For Ole Miss, it was the perfect day. For Alabama, it was the perfect storm. After scoring what should have been a death blow touchdown at the end of the first half, Alabama had the Rebs right where they had put them in every other game since Coach Nick Saban first came to Alabama. It was obvious that Alabama was about to run away with another victory over Ole Miss. Yep, once again the brightest of lights were forcing the Black Bears into hibernation and it was Alabama who prepared to feast on the one dimensional offense that forced Bo Wallace to carry the game on his shoulders. This game was everything we expected it to be…until it wasn’t.
On the biggest day of buildup in Ole Miss’ history, it was the Rebels who seized the day and seized the plays in the second half. Instead of relishing and reveling in the bright spotlights, it was the Crimson Tide who receded at every turn and, in the last five minutes, it became a low Tide, indeed. Say what you will about Alabama gift wrapping the game with bows of turnovers, penalties and missed kicks but it was Hugh Freeze and Bo Wallace who won this day. Simply put, it was Ole Miss who looked like they’d been there before while Alabama looked like they weren’t sure where they were. And while Katy Perry and the rest of Oxford celebrated into the wee hours of the morning, Alabama doesn’t have any time to drown their sorrows as it only gets tougher from here…
Alabama on Offense
Quite honestly, I believe our Friday W2W4 on Ole Miss was about as good as it gets. We warned that the Ole Miss zone defense was extremely difficult to throw against and we begged Alabama to run the ball between the tackles with authority. The Tide offense did have success in running between the tackles but, as we warned, when the Bama backs attempted to bounce the runs outside they were tackled for a loss. In fact, six plays went for negative yardage, nearly all of which played a crucial role in stopping drives and settling for field goals. Combined with the 8 penalties on the offense (one was declined and I am counting a block in the back on the final kick return here), two missed field goals and two turnovers Alabama simply could not overcome the self-inflicted bullet wounds to both feet. In fact, this has been a disturbing trend this season as penalties and turnovers have been the order of the day, only this time the Old Black Bear Mississippi Rebels had a cause and it was the Tide that left Mississippi burning…
Negative Vibes: When it’s a quarterback’s first time starting on the road in a hostile environment and he’s not playing at 100%, it’s imperative that the offense stays “on schedule”. This means no negative plays. No penalties. No huge losses of yardage. No missed opportunities. No settling for field goals. If you want to know why Alabama’s offense only scored 10 points, here’s a sampling as to why:
- First Bama drive of the game: On 2nd and 8, after Brian Vogler was blown up at the point of attack, Derrick Henry tried to bounce outside and lost two yards setting up a 3rd and 10 from the Ole Miss 34. A Sims scramble forced a long 46 yard field goal that was the first missed opportunity of the game. Alabama had been hammering away with the running game but the poor blocking and poor decision to bounce outside cost Bama this drive. PS – if Kelly could have held his block on first down, that play would have gone for big yardage.
- Second drive: OJ Howard dropped a pass that would have easily converted a third down around midfield. This was the first of many gaffes on the day for Howard. Four straight passes – punt.
- Third drive: A false start by Arie K resulted in 1st and 15. A short hopped throw and a dropped interception resulted in a conciliatory draw to Yeldon on 3rd and 15. Punt.
- Fourth drive: A really nice drive ended with a 3rd and 1 at the Bama 46. 3rd and 1 should have been a layup against the undersized Rebs but was anything but. Yeldon, led by Fowler, ran right off tackle behind Leon Brown, Austin Shepherd and Brian Vogler. On the play, a woefully undersized Denzell Nkemdiche spun off of the Vogler “block”, taking out Fowler and the edge in the process. Meanwhile, Leon Brown couldn’t hold his block so when Yeldon was forced to cut back inside, the inside pursuit swallowed him whole. Loss of one. Punt. On this drive, Alabama began to pound the left side, using a numerical and girthy advantage to nearly break two long runs. Had they converted this 3rd and 1, I believe they would have scored b/c they did so on their next possession.
- First drive of 2nd Half: Alabama marched to the Ole Miss 24 but Sims lost six yards when he misread a zone read and then he lost another 4 yards when he stepped out of bounds instead of just throwing the ball out of bounds. An inspiring drive faltered from a makeable 41 yard field goal to a missed 51 yard field goal. Ole Miss scored to make it 14-10 four plays later and the game was never the same.
- Second drive: After a 53 yard pass to OJ Howard, Alabama was entrenched at the Rebel 15 when Derrick Henry tried to bounce a run outside, losing nine yards. NINE! Of course the reason he had to bounce the play outside is because OJ Howard wasn’t ready at the snap and allowed immediate penetration into the backfield (and he committed a holding penalty to boot but it was declined). On the next play, Leon Brown committed his usual penalty (this time a false start) and suddenly Alabama faced 3rd and 20 from the Ole Miss 29! The drive ended in a field goal but it should have been a touchdown and a definitive answer to Ole Miss’ touchdown.
- Last drive: You guys already know this one so I don’t really have to go in depth on it. Blake Sims converted a first down at the Ole Miss 19 but OJ Howard was called for holding AGAIN. Instead of 1st and 10 at the Rebs 19, it was 2nd and 13 from the Ole Miss 32. Howard had a chance at redemption when Sims lofted a pass into the end zone for the 6’6 tight end but instead of reaching up for the ball, Howard kept his arms down by his shoulders thereby allowing the 5’9 Rebel defender to outreach him for the interception.
Ohh J Howard: What a horrific game for Howard. Two dropped passes, two penalties, several missed blocks, including one drive killer, and the inexplicably poor attempt to go up for that final pass in the end zone. If you go back and watch it, the ball was lofted and Howard adjusted his route to match the flight of the ball. But, instead of reaching upwards with his arms to high point the ball, Howard kept running and left his arms down beneath his neck and shoulders. You can debate Sims throwing into double coverage but there’s no debate that Howard had an absolutely horrible game in a game that he was finally a featured part of the attack. He clearly can’t be trusted blocking (you’ll remember in a critical 4th quarter possession he was the culprit who was holding against Auburn last season) so that makes it hard to put him in as an every down tight end.
Here’s to You, Mr Robinson: Each week we see snap infractions, delay of games and false starts by the offensive line but they are never on the true freshman left tackle. Pretty incredible.
Silent Night (or Afternoon): We are accustomed to seeing Derrick Henry burst thru the line and dumptruck opponents but in this game he never seemed to have a pure running lane. Instead, he seemed to be chopping his feet more than normal and it never seemed to allow the Henry wrecking ball to get up to full speed.
Man on the Run: I thought overall TJ Yeldon had a very good game. There was one play that I really wish he had just put his head down and gotten the extra yard needed for a first down. It ended up being a critical play as Alabama was trying get off their own goal line in the 4th quarter leading 17-10. Yeldon burst up the middle for 7 yards but instead of lowering his shoulder and taking the impact that would net that final needed yard, he cut to his left and was chopped down immediately. Ole Miss scored three plays later to tie the game at 17.
Livin on the Edge: Soooo many running plays were one block away from being big gainers. Credit Ole Miss’ defense for their ability to shed blocks and make one on one tackles. Overall, the line did an ok job as most of the losses in yardage came from poor blocks from the tight ends. I will say that Ryan Kelly got pushed around a good bit before he left due to a knee injury and that was a bit of a surprise.
Emergency: I’m not sure I’ve seen anything more disturbing than watching and listening to Kenyan Drake after he broke his leg. It was awful. Watching the replay, I knew it was coming and it was positively just as awful the second time around. Later, losses to Kelly at center and Denzell Devall thinned the ranks even further. Now, two days after the game, it was discovered that Arie Kouandjio is walking around in a boot. Oh, and we may have mentioned that Blake Sims isn’t healthy. After watching him inexplicably bounce three different passes, I can’t imagine he’s 100%.
As predicted, it was a conservative approach focused on implementing a power running attack and keeping Blake Sims and his arm out of harms way. Ole Miss’ defense was as advertised and their pursuit basically negated the wide receiver screen, probably the staple of the Tide offensive attack. Cooper was targeted on this play four or five times, all for very little yardage. Also, it was amazing to go back and watch Alabama line up with clear numerical blocking advantages to the side the runs were called and then see the Rebel defenders swarm in to close the gaps. Second level blocks were extremely difficult to make as the smaller, quicker Rebs managed to avoid several blocks (our WRs and TEs had a difficult time) and made saving tackles. Last point – don’t underestimate the losses of Drake and Kelly had on this game as their losses had a huge impact. Drake was a key part of the game plan and while Kelly was in there were no issues with clock management and getting the snaps off. Also, Kelly’s snaps were accurate whereas Bozeman’s were all very low and resulted in throwing off the timing of the plays.
Alabama on Defense
As we stated on Friday, Ole Miss could not, would not and did not run the ball against the Bama front six. Facing a QB who could formerly best be described as erratic, the feeling here was that the defensive line would overwhelm the Rebs’ o-line and force Wallace into his customary “Bad Bo Wallace” big stage persona. However, armed with several big play receivers, we warned that plays would be available down the field against the Bama linebackers and Cyrus Jones if they were forced to play coverage for long periods of time. However, since the Ole Miss line was absolutely overrun over by Memphis we expected the Bama D to do the same. Well, obviously that didn’t happen.
Coach Saban is famous for saying “if you do the same things over and over again then you will get the same results over and over again.” As we pointed out against West Virginia earlier in the year, Alabama once again didn’t blitz and simply tried to play coverage against Wallace, giving him time and space to survey the field and make accurate throws. Instead of allowing pressure, the Black Bear line mauled Bama’s front four and rarely, if ever, had to face a fifth defender from a blitz. This was a recipe for disaster. On the final death blow from Wallace, Hugh Freeze bunched his wide receivers to the right, faking a screen and hitting Jalen Mathers on a wheel route. The formation locked Mathers against Landon Collins and exposed the Bama coverage scheme. Instead of Saban tightening the noose around the one armed, one dimensional Ole Miss offense, it was the Rebels who seemed to have all the answers in the second half. Once again, the Bama secondary was exposed and with Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn on the horizon, you should know that if something doesn’t change with the defense then you can expect this result again. Bama’s D can’t simply rush four and hope the opponent screws up – offenses, quarterbacks and receivers are far too good for that plan to work week in and week out. Credit Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss offense for finding and using their bunch and trips formations to confuse and abuse the Tide secondary.
Wide Open Spaces: It seems every week we lament the fact that Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland cannot cover in space and Ole Miss exploited this to the Nth degree in the second half of the game. And these are just the plays they completed, people. The one time Alabama sent Trey DePriest on a blitz thru the A gap (next to the center), Reggie Ragland blew the coverage and left TWO receivers wide open. But, the effectiveness of the blitz (the only one we called) forced an early, errant throw. There were several times when the linebackers neither covered nor rushed as they just kind of muddled around until they knew for sure the back would stay in to block. Then they would take a couple of steps towards the line of scrimmage but by that time the ball was already being delivered. Look for your better passing teams to absolutely scorch these two in pass coverage.
Land of Confusion: Where to begin. Personally, I love Gary Danielson (referred to as GD by some of you, I’m sure) because he breaks the plays down and does a fantastic job in illustrating what’s going wrong. For example, as poor ole Verne had a come apart because there was no flag thrown when Jonathan Allen raced to get off the field before the snap, Gary calmly told us that when Allen left Alabama HAD ONLY TEN MEN ON THE FIELD! How does that even happen? But, this segment is really about the secondary and blown coverages. Remember, with no pressure on the QB then he has time to allow different route combinations to work their magic against the coverages. So when Landon Collins bit on a route down the middle designed to take him away from the back, it opened up an easy throw to the back down the sidelines on a wheel route. Or, when Landon Collins bit on a different route over the middle that was designed to suck him in, Bo Wallace could then easily throw the ball over him for a touchdown to Sanders. There were at least three other near misses where Ole Miss essentially had uncovered routes all over the field. At one point, Ole Miss had to actually call a time out because they were so confused by the fact that Alabama stupidly lined up only ONE defender against a trips left look. The rest of the time, Alabama would have two defensive backs lined up against the trips formations and would use Trey DePriest as the third man in coverage. I think we all know how that went.
Tired of Excuses: Tired of excuses is not a song title but, rather, it’s an intense feeling that I have that I feel I need to share. Like it or not, lately the Alabama defense has made mediocre QBs look like rock stars. Johnny Manziel set a historic passing record against a team that had a year to prepare for him. Trevor Knight looked like the second coming of Peyton Manning against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (he’s currently ranked 70th in passing efficiency and he was horrid last year with the exception of one single solitary game). Clint Trickett (who?) scorched Alabama for nearly 400 yards passing in the opener this season. And Saturday the Tide D turned Good/Bad Bo Wallace into GREAT Bo Wallace. At some point we need to realize that rushing four and playing coverage and hoping that the QBs make mistakes isn’t working. With no pass rush and a limited back seven any average QB is going to make some hay. This has been tried…this has been proven. At some point you run out of excuses and have to point out the trend.
Quit Jammin’ Me: On the flip side, Alabama suffocates the running game like no other. This should give the Tide a leg up against run first teams like Arkansas, LSU and Auburn. Alabama’s ends stuff the fly sweeps in such a way that it essentially negates the running game of these spread teams and it forces everything back into the middle of the field. Xzavier Dickson had a great game in this respect.
Chess: It was fun watching the cat and mouse game between Hugh Freeze and Kirby Smart. Freeze watched the way that the Bama linebackers reacted to the fly sweep and then used that to his advantage when he could. Motioning the fly sweeps and/or the backs out of the backfield would oftentimes move Trey DePriest out of the middle of the defense. This opened up at least two different QB draws that gained first downs. Alabama eventually stopped sending DePriest out with the motion and kept him at home in the middle of the defense. In some formations, Alabama used their slot corner to blitz into the fly sweeps and this caused Freeze to just use them as a distraction…
You Found Me: The back shoulder fades, when thrown on time, are virtually unstoppable. You knew they’d find Cyrus Jones and they did. Credit Jones for being in about as good of coverage as you can be in most of the time. Also, credit Jones for making what should have been the death blow to Ole Miss’ chances. Great play by Jones to strip, scoop and score a touchdown before the half!
Bat Men: I think there were three or four Bo Wallace passes that were deflected but there were numerous other throws that were near misses. I didn’t realize this during the game but it was uncanny the number of times the ball was nearly knocked down at the line.
Ain’t That Unusual: That was the worst game I’ve ever seen from Landon Collins. He missed an easy tackle in space and he blew four coverages that I can think of. Pretty shocking.
Maybe I’m overreacting but I saw the exact same issues I saw against West Virginia play out this past Saturday. No pass rush. Linebackers exposed in coverage. Completely blown coverages where defenders are somehow running free in the Bama secondary. Frankly, the score should have been worse. While Bama fans bellyache about two missed field goals it’s helpful to know that the Rebs missed a chip shot themselves. Evan Engram had a ball tickle off his fingertips or else Wallace throws for FOUR touchdowns and no interceptions. A couple of batted balls and a hurried throw eliminated other wide open receivers from catching passes. Sitting back in a 4-2-5 and hoping the opposing offense screws up is suicide and sooner or later if you keep handing the QB the knife he’ll eventually be glad to slit your throat. Alabama lined up ONE pressure over the center and blitzed DePriest, resulting in a hurried throw and an incompletion (although they did admittedly have two receivers wide ass open as a result). There were a couple of delayed blitzes called but, by the time they delayed and blitzed, they were neither in coverage nor pressuring the QB – they were in no man’s land! I could go on but this is the same thing we saw against A&M and Oklahoma last year and West Virginia this year. And if you are going to play a “bend but don’t break” style of defense in the hopes your foe will screw up, at least hold them to field goals. Three consecutive touchdowns in the second half were knockout punches. Hold them to one field goal and the situation isn’t nearly as dire at the end of the game.
Alabama on Special Teams
Alabama was outplayed in all three phases of the game but none was more critical or extreme than special teams. The game began with a low kick and a 54 yard return and only got worse from there. With the exception of the exceptional JK Scott and his howitzer punts the entire special teams were a complete disaster. We even got a delay of game on a punt! On the first kickoff, the Tide got creased easily as Derrick Henry, Rashaan Evans and Landon Collins all were removed from their lanes and on the first play of the game Ole Miss was off to the races. Later, Adam Griffith had to make another touchdown saving tackle on yet another kickoff return. WTF? And, of course, we are all aware of the fumbled kickoff that essentially cost Alabama the game and we know all about the missed 51 and 46 yard field goals. Put it this way, if a dog named Special Teams swallowed a diamond, JK Scott would be the one shining object in a big pile of shit.
I truly believe that we Alabama fans will look back on this game and kick ourselves repeatedly until we just grow numb. This was a very winnable game against a very beatable opponent. I continue to believe that Ole Miss ranks below Mississippi State, Auburn, A&M and Alabama (yes, I know, they beat us head to head) in talent and I believe at the end of the year the standings will bear this out. While I still (yes, still) believe Alabama is the better team, they simply cannot be a better team when they are severely outplayed in all three phases of the football game. This is not your brother’s 2009 or 2011 defense so the offense will have to carry the load in most games. Six negative yardage plays, eight penalties, two dropped passes, two missed field goals and two turnovers cannot be overcome by this year’s team. It’s just that simple.
Also, you should know that there are much better teams on the horizon for Alabama who can better take advantage of the Tide’s coverage woes. If you think giving up three touchdowns to Ole Miss in a little more than a quarter was bad, it will most definitely get worse for the defense. And, with Blake Sims playing hurt, Kenyan Drake and Ryan Kelly out and Arie K hobbled, I don’t see how things will get better any time soon on offense.
So welcome to the 2014 box of chocolates version of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Tune in each Saturday because you’ll never quite know what you are getting when the game kicks off!