W2W4 – Bama on Defense Against WVU

What to Watch for When Bama is On Defense Against West Virginia

Texas A&M. Johnny Manziel. Auburn. Oklahoma. The Hurry Up No Huddle. These are a few of the things that have kept Bama fans up late at night – the kryptonite to the Super Saban-man, if you will. You’ve all heard the mantra that “Nick Saban can’t stop the hurry up no huddle offenses and that’s why he wants to change the rules” and if you believe any part of that is true then Saturday night is the game for you.

When Dana Holgersen isn’t out drinking (WVU’s Holgersen linked to six alcohol related incidents) or out there lying to recruits, he’s working hard in the lab concocting an offense much like what you have seen with A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Remember Hal Mumme and Mike Leach? Holgersen worked for each of them. He also worked with Kevin Sumlin at Houston where Case Keenum led the nation in total offense, so he’s pretty familiar with the schemes that A&M has used to torch the Saban secondary.

Watching A&M’s offense last night was watching the death of a Gamecock by a thousand cuts. Kenny Hill was a surgeon, taking three step drops and getting the ball out in space to a plethora of talented playmakers. Meanwhile, the South Carolina defense had no answers. With the quick throws, the pass rush had no effect. So they blitzed. They played coverage. Odd man fronts. Even man fronts. It didn’t matter. The USC defense got pants’d all night long. So, you should know that the offense you saw last night from A&M is exactly the style of offense Holgersen and the Mountaineers will be bringing to the Georgia Dome Saturday night. And, this is the same style of offense that A&M and Oklahoma used last year to pile up obscene amounts of yardage and points against a pretty good Bama defense. Yep, Saturday night’s defensive chess game is going to be absolutely FASCINATING (but thankfully the WVU QB is coming off of shoulder surgery and their line is horrible, so it’s all good)!

Plottin’ and Schemin’

I’ll try to be brief here but, to me, this will be the best part of the game Saturday night. Against spread teams, Saban has used a 4-2 look with a four man front and two linebackers. Whenever possible in long down and distance situations the second linebacker takes the form of a safety so it becomes essentially a 4-1 look with a safety standing next to the linebacker. The schemes have been simple – they’ve relied on the four man front to stand up the offensive line and push the pocket (and not penetrate into the backfield) while the other seven guys were in some type of coverage. Against Oklahoma & Texas A&M, when stressed by QBs picking them apart, Alabama eventually brought pressure with CJ Mosley and that was the only real “wrinkle” that Saban showed from the 4-2 look. Scant few corner blitzes and certainly no zone blitzes from these 4-2 looks.

I believe part of the reason for this was that Saban was protecting his two corners: the one legged Deion Belue and the corner du jour on the other side of the field. Without lock down corners like Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner (who making millions in the pros), Saban suddenly was left with some less stellar options at corner so I think he tried to play coverage to protect them. Unfortunately, with the four man “rush” doing very little to affect the passer, this decisions hung his secondary out to dry.

So with Alabama facing the same type of offense that challenged them last year, it will be fascinating to see what they have learned and how the defense has changed/evolved this season. You may remember that even with a year to study Johnny Football, instead of stopping him we saw him set a historic passing record against Alabama last season. So, let’s not pretend that simply having a year to prepare and study the HUNH is the only medicine needed for this illness. No, this is a Doctor House case. During the off season I hope that Saban and Smart have worked outside of the box to come up with ways to affect the passer. Here are a few things I’m hoping to see Saturday night:

  • Using smaller, faster players in the front seven to combat the speed and pace
  • Four man pressure getting up the field and wreaking havoc in the backfield
  • Different blitz pressures that force quick throws into coverages
  • A rotation of players on the line running on and off the field to counter the pace of the WVU attack

Defensive Line Change

Three of the four items I alluded to above relate directly to the defensive line and that’s where Alabama needs to see significant improvement. The pass rush was downright woeful last season and it allowed far too much time for the secondary to get sliced and diced at times. This year’s d-line is much, much deeper and much more athletic so there should be no excuse for our 4 and 5 star studs to not get past the 2 and 3 star offensive linemen from West Virginia. They have two converted guards playing tackle and a guard coming off an ACL injury so it’s not like facing a legion of bulldozers. The question is whether or not they’ll be allowed off the leash to go and attack the Mountaineers backfield.

With the DL rotation being deep, I look for hockey line changes where four linemen will come on and four will come off. If they can stay fresh, look for Jonathan Allen and DJ Pettway to be burning a few couches in the WVU backfield throughout the night. I’m also excited to see Dalvin Tomlinson as I believe he will be a difference maker. But, the beastie of the group is A’shawn Robinson. Look for him to dominate the middle of the line if they can keep him fresh. If these guys get gassed then they won’t be nearly as effective so using our depth is critical here.

Linebackers in Space

The beauty of a truly good spread offense passing attack is that they continue to threaten you with the run even though they are pass oriented. Because of this, defenses typically have to keep two linebackers on the field to defend the run and those are the huckleberries for quarterbacks to pick on thru the air. Alabama has desperately tried to get more athletic at the LB position but with the loss of CJ Mosley, this is an area where I expect WVU to attack. Trey Depriest isn’t the most adept coverage linebacker but his instincts usually led him to the ball so losing him for this particular ballgame may sting more than we realize. Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland are both outstanding at stuffing the run but neither has wowed me with their coverage skills.

Call it a hunch. Call it intuition. Call it film study. Call it whatever but I think you are going to see a ton of Dillon Lee Saturday night. Lee, who I’ve affectionately called the “hair apparent” to CJ Mosley (because he has long hair, not because I can’t spell heir), is the most athletic non-freshman linebacker on the roster and his coverage skills are superb. Unless Ragland and Foster have improved their cover skills by leaps and bounds, our buddy Lee will have to be the man in the middle. Honestly, this looks like a susceptible area in our pass defense.

Corner Play

I’m blown away that Cyrus Jones is starting at one corner. I’m simply blown away. From what I saw at A-Day, Tony Brown is damn near NFL ready right now. Brown’s size, speed and tenacity are far greater than Cyrus Jones’ so, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how Jones is starting. If you look back at the Auburn game and the Oklahoma game (and A&M), Jones’ 5’9 and 185 lbs doesn’t translate well in holding up the edge. WVU will use swings and screens to hit the flanks and Jones simply doesn’t appear to have what it takes to hold up to that kind of attack. Maybe something has changed? Now, in pass coverage I do like Jones a lot because his coverage skills are pretty decent – that’s why I’d have him as a nickel defender or something like that in passing situations.

At the other corner, I’ve projected Sylve to start for quite some time. He’s one of the fastest players on the team and appears to bring more size and ability to the run support game. I can see him holding the edge much better and forcing the action back inside to pursuit and he’s shown a willingness to do this when given the opportunity.

I do think Saban trusts his corners more this year than he did last year and I think he has a deeper group with Maurice Smith and Brown being every bit as good as the starters. As a result, I think Saban and Smart will gamble a bit more and be more aggressive as they feel their corners may be able to hold up in coverage. Look for a lot of man coverage that is aggressively and physically playing bump and run with safety help over the top. Look for Bama’s corners to be very physical at or near the line of scrimmage.

Safety Dance

The ability of the front six to stop the running game will dictate how the safeties are used in this game. Alabama shut out Ole Miss last year because the front six absolutely squashed the Rebs running game and this allowed the safeties to be used in coverage. If you see Landon Collins and Nick Perry down in the box then things likely aren’t going all that well but Saturday night the front six should once again crush the running game. However, I really do believe that you’ll see some exotic blitzes that utilize the safeties near the line of scrimmage because the staff trusts their corners more this season. So, look for a sack or two from the safety position.


A friend of mine attended a fall practice and I asked him to give me a report on Sims and Coker. His text read “The new punter is good – like really good.” How was Coker? “He was ok. Did I tell you about the punter? He’s Ray Guy good!” So, it sounds like true freshman JK Scott will be just fine this season.

Summary Judgment

To me, this season may be a bit of a cross roads for the Alabama defense. On the one hand, Alabama has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on defense so what’s to worry about. On the other, they truly have struggled against A&M, Oklahoma and, to some degree, Auburn. As the whole world transitions to HUNH offenses, Alabama has had to adapt by recruiting and using smaller, more athletic players on the defensive line and at the linebacker position and this will be evident Saturday night. Gone are the 300 lb defensive ends like Marcel Dareus. Gone is the 360 pound Terrance Cody. Gone is the 3-4 defense predicated on stuffing the run. Gone are the 260 lb linebackers like Hightower and McClain. These days Alabama plays a four man front and either nickel or dime defenses about 75% of the time and that means using smaller, faster players.

So on Saturday night I want to see Bama’s smaller, faster defensive linemen go thru the West Virginia line (that is not very good due to injuries and lack of talented tackles) like turnstiles at the fairgrounds. Instead of watching a line that is content with holding up the offensive line, I want to see them hell bent on getting into the backfield. I want to see corners and safeties near the line of scrimmage making the QB wonder what they are doing up there. In essence, I want to see Alabama dictate to offenses instead of offenses dictating to us.

With improved corner play, an improved pass rush and a QB coming off of shoulder surgery, I think I’ll be very happy Saturday night – I hope you are, too!

Final Score: Alabama 31    West Virginia 10

ICYMI – W2W4 Alabama on Offense Against WVU

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W2W4 When Alabama is on Offense against WVU

W2W4 When Alabama is on Offense against West Virginia


I don’t know about you but it seems to me this off-season just flew by. Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were wringing our hands after A-Day, praying that Jacob Coker’s transfer would come thru? Months later, Coker’s transfer came thru but Alabama’s questions at QB remain unanswered.

A few years ago, AJ McCarron was battling highly touted Phillip Sims and the competition went thru fall camp and into the first game of the season. During the first game of the season, it was quickly evident that the game was moving way too fast for Sims while McCarron seemed at ease in the pocket. The hope here is that after a couple of games this season either Sims or Coker emerges as the clear leader at the QB position. However, I’m not really sure that’s going to happen.

For reasons that require far more than this space, I think you’ll find that each QB brings something positive and something negative at the position. If you are a golfer, think of being on the tee box on a tight fairway and making a choice between your five iron (Sims) or your driver (Coker). You won’t eagle or birdie with Sims but you won’t get into big trouble either. With Coker you can drive the green….or lose your ball in British Open style rough. Both have positives. Both have negatives. Decisions, decisions.  But this is why Nick gets paid 7 mil a year, right???

Yeah, yeah – QB battle blah, blah, blah. What will we see on Saturday? Well, first off, after the victory, I won’t be burning my couch like a West Virginian. After our victory Saturday night, I just plan to apply a little friction on mine, if you know what I mean! Here’s what else I’ll be looking forward to on Saturday…

QB Play

Sims: Blake Sims will start. Look for short, quick throws to get him into rhythm to start the game. Think WR screens, hitch routes and bootlegs to provide passing lanes for his 6’0 tall frame. His arm strength will surprise you and if he’s throwing to a relatively stationary target, he’ll surprsingly be on target. Where he struggles is in leading receivers on posts, corners and deep in routes. I’ve heard he’s also struggled mightily with simple five yard out routes.  I do think the offense will move well with Sims but if it gets to be third and long, close your eyes.

Coker: First off, his size will impress you. Second, his arm will wow you! Expect Coker to make some throws that lead you to say, “Damn, he’s THE guy!” But, expect him to hold the ball too long and take unnecessary sacks, making you say, “Damn. He’s the guy?” Vertical routes, deep corner routes and post routes will all be in play. Deep ins, deep outs, and pretty much any deep throws will be impressive…if he can make the read and deliver the football. Lastly, expect him to bail on the pocket and run more than Sims does which will frustrate me to no end.

RB Committee

Alabama is expected to ground and pound the little Mountaineers all night long and I think that’s exactly what the Tide will do. With that being the case, everyone wants to know if Derrick Henry will surpass TJ Yeldon as the lead back and the simple answer is no. Yeldon has earned the trust of the staff and he’ll continue to get the majority of the first and second down carries with Henry spelling him about 40% of the time. On third downs, I believe Kenyan Drake will be used as a weapon out of the backfield. I mean Drake in the open field would be a nightmare and word on the street is that Kiffin thinks he can use The Drake like he used Reggie Bush.

Also, I’m VERY intrigued to see how Jalston Fowler will be used at FB. If Fowler is in at FB, then is Vogler also in as the lone TE? Or is OJ Howard on the field with Fowler in the same formation? Contrary to popular belief, the tape says that Nudie Fowler is NOT a powerful lead blocker (even though you’d think he would be). In the I-formation sets last year, we failed to run the ball effectively and I’m not positive that using Fowler in the I-formation instead of using Howard, Christion Jones or Chris Black in the one back and three wide formation is the best usage of our personnel. Kiffin is a FB guy so it’s really, really interesting to me to see how he uses Fowler. I can’t emphasize this enough – if Fowler is in, then Howard, Black or Jones will not be on the field and if he’s not a good lead blocker then what exactly is the point of the I-formation and the use of the FB???

WR Corps

It will be a shame to have so much freakish talent at the WR position and not have anyone who can get them the damn ball. WR screens, quick hitches and go routes will be the order of the day (or night) on Saturday, I believe. Hitches and screens are easy throws and if you make a mistake on a bomb then it’s simply a 40 yard punt, right? I’m very interested to see how Amari Cooper is used as Kiffin loves to configure his offenses to make sure he gets the ball out to his playmakers. In 2012, Marquise Lee hauled in 118 catches for 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns so it stands to reason that Cooper could be HUGE this season. Now, granted, Lee had a better QB who could get him the ball, but Lee’s ridiculous stats should give you an idea of how Kiffin likes to get the ball to his playmakers.

Oh, I do love me some DeAndrew White and he always seems to be the forgotten man in this conversation. Look for at least two deep shots to him Saturday night because, again, the down side is negligible if either Coker or Sims throws a pick.

As for the slot receiver, I have to wonder if Chris Black get any chances? I sure hope so but remember that Christion Jones is still in front of him and Jones is a playmaker in his own right. With Cooper, Howard and the expected multiple throws to the backs, I kind of doubt either Jones or Black will have much of an impact in this game.

Tight End Usage

So you should know that Kiffin likes to use his FBs and his TEs, so it will be interesting to see which formations he leans on the most throughout the game. The favored formation of a Nick Saban offense has typically been using one tight end with three wide receivers so my question is who the one TE will be in that formation. Vogler is the much better blocker but if Vogler is in, then OJ Howard is on the bench (in this formation). If they use two TEs (a favorite formation of Kiffin), then Howard could also be used as a slot receiver which would present a pretty interesting dilemma for the defense. Bama fans such as myself have been clamoring for Howard to be utilized more so I’ll be watching to see how often Howard is on the field as the lone TE in the formation. If history is any indicator, I expect to be disappointed by the number of times Vogler is in the huddle while Howard is on the sidelines. Anything less than 4 catches for Howard will be very, very disappointing to me.

Offensive Line Rant

It’s time for the OL to step up and become the dominant force they are supposed to be on a Nick Saban team. Last year was Mario Cristobal’s first year as the OL coach and, to be blunt, the unit was very disappointing. Now he’s had an entire off season to shape up the big uglies so there should be no excuses this time around. Remember all the missed assignments and whiffs against Va Tech last year? They best not happen this year. No ‘scuses. WVU runs a 3-3-5 which presents a multitude of different blitz options and blocking issues but, again, there should be no excuses for anything less than a dominant performance by the line Saturday night.

True freshman Cameron Robinson is going to hold down the LT position and I suspect he’ll have a few growing pains Saturday night. If Kiffin is smart, he’ll give Robinson some help from either a tight end or a running back until big Cam gets his feet wet. Meanwhile, look for the right side of the line to provide a tremendous push as RG Alphonse “Shank” Taylor is a massive, massive human being and RT Austin Shepherd is a straight up gangsta mauler. If you see Vogler lined up next to these two wooly mammoths then you can rest assured we are running right.

Lastly, center Ryan Kelly needs to be much, much better than he was last year.   He was wildly inconsistent last year and was outplayed by Chad Lindsey (with the exception of the Auburn game where Lindsey struggled mightily) after Kelly had to sit out due to an injury. With this being Kelly’s second year as the starting center, he’s the key element to the offensive line. He must…play…well. It will also be interesting to see how much big Leon Brown plays at RG, as he appeared to grade fairly well against Oklahoma in his Sugar Bowl start.

Kicker, Schmicker

The word out of training camp is that Adam Griffith was five of five on his attempts at the last scrimmage, so things are looking up for the young kid. During the A-Day game, I’m not sure he couldn’t make five of five extra point kicks so this is a great turnaround. Remember, Griffith is truly a very talented kicker and there’s a reason they thought he could hit a 57 yard field goal last year against Auburn. I may be crazy but I’m actually very comfy with him as the kicker this season.

Final Thoughts

The Kiffin offense is going to look exactly like the Nussmeier offense which looked exactly like the McElwain offense. For those of you who are thinking you’ll be seeing anything different will be sorely mistaken. The differences on offense will be subtle with Kiffin looking to explore and expose individual matchups, which is why guys like Cooper, Howard and Drake are expected to get increased opportunities. However, don’t expect any schematic advantages to be prevalent Saturday night.

Alabama can easily win with Blake Sims running the read option and hitting little outs, hitches and screens to the wide receivers. However, he’s not an adept passer so the question is whether or not Alabama can develop Jacob Coker so that the offense can be multi-dimensional when it faces defenses from Florida, LSU and Mississippi State (yes, they have a good defense).

In looking at film of Coker last year, you can’t help but be impressed. However, he oftentimes held onto the ball too long as he looked to be a bit confused by the action taking place down the field. He knew the Florida State playbook so it’s not a question of him being confused by the playbook or the routes. Instead, he was getting lost in the myriad of players running around in the secondary and as a result he would hold onto the ball or simply bail from the pocket. I think the Bama staff thinks that he’ll stop holding onto the ball as he becomes more fluent in the Alabama playbook but I’m not really sure that’s going to happen. Eventually, the staff will have to decide if the negative plays that Coker takes can be something they can live with and if that answer is no then the answer is Sims.

Final Score

I think 26 points is too big of a spread for a team that’s expected to ground and pound the rock all night long. Therefore, I like Alabama over WVU 31 to 10.

The Long and Winding Road

*Many  thanks to PAB for the first of many guest posts.  Enjoy!

The Long and Winding Road:

                               How Much Travel Does A College Football Schedule Entail?

The Question

Every year, during March Madness, the issue of travel is raised. “Games are being played all over the country. Teams are travelling a lot of miles.”
Well, college football is at least as important as the NCAA men’s hoops extravaganza and “a lot of miles” isn’t very precise. Just how many miles of travel might a big-time college football team log in a season? Let’s look at the Crimson Tide’s 2014 schedule and see what numbers we get.

The Nitty-Gritty
The street address of the home stadium for each team on the schedule was identified. The same was done for the Georgia Dome and the stadiums that will host College Football Playoff games. Mapquest provided stadium-to-stadium driving distances. If more than one route was given, the average distance was calculated. Driving distance was multiplied by two to get round-trip miles.

Regular season
Crimson Tide total travel: 3,207.82 miles
Opposing teams total travel: 5,282.64 miles
Total travel, Crimson Tides and opponents: 8490.46
(For comparison, it’s about 3304 miles from the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Longest trip by the Crimson Tide: to Arkansas: 1121.10 miles
Longest trip by an opposing team: from Texas A&M: 1354.96 miles
Shortest trip by the Crimson Tide: to Ole Miss: 348.00 miles
Shortest trip by an opposing team: from Mississippi State: 167.18 miles

Travel to the SEC Championship Game, Georgia Dome: 406.26 miles
Travel to College Football Playoff semi-final, Sugar Bowl: 582.82 miles =OR=
Travel to College Football Playoff semi-final, Rose Bowl: 4051.54 miles
Travel to College Football Playoff championship, AT&T Stadium: 1209.66
So if the Crimson Tide wins the SEC title in the Georgia Dome, then reaches the CFP championship game, that will add either 2198.74 miles (the Sugar Bowl route) or 5667.46 miles (the Rose Bowl route).
Combining these distances with regular season travel, the totals are:
Total travel (Sugar Bowl route): 5406.56 miles
Total travel (Rose Bowl route): 8875.28 miles

An old adage, attributed to Lao-Tzu, states “The longest journey begins with a single step.” The Crimson Tide’s journey begins in the Georgia Dome on August 30… it could cover almost 8900 miles and make Alabama the first-ever CFP Champion.

By The Way
Yes, “The Long and Winding Road” is a homage to The Beatles. The song was released in 1970 on the “Let It Be” album. It was the last Beatles single to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.