Alabama vs Kentucky Game Review

The poet Macklemore tells us “one man’s trash is another man’s come up”, and after finally reviewing the Kentucky game I have to tell you “this was f-ing awesome!”  I feel like Coach Saban (who was clearly incensed by the “what’s wrong with Alabama” question at the end of the first half) and I just stepped into bizzaro world after reading so many woeful takes on Alabama’s performance.  Honestly, I’m left shaking my head in disbelief.  Were there mistakes?  Yes.  There’s absolutely no denying the fact that the two fumbles and five dropped passes were, well, not good.  But, even with those mistakes, the Crimson Tide absolutely smashed Kentucky and dominated them on both sides of the line of scrimmage.  Was it a work of art?  No.  Was it tremendous progress for an offensive unit that desperately needed to show some progress?  Heck yes!

So while the offense is taking a good bit of criticism, let’s call out a few juicy tidbits that will hopefully and happily adjust your thinking.  Alabama gained 668 total yards which was their best performance in 40 years.  AJ McCarron passed for a career high 359 yards even though he was betrayed by drops on five different occasions.  Alabama had only one play that lost yardage for the entire game.  ONE!  That’s pretty impressive for an offensive line that is finally starting to click.  Speaking of the line clicking, Alabama rushed for a season high 299 yards.  TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake BOTH went over the 100 yard barrier WHILE AJ was having his career best night passing the football.  Folks, that’s amazing!

It was just two weeks ago that everyone was concerned about the offensive line.  Two weeks ago we were all worried about the passing game…the running game…and what the heck is wrong with Amari Cooper?  But today, we can happily tell you that it appears the offensive line is gelling together very nicely and AJ McCarron seems to be in quite a rhythm as a passer.  Wouldn’t you have to admit that Alabama seems to be peaking at just the right time?  Folks, things are looking up so don’t let a couple of fumbles and drops get you down.  Alabama completely and totally dominated that football game in every single facet of the game and that’s what we have hoped to see this season!  So, sing it with me, “Yea Alabama…!”

Alabama on Offense

We covered most of the goodies in the intro so we’ll be short here.  The point we are trying to make is that Alabama’s offensive line has come a loooooooong way from the Va Tech, Colorado State and Ole Miss games earlier this year.  There were no missed assignments.  There were no complete whiffs.  Nearly every play saw an Alabama offensive lineman engage with his target and hold them off until the backs had gobbled up tons of yardage.  Honestly, it was impressive.  Austin Shepherd seems to enjoy the competition from Grant Hill as he enjoyed quite a few Kentucky pancakes Saturday night.  Chad Lindsay continues to do a fine job at center and even showed that he, too, can pull from the center position.  The story of the game was clearly the offensive line as they destroyed the Kentucky front seven.

Cat on a Hat:  Nearly every single running play resulted in all five of the Bama offensive lineman engaging with their opponent.  You can hit pause on nearly any run and see Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie Kouandjio, Chad Lindsay, Anthony Steen and either Shepherd or Hill owning their assignment.  The second level blocks were simply amazing as they got their man nearly every single time.  When a back can run for 11 yards before he’s touched, you know the big uglies are getting it done.

Double Trouble:  One of the questions at the beginning of the season was who would emerge as the complimentary back to TJ Yeldon.  Are there any further questions, your honor?  Kenyan Drake is proving to be a home run hitter with a bit of a different style than Yeldon.  Yeldon’s patience and strength allow him to pick and cut his way thru the line before bursting into the open field.  Meanwhile, Drake is at full speed when he hits the line, whether there’s a hole there or not.  Drake’s speed is well-known but he also broke numerous tackles against the Wild, er, Tame-Cats.  What a nice duo we have in the backfield!

The Crossing:  A play that caught our attention was a simple crossing route to the lightning fast DeAndrew White.  With three receivers split out wide right, White lined up all by his lonesome to the left against a man to man defense.  The three receivers to the right took off on deep routes which cleared that entire side of the field for White who gathered in a short crossing route and turned it into a 30 yard catch and run.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better:  If you are a geek like me and you enjoy making your own evaluations of players, then you couldn’t have asked for a better game to evaluate the dueling banjos of Shepherd and Hill at right tackle.  Here are some quick observations that the Geico caveman could have gleaned from this one:

  • Austin Shepherd’s game went from like a four to a nine since Hill’s name has surfaced at right tackle.  We didn’t see him miss an assignment but we saw him make a stack full of pancakes.  He was a beast Saturday night.
  • Grant Hill is a true freshman but he sure doesn’t look like one.  The staff and his teammates love his tenacity and he is clearly the superior athlete between he and Shepherd.  My favorite Hill play was Drake’s 11 yard run to the 1 yard line at the end of the second quarter.  The play was a draw and Hill sat back in pass protection and then took off running to the goal line in an effort to push Drake and the pile into the end zone.  He didn’t get there in time but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
  • Wow.  Nick Saban really didn’t like Hill’s false start penalty.  He was so pissed!  But, to his credit, Hill took it well and performed well on the next two plays, generating a huge hole for Drake to dive over for a TD.
  • Shepherd is a mauler in the run game but Hill is vastly superior in pass protection.

Formation Fun:  Alabama unveiled a couple of wrinkles Saturday night.  First, they continually motioned Vogler and Fowler into the backfield to form an I formation look.  After showing run from the I formation, they hit Norwood on a 43 yard gainer to the one yard line.  Another wrinkle was motioning Christion Jones into the backfield three separate occasions:

  • The first time, Jones took a handoff and without a ton of blocking, he quickly gobbled up 14 yards.
  • The second time, Jones took a swing pass and turned it into a nine yard gain.
  • Then, after setting Kentucky up with this formation twice, AJ faked the swing to Jones and set up a screen going the opposite way for a 21 yard gain to Yeldon.  One formation, three different looks and three great outcomes.

Double Vision:  If you want to see the contrasting running styles of Yeldon and Drake, then I’ve got something for you.  On Alabama’s first drive, Vogler motioned into the I formation at midfield and they ran a lead draw to Yeldon.  He didn’t trust the hole and tried to bounce it outside for a minimal 3 yard gain.  On the first play of the next drive, Vogler motioned into the I formation again, this time with Drake lined up deep.  This time, Drake followed Vogler’s terrific block (probably his best game to date) for an eight yard gain.

The Fixer:  Saban ripped Grant Hill a new one and then trusted him to go back in and perform.  He did.  Yeldon fumbled at the one but on the next series, he got the very next handoff.  Players are earning Saban’s trust and he is earning theirs.

Mini Cooper:  We got to see a little glimpse of the old Amari Cooper with 3 catches for 64 yards.  But, his best play was on Yeldon’s 24 yard touchdown run.  Coop started his block at the 20 and held it for 18 yards, securing the last few steps into the end zone.  He did inexplicably step out-of-bounds on a reception so consider these highlights as baby steps towards the old Amari (who we likely will not see this season).

Take a Bow:  Take a bow, Doug Nussmeier!  This game was a showcase of play design perfection.  We mentioned the wrinkles above (the I formation and the use of Jones out of the backfield) but here are a few other goodies that caught our attention:

  1. They pulled Lindsay a few times and though he never really connected on his target – definitely not as well as Kelly – they showed it’s still in the playbook.
  2. Even though Yeldon dropped the pass, you had to love using him on the wheel route.  He was so open it looked like he was out to practice early!
  3. Off a run fake to the left, Nussmeier had White drag against the flow of the play and 16 yards later it was a huge gainer.  White actually slid behind the line, behind the line of scrimmage and was obstructed from view.  You could see the Top Gun quote on the KY defenders – “Where’d whoooooo go????????”
  4. Crossers to White, Bell (dropped), Jones and Cooper were wide open as the result of great route designs.
  5. Drake’s first touchdown saw him follow Jalston Fowler who ran behind Austin Shepherd and Brandon Green (who is over 300 pounds of love).  That’s a lot o’ beef in a goal line package.

Alabama on Defense

We’ll keep it light and short on what was a completely dominant effort by the Alabama Defense.  Not to beat a dead cat but we told you in the W2W4 that Kentucky’s offense would not be a challenge for Bama’s defense and they weren’t.  Bama didn’t even really do a lot of fancy things, either – they just won nearly every man vs man matchup so the result was predictable.  Here’s a quick bullet list of things that we saw from the defensive perspective:

  • Trey DePriest was out there nearly the entire game as Bama used their nickel package roughly 90 percent of the time.  In all that time out there, did you hear his name called?  Me neither.
  • We blitzed Jarrick Williams a ton during this game.  Also, each time we showed blitz, we brought blitz.  Down the road, we’ll show an obvious blitz only to back out of it at the last second.
  • Little bitty backs should never be asked to step up in pass protection.  Jarrick Williams blew up a tiny little kitten and recorded the first of four sacks in the game.
  • When Vinnie Sunseri squats on a route, he’s damn sure going to make a play.  Near pick by #3.
  • Bradley Sylve actually did a really nice job as a corner and has surpassed John Fulton and Cyrus Jones on the depth chart.  He played the run and the pass very well.
  • If you are complaining about Alabama’s drops then you need to acknowledge that Kentucky had two drops that could have resulted in big yardage.  One was a wheel route that beat Mosley deep and one was when Ryan Timmons got behind Landon Collins.
  • Speaking of Collins, I’m pretty sure he was supposed to be in the middle of the field on the Kentucky touchdown.  Also, did you notice that Deion Belue was out of the game and it was our good friend John Fulton who was the caboose to the Kentucky touchdown train?
  • Mosley’s command of the defense is unbelievable as Brock Huard showed during the telecast.  Kentucky shifted into the Wildcat look just once and Mosley moved everyone into position because he knew exactly what was coming.  You gotta love that kid.
  • A’shawn Robinson is A’beast.  On his second sack of the night he beat a double team and a running back thru relentless effort.  His first sack saw him toss a guard out-of-the-way.  He now has four sacks in six games to lead the team.
  • Geno Smith played a really nice game once he got in there.  He reminded me why we were so high on him last year.
  • The future at nickel appears to be Dillon Lee at one linebacker and Reuben Foster at the other.

Tide-bits

  • Arie Kouandjio was a beast during this game at the point of attack and on the second level.
  • I love to see the 240+ pounds of Derrick Henry bounce to the outside and turn the corner.
  • Kellen Williams played Cat toss on a Blake Sims one yard run.  He literally flew off the screen.
  • Brian Vogler had his best game as a blocker.  He destroyed people all night long.  If you still have the game, go back and watch Yeldon’s 3 yard touchdown with 11:38 left in the third quarter.  Yeldon bounced, darted, cut and weaved his way thru the line and it looked as though the play was dead.  To Vogler’s credit, he continually blocked his man throughout the play even though he was on the opposite side of where the play started.  His block allowed Yeldon to cut back and score.
  • Speaking of blocking, on
  • TJ Yeldon’s pass protection has improved dramatically.

Conclusion

If you want to be a curmudgeon then be my guest – you can jump, whine and wail at the fumbles and the dropped passes.  Meanwhile, I’ll be dancing in the streets because the offensive line posted 299 yards of rushing and didn’t allow a single sack.  Isn’t it amazing how much better the backs and receivers look when the offensive line is kicking butt?  Defensively, the unit continues to show that the A&M game was an aberration and they appear to be locked and loaded for their upcoming battles with Hogs, Vols and Tigers.  All three phases seem to be gelling and peaking at just the right time and this is exactly what you want before we take on the corndogs from LSU.

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