zone. In the highest rated football game of the season, on the east coast it was midnight and, yes, you know in their midnight hour they cried MORE MORE MORE!
Bama on Defense
Oooh, the carnage. LSU ran 85 plays, gained 22 first downs and 435 total yards. They held the ball for 39:15. Simply put, this was a blood bath. On this night, the Alabama defense never rested as they were on the field for nearly 40 minutes, putting their hearts, minds, bodies and souls thru the test of all tests. There were so many bad moments – leaving open receivers, bad tackling and the inability to stop LSU on third down. But, there were so many good moments. Stopping the Tigers on a critical fourth and short. Stopping LSU on the last drive and setting up the missed field goal. Stopping the fake field goal. So many good moments. Sooo many bad moments. Sooooo many ups and downs. What an awesome game!
Mettenberger in Paradise: Thanks to a tremendous job by the much maligned LSU offensive line, Zack Mettenberger delivered strike after strike after strike. He was in the zone, completing 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards. His previous best performance? 11 of 25 for 158 yards against Florida. Are you kidding me? He utilized a deadly three-step drop passing game and a play action passing game that hadn’t been shown by LSU this season and he victimized the Tide secondary time and again. It was impressive.
Close But No Cigar: Off the top of my head, these are the close plays where a Bama defender was in perfect position but was beaten by inches on a perfect pass on third down:
- Milliner defended Boone perfectly but he catches a 7 yard pass for a first down.
- A squeezed pass between to Bama defenders to Jacobs under duress – 7 yards and another first down on a great throw.
- A pass to Boone where Milliner was in perfect position. Dee missed the tackle and 19 yards later it was a first down.
- The touchdown pass over Belue wasn’t on third down but it was ridiculous. Perfect coverage. 14 yards and a touchdown – just out of the reach of Belue.
- Another perfect pass beat Belue and Lester in zone coverage. Belue actually got his hand on it but, instead, it was a critical 22 yard gain for the Tigers.
Stand By Your Man: Each time it appeared LSU was about to deliver the knockout punch, the beleaguered Tide defense would rise up and make a critical stop. When you gather it all together, the list of dramatic stands the defense made is a pretty amazing list. Our defense was gashed like never before but, eventually, they found a way to stand . How’d we win this game? The Lighthouse says the answers are right here:
- With LSU holding a 3-0 towards the end of the quarter, the Tigers had the ball at the Bama 47. Sacks by Milliner (9 yards) and Hubbard (7 yards) ended the drive and forced a punt. The blitz was working at this point and turned back a potential scoring drive.
- Bama’s defense was in “kick safe” playing for the fake field goal. Les’ stupidity overcame him and “The Mad Hatter” called for a ridiculous fake field goal on 4th and 12. Huh? Thanks Les! And thanks to the Bama coaching staff who were more than prepared for Les’ antics.
- With LSU at the Bama 35 and facing 2nd and 2, Adrian Hubbard blew up a running play for a 2 yard loss. After this, on the next play LSU was forced to pass and, after a diving pass breakup by Depriest, the Tigers then missed a 54 yard field goal. Two massive plays that allowed Bama to take a 14-3 halftime lead. Think that touchdown before the half was important? Hubbard and Depriest were largely responsible for it.
- On third and 2 at the Bama 25, Nico Johnson shed a crushing block from the 270 lb Copeland and tackled Hill for a one yard gain. Nico simply made an amazing play here! This set up a 4th and 1 where…
- Facing a 4th and 1 at the Bama 24, Spencer Ware tried to go up the middle out of the wildcat formation. While Ware did slightly juggle the snap I don’t think it mattered. Jesse Williams held the point and created a crease just big enough for D.J. Pettway to knife in and make the tackle. Other defenders helped push Ware back but THE guy was Pettway. This was a huge play for a beleaguered defense – just when you thought they were dead they rose up for a big stop!
- Prior to missing the 45 yard field goal (which set up “The Drive”), LSU faced a 2nd and 7 at the Bama 29. On a handoff to Hill, Jesse Williams blew up the play and, with help from Stinson, knocked Hill back for a three yard loss. MASSIVE play here as it moved the field goal back and made it virtually impossible for LSU to get a first down without throwing the ball.
Yes, the defense was abused and beaten like a rented mule – there’s no question about it. But, when you look at the list of crucial plays the defense made to force critical stops it’s mind boggling. As badly as the defense played, as much as they were pounded into submission and more worn out Lindsay Lohan on a Saturday night, the D was still able to rise to the challenge time and time again.
I Mean I Missed Again: Never have I ever seen a Nick Saban team miss so many tackles. I’m not even talking about your garden variety arm tackle, either. These were full on misses. I counted nine of them and here are some of the worst ones:
- Milliner could have held Boone to a short catch and a fourth down but whiffed on the tackle and allowed a 19 yard completion
- Robert Lester missed on two run blitz tackles within 5 plays of each other
- Big JC Copeland rambled 42 yards after Deion Belue and Trey Depriest took turns bouncing off
Don’t Blitz!: You may have heard me screaming at the TV but, after the first quarter, LSU picked up our blitzes and found mismatches in the secondary. LSU repeatedly wore out Sunseri & Perry who couldn’t even get close to their guys in pass coverage and they also picked on Nico Johnson as well. STOP IT!!!! We weren’t getting sacks, we weren’t getting close and we were getting slaughtered. By my count, Mettenberger hit on his last six pass attempts against the blitz in the second half. Meanwhile, the blitz netted zero sacks after the first play in the second quarter.
This is How We (Don’t) Do It: After “The Drive” LSU got the ball back with 51 seconds on the clock. BTW, Bama scored in just 43 seconds – that’s your reference point. In the two minute drill, every pass has to be for a first down. Time is of the essence and, with no timeouts, you have to stop the clock by getting out of bounds or by getting first downs. LSU did neither. While all five Bama passes went for first downs, none of LSU’s did. LSU ran only three plays. One was an 8 yard pass – the clock continued ticking. Next, Mettenberger was nearly sacked before dumping the ball off for three yard loss. The clock kept ticking. Then, on the last play, he was sacked with just a three man rush. BTW – as an aside, another little “what not to do” is to get a 15 yard roughing penalty at your opponent’s 13 yard line. Thank you JC Copeland, you incredibly large and stupid mammal (just don’t tell him I said so).
Bama On Special Teams
Prior to “The Drive” my player of the game was Cody Mandell. Cody picked an amazing night to bust out the howitzers as he went head to head, er, foot to foot with the awesome Aussie, Brad Wing. Hey, did you know he’s from Australia? I’d swear he was Verne’s love child as much as Verne gushed about Wing. Here are a few of the bombs from Mandell that hopefully will make you appreciate his night more than you did before you read this…
- From Bama’s own 18, Mandell smashed a punt 46 yards. With the help of a 10 yard penalty, LSU had to start from their own 26! That’s a 56 yard change in field position, peeps!
- From the Bama 35, Mandell crushed a 56 yard punt that went out-of-bounds at the LSU 9.
- From the Bama 27, Cody boomed a 55 yarder that LSU had to fair catch.
With the Tide defense bruised and battered, these punts were well over Mandell’s 37 yard net average and were more than helpful to an exhausted defense.
To the bad, I had just texted my buddy that having a true freshman back returning punts made me more than a little nervous. On cue, Cyrus Jones attempted to pick up a bounding ball but, instead, muffed it. LSU botched the fake field goal here so there was no harm done but it was telling that the staff made a change and put Christion Jones back deep on the next punt.
The next game I coach will be my first so far be it from me to start casting stones at Les Miles. With a 3-3 record against Nick Saban, it’s not like Les isn’t getting it done as a head coach. But, I found it ironic last year that, in Tuscaloosa, Les played it close to the vest while a panicked Saban resorted to trick plays, shuffling kickers and desperate measures and he lost the game because of it. In this game, with the Tigers hammering away at the Tide, it was almost as though Miles didn’t believe what he was seeing. His Tigers could more than hold their own against Bama and were playing like the superior team so why take any risks? But, you KNEW when Tracy Wolfson called The Hat out prior to the game that Les would be taking some chances. Before the broadcast, Wolfson said, “Cooach, we haven’t seen the mad hatter this year – any tricks underneath that cap?” That was the beginning of the end – we just didn’t know it. Here are the Miles brain farts:
- On fourth and 12, Miles eschewed a makeable 47 yard field goal for an option play to the kicker. Never mind that Bama was in their “kick safe” defense – asking a kicker to run 12 yards off of an option from the holder isn’t good play design. Dumb all the way around.
- Later, on 4th and 4 from the Bama 37, Les decided that a 54 yard field goal made sense. Of course it was right before the half, it would give Bama excellent field position if they missed it and his kicker’s CAREER long was 44 yards. No matter. What they heck, let’s kick it. Smart would have been to punt. Risky would have been to go for it. Stupid was to try a field goal.
- After scoring a touchdown to make it 14-10, Les predictably rolled the dice on an onsides kick. I was yelling at my TV to no avail – ONSIDES! Sigh. Thankfully, the pigskin is a funny shaped ball that jumped up and bit the kicker before it went 10 yards. It was a risky call that backfired (but it darn near worked) on Les.
- After passing for three straight third down conversions on LSU’s next to last drive, the Tigers faced third and 10 at the Bama 32. Mettenberger had hit on his last three passes and all were completed for first downs. He was on fire. It was interesting to me that, after all the antics and with Bama out of timeouts, Les didn’t trust his quarterback one more time. One last first down would have sealed the deal and Bama’s fate.
What a game. This time, no one who tuned in could have moaned about having to sit thru another overhyped and boring contest between these two SEC heavyweights. This was an amazing game. I can’t recall watching another game with so many ebbs and flows, ups and downs. LSU started out hot, taking the lead 3-0 with an unexpectedly strong jab. Then Bama struck back with a left hook and a right uppercut that left LSU dazed, confused and down 14-3 at halftime. But, LSU kept working the body and working the body while Alabama conjured up their best Muhammad Ali by going rope a dope on the Tigers. With Alabama poised and about to land the knock out punch, the Tigers got a reprieve and recovered a fumble on a play where Bama was sure to score. From that moment until the last 1:34, LSU unleashed an unmerciful pounding and encountered only momentary counter punches. But, oh were those counter punches timely. A stop on downs and a missed field goal left Alabama bloodied, battered and bruised. But not out. With a quick succession of four body shots, the Tide staff called for the Death Valley death-blow at the same time the LSU coaches called for an all out blitzing attack. The result was a Bama touchdown and a legendary moment that will be remembered for a lifetime by all who witnessed it.
It turns out that Death Valley is a place where dreams can come to flourish…where legends can be born…and where miraculous victories can happen. God I love night games in Death Valley!