FAU Game Review

First off, I apologize that the game write up is a day late (and a dollar short as everything we do is free) but we’ve been busy at the house overanalyzing the Alabama quarterback battle. After looking at every single throw, I think that we can all agree that the Tide’s QB battle simply comes down to race, right? I just think Saban just prefers African American players…(I mean seriously – do you guys listen to these Finebaum callers? Do you read the posters on message boards? My Lord – if Saban didn’t want a black quarterback then he would have move Sims to WR, RB or off the team! If he didn’t trust a black quarterback then he probably wouldn’t recruit them in the first place!!!! Ok, rant over….)

As for the game, FAU came, they saw, they got paid. Alabama steamrolled them every bit as easily as expected and now the Tide just has to go thru one more walk thru before their first real test against Florida can begin. Frankly, there’s not a ton out of the FAU game to break down outside of the QB battle but, as always, we found a few things that we want to all to your attention regarding the game.

Alabama on Defense (yes, you’ll just have to wait for the QB breakdown)

What can you take from a game that featured a ping pong ball (FAU) bouncing off of an Abrams tank (Alabama)? FAU offered virtually nothing in the passing game by choosing to start their backup QB (a 45% passer) and they offered very little in the running game, as well. So, we’ll be brief here and highlight a couple of individual performances that caught our eye.

Cornering the Market: Less than six months removed from an ACL surgery, Eddie Jackson decided to come out and make a statement against FAU, and that statement was “I got this!” Jackson twice flew up to the line of scrimmage to lay a lick on an unsuspecting Owl and then had the presence of mind to strip the football after narrowly being beaten for a pass. Impressive play by Jackson. And while he stayed in his man’s hip pocket on a stop and go route, I still worry about that knee b/c the normal healing process is closer to a year than it is to five months! Amazing recovery!

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Worse: For anyone who was touting Cyrus Jones as the Alabama cornerback savior after week one, please see week 2. I continue to think that Jones is better as a slot guy in a nickel/dime look and I continue to question (even after week 1) his ability to play outside on an island. Saturday saw a pass interference penalty, a holding penalty, and he was beaten on slants and fades. Tough game. To the good, he, did come up and force a fumble in run support – something he needs to continue to improve.

Screen Recognition: A staple in the Nick Saban defense has always been their ability to quickly read screen plays from their opponents. It’s been uncanny to watch the defensive lineman uniformly stop their rush and scatter to the passing lanes. But, after the first two games this appears to be a problem for the 2014 Alabama defense as they are not deciphering what’s happening until it’s too late and they get blocked. Jabriel Washington, in particular, got engulfed in our dime set (he’s out there due to the loss of Jarrick Williams). Trey DePriest read a screen correctly but then he took a terrible angle and whiffed on the play. This showed up against WVU and now FAU so it’s just something to watch as the season unfolds…

Wolf Blitzer: Did you notice that A’Shawn Robinson came free on a blitz? Mercy! How do you let the largest player on the field get thru untouched? Robinson engulfed the tiny Owl running back who stepped up to take him on and A’Shawn quickly cast him away as you would do a gnat. Bama blitzed a ton on Saturday, more than I’ve seen in a long time, and it was fun to watch!

Rotation: As early as the second quarter, Alabama was substituting liberally on the D-line. Lots of good performances but my favorite was from former 5 star stud, Ryan Anderson. Anderson is a fave of mine and, if you have the tape, go back to the 11:05 mark in the 2nd quarter and watch #7. Anderson took on and shed a double team and then jettisoned himself into the fullback, blowing up the poor fullback and the play. It was a huge hit that allowed Robinson and Ragland to stuff a running play. Later, Anderson started outside and got the tackle leaning and then suddenly knifed inside to make a 15 yard sack! This is a patented move of Jadeveon Clowney and was extremely effective. The lightbulb is going off for this one, I believe.

Alignments: I noticed on Saturday that Alabama is still putting two defenders against three wide receivers and they continue to get screened effectively. Hmmmm. Is the plan to just leave them uncovered and hope for the best? Thankfully, I also noticed the corners were up much tighter in bump and run coverage, though.

Speed Kills: How about Rashaan Evans’ speed? He’s a one man pass rushing demon out there. And, whenever Tim Williams is out there, he makes plays off the edge. I like him a lot. Between these two (and Anderson), perhaps we have those edge rushers we’ve been looking for since Eryk Anders left!

Ouchy: Introducing the Nick Perry puzzle. I’m not sure how long it took the staff to assemble him back together but he got dump trucked by an Owl back. Mercy. He didn’t have a great day in the film room, I’d imagine.

Alabama on Offense

The offensive line dominated. The wide receivers dominated. Alabama’s team speed dominated. Alabama on offense looked exactly like what it should look like when one team has elite 5 star athletes while the other team has 2 star guys. Simple plays went for BIG yardage due to Alabama’s team speed. Anything and everything was open and available to the offense and the only thing that could shut it down was God, Mother Nature and poor decision making. They all three succeeded, keeping the score down to 41-0. Where to start?

Playmakers: For the second week in a row I have to point this out – Kiffin came in with a reputation for getting his playmakers the ball and everyone except for OJ Howard has to be pretty happy about the results thus far! Getting Cooper and Drake the ball out in space is almost cruel and unusual punishment but they are easy throws that net huge gains. Cooper has to be in heaven! Even Chris Black nearly housed one off of a WR screen. Now, if they could just find that Howard fella…

Beast Mode: Speaking of playmakers, we all figured Jalston Fowler would be utilized by Kiffin a good bit but I don’t think we realized it would be to this extent. Fowler is making himself some money whether it’s as a fullback blocking, a tight end blocking or catching the football. His emergence is one of the things that is limiting OJ Howard’s time on the field (though OJ was out there with Fowler quite a bit Saturday). Decisions, decisions, decisions…

The Drake: We heard that Kiffin would be featuring Drake out in space this season and boy did that happen on Saturday. Swings and screens were the order of the day and Drake took one to the house and nearly took another one, as well. Impressive day – he even got some dap from Coach Saban after he wasted an Owl on a kickoff return so it appears that dog house thing may be a thing of the past. Keep that wheel route he ran against WVU in the back of your mind as I think we’ll see that play again against Florida.

WR Screens: Another quick point on the WR screens (or “Now” routes, as they are known) – several times Alabama has positioned Brian Vogler and/or Jalston Fowler out wide, allowing them to provide significant lead blocks. Additionally, credit the Christion Joneses, Chris Blacks and others who have made crippling blocks on the defensive backs in coverage. When teams stack the box with defenders inside, the thought has always been to stretch them vertically with deep routes. I think we are finding that defenses can be stretched horizontally, as well. Will it work against better defenses? I dunno – ask WVU if their screen game was effective against Alabama in week one…

Touchdown: Go back and watch the “Now” pass to Amari Cooper for his first TD. Watch Christion Jones’ block. Now, slow it down in slow motion. Cooper hasn’t beaten the two defenders remaining yet but Jones gets up to his knees and puts up the touchdown sign! Pretty funny if you can catch it…

Bully For You: Against this type of opponent, you expect your offensive line to bully them all day long. They did.

My Little Pony: I told y’all Tyren Jones would flash big time in this game! Dude is goooooooood.

Coker Thoughts

The Good

  • As big and strong as advertised. Athletic enough to leave the pocket and do damage – either to the opponent or to himself.
  • Stretches field vertically. Coker had nine passes over 10 yards in distance. Five of them went over 30 yards, missing on the first three but hitting the last two.
  • Shows outstanding zip on his passes when he’s able to hit his back step and identify an open receiver on his first read. Also, he displayed great touch in completing a screen while backpedaling with a defender in his face.
  • Had a stretch where he hit 8 of 9 passes for 148 yards and a TD. He also showed the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the football knowing he’s about to get smacked.

The Bad

  • Coker played exactly as I had seen on tape. Held the ball too long, tucked and ran too much and had tremendous difficulty if his first read wasn’t open.
  • Delivery does seem to be a tad slower on the WR screens or “Now” passes. Also airmailed one which is about as easy of a throw as he’ll get to make. Also, if you complain that Sims throws them too much, you should know that four of Coker’s first 8 throws were “Now” passes.
  • As Andre Ware highlighted, Coker DID misread the throw to Cooper in the end zone. Coker threw a back shoulder fade while the proper throw was to go over the top to the pylon (and Kiffin was livid on the sidelines – I saw this live but I don’t think it made TV). Later, again as correctly shown by Ware, Coker misread a play and threw into double coverage instead of hitting a wide open Cooper. Later, Sims ran the very same play and hit the wide open receiver. Want a fair comparison? There’s one.
  • For all the big arm talk, Coker under threw at least three deep balls. He also had trouble with audibles and getting the play calls out in time.

The Ugly

  • The play Coker made (or didn’t make) at the end of the half is inexcusable. That’s pee wee football 101. Know how much time is left on the clock and make sure you can attempt a field goal. Inexcusable.

Synopsis

Honestly, Coker is everything I expected except maybe a little less accurate than I thought he’d be. He likes to tuck and run, he often makes slow or poor decisions and he likes to let it fly deep. To the good, his throws on ins, digs and curl routes were outstanding and they really make you want him to harness all that ability.

The root of the issue, in my opinion, isn’t that he fears contact as Andre Ware suggested on the broadcast. It isn’t people diving at his knees or whatever else Ware stated. When Coker hits that back step, makes his read and delivers the football it’s honestly a thing of beauty. However, when his first read isn’t there, he struggles with his progressions and eventually says “to hell with it” and runs the ball. Until he fixes this issue, he’ll be the backup QB.

Blake Sims Thoughts

The Good

  • Gets the ball out quick on the “Now” passes out wide to the receivers.
  • Tremendous leader – was the first to congratulate Coker on his first touchdown pass!
  • Great ball fake on the play action passes. Also commands the offense and audibles well.
  • Makes the right reads consistently and doesn’t play outside of his abilities (nor is he asked to).
  • Shows very good mobility and is a weapon in the open field as a runner. He actually ran a zone read play but handed the ball off so remember, he can run the zone read, as well.

The Bad

  • He’s 6’0 tall so he can’t see the field as well as Coker. This also limits his ability to see receivers down the field on longer throws.
  • Can’t see the middle of the field very well so he has to throw outs, slants and “Now” passes.
  • Due to his inability to see down the field and deliver certain throws (posts, seams, corner routes, etc), much of the playbook isn’t available.
  • Has difficulty with his accuracy when throwing in routes and crossing routes.

The Ugly

  • For the “Sims knows the playbook better” crowd you should note that OJ Howard was running a pass pattern and Yeldon was expecting to pass block when they fumbled near the goal line. Yeldon clearly wasn’t expecting the ball…but OJ Howard sure was. I think Sims got the play wrong.

Synopsis

Blake Sims is the better quarterback right now and that’s just the truth of the matter. Honestly, it’s not even that close. Sims is the better leader of the team and the offensive rhythm is completely different when Sims is in the game. They get in and out of the huddle better, they get to their audibles better and Sims has even worked a few progressions inside the pocket. Somehow all of the work that he put in over the summer with his QB coach must have done wonders for him as he doesn’t really look much like the QB we saw at A-Day.

Conclusion

We’ll continue to see both QBs on Saturday but I think when it comes down to the nitty gritty then Sims will be in there leading the team. Saban and Co will continue to seek opportunities to get Coker in because, as we all know, he has the ability to stretch the field vertically and expand the playbook. And while vertical shots are sexier, Coker underthrew several of them and appeared to be less accurate on the shorter throws Saturday. While the Coker upside brings you deep bombs, the downside brings you burned timeouts, sacks and poor decision making. I honestly don’t think it’s a playbook issue, either, as these are the same things I saw on tape when he was playing at Florida State.

Right now, it’s an easy choice for Saban and Kiffin to make. Blake Sims is the better leader and makes fewer mistakes so he has the trust of his teammates and the staff. To me, the question isn’t Sims or Coker, as the answer is clearly Sims. The question you should be asking is whether or not Sims can lead Alabama to an SEC championship.

 

Follow me on Twitter @lneck25 

 

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