The W2W4 Against Auburn – Iron Bowl Edition

Never again. That was the mantra coming out of the pains of the 2010 Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. Never again. I don’t think anyone imagined that there could possibly be a more painful loss to Auburn than the 2010 Iron Bowl so “Never Again” was born.

But, in just three short years, “Never Again” died (along with the national title hopes and dreams of the Bama Nation) in an agonizing 109 yard dash to the end zone, providing us with an infinitely more painful and agonizing loss than the 2010 Never Again game.

Kick Six. Gotta second? An undefeated season, an SEC title and a national championship all went up in flames when Alabama failed to put away the Auburn Tigers in a game that the Tide had numerous opportunities to win. Perhaps this should be the year of “Never Again” because if we all have to live thru a defeat like that one again, it may get ugly ‘round here.

Thankfully, this season is not last season and this year’s teams are not last year’s teams. On the Tide side, gone is the quasi-arrogant swagger that surrounded the undefeated 2013 and back to back national championship team. The 2013 version of the Crimson Tide started off slow and never seemed to build to that harmonious crescendo that allows a team to peak at just the right time at the end of the season. But, this year’s team, while less talented, seems to have that “it” factor that allows them to overcome adversity and succeed each and every time they face of danger. Like Marcus Luttrell, this team never blinks. Simply put, this year’s Bama team seems to be working and playing together as a team.

On the other side of the state, this year the Gus Bus has run into numerous potholes and the vibe from the Plains is that the 2014 team isn’t responding well to the staff. And, if you watched their last three games, you can tell that something is just a little off with this group of Tigers. Supposedly, there are still some hard feelings from the team surrounding the Jermaine Whitehead suspension and Auburn insiders are saying it’s created a bit of a divide in the Auburn locker room. After watching them play against Georgia and Samford, you can just sense that they all are not pulling in the same direction.

So, this year’s Iron Bowl seems to have flipped the 2013 script with Alabama coming in as the united team of destiny and Auburn playing the role of divided but talented visitor. Will any of this matter? Well, here’s what to watch for…

Alabama on Offense

The Crimson Tide offense comes in with a Ferrari that isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders. With Lane Kiffin evidently switching the Tide’s identity from a ground and pound philosophy to that of a west coast pass first offense the results, like a few of Blake Sims’ passes, have sometimes missed the mark. There’s the 27-0 lead against Tennessee that melted to a one score game. Then there were the struggles against the LSU defense where the offense could neither run nor throw until the final minutes of play. And, of course you all remember the 19-0 lead that evaporated to a 19-13 nail biter, so I think you can see that things aren’t running perfectly on offense. However, they run well enough in the critical moments to get the job done.

Last week, Saban got so angry with the passing offense that he demanded that Kiffin start running the ball down the Catamounts’ throat and, when they did, they were able to build to a 38-14 lead by halftime. So, what I’m telling you is that I’m not quite sure what we should all expect on Saturday from the Alabama offense.

However, I can happily tell you that the Auburn defense is not playing well at all. You want to pass on them? Well, that will work! South Carolina (416 yards passing), Ole Miss (339 yards passing) and Texas A&M’s freshman QB (277 yards passing) all enjoyed the friendly skies of the Auburn secondary. But, if you want to run the ball, then you can do that, too! Georgia (289 yards rushing), A&M’s anemic running game (176 yards) and Mississippi State (223 yards) all had their way on the ground with these paper Tigers. So, this is definitely a matchup that favors the Tide, no matter how many cylinders are firing…

Give it to Me: Amari Cooper should have an absolute field day against the Tigers’ woeful secondary. If you want a treat, watch some of the Ole Miss v Auburn game and you’ll feel just fine about this particular matchup. Favorite Cooper routes such as the WR screen and the slant will be available all day long. And, since Auburn’s front four generate absolutely no pressure whatsoever, Ellis Johnson has to resort to calling blitz after blitz after blitz. This means man to man. Against Amari Cooper. Good times!

Try a Little Tenderness: Ellis Johnson uses a small hybrid corner/linebacker in the face of Robinson Therezie. Therezie is decent in coverage but he is terrible in run support. Georgia found him and ran the football right at him at, after a short time, Therezie grew disinterested in run support.

Get Up, Stand Up: So, this is weird. Against Ole Miss and Georgia, Auburn’s short yardage defense used just three down linemen and four stand up linebackers all stacked to their left at the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs and Rebs ran right at the guys who were standing up and, as you’d expect, they had no leverage whatsoever and were pushed off the line. Georgia took one little Aubie and shoved him 12 yards into the end zone. IN SHORT YARDAGE! Amazingly stupid alignment.

Why Are You Running Away: I giggled several times as I watched the wide receivers run fly patterns that “forced” the Auburn defensive backs to turn their backs to the line of scrimmage and run in pursuit. It was funny because the ball had been handed off on a draw and the running back was 15 yards behind them, chasing the DBs down the field. Run or pass, I’d rotate my wide receivers and have them run go routes all day in order to take the DBs merrily down the field. This is so dumb. They didn’t even peek into the backfield!

Miss Me Blind: Auburn’s tackling is atrocious, which is one of the many reasons the wide receiver screens and running back screens destroyed the Tigers. On a three man rush against the Dawgs, Georgia still ran a screen for big yardage. Typically eight in the defensive backfield would shut down a screen but with the Tigers’ inability to shed blocks or make tackles, getting playmakers in space is deadly against them.

I’m Bad: The funny thing about Auburn’s blitzes is that they rarely get home to the quarterback. They are tied for 10th in the SEC in sacks – hardly worth exposing their corners in my opinion.

Stay With Me: Slant routes will be wide open all day long against the Auburn corners. They allow a clean release and the leverage inside which receivers happily take for first downs.

Hot Boy: Forgive me but I just watched Evan Engram roast the Tigers secondary from the tight end position. He attacked the Tigers’ linebackers in coverage and won time after time. OJ Howard, anyone?

Communication: As we’ve said before, home games allow Kiffin to relay signals into Sims quickly and Sims, in turn, is able to deliver the signals to his teammates. The result is that the play clock is sitting around 10 and Sims can comfortably read the defense before taking the snap. This is huge for him.

Tidebits

  • Auburn ranks 38th nationally against the run and 74th against the pass. Alabama is a passing team these days so…
  • The Tigers’ defensive performance against Georgia was pretty bad. Most Auburn fans have a bad feeling about this year’s Iron Bowl and that’s because they watched an anemic passing team like Georgia run the ball down their hapless throats.
  • Texas A&M obviously had success against the Tigers thru the air but the overlooked key to that game was the Aggies’ ability to rush for 187 yards. Why is that important? A&M is ranked 12th in the conference in rushing.
  • The left side of the Auburn defensive line was gashed repeatedly on tape. So, look for Alabama to run behind Austin Shepherd and Leon Brown quite a bit, especially in light of Cam Robinson’s injury.
  • Rumor is Cam and Amari are fine but Ardarius Stewart likely will not play. DeAndrew White and TJ Yeldon should be as close to full speed as they can be this time of year.
  • Bo freaking Wallace ran for 59 yards on a QB scramble (largely b/c of the Tigers secondary keeping their backs to him). Look for Sims to beat a few AU blitzes with his feet.
  • If it seems I’m overly optimistic about this matchup, it’s because Bama’s strengths match up perfectly with Auburn’s weaknesses. And, Auburn’s defense is bad. Not A&M bad, but bad.
  • The AU defense has allowed 35.8 points per game against SEC opponents in their five games prior to last week’s game against Samford — a number that would rank 110th out of the 125 FBS schools at this point in the season. They also allowed an average of 470.8 total yards of offense in those five games, which would rank 111th in the current rankings.

Alabama on Defense

This is the matchup the world wants to see. The offensive wizardry of Gus Malzahn versus the defensive mastery of Nick Saban. Flash and misdirection versus raw, physical power. Brains and speed versus brain and brawn. I love the chess match between these two.

Most folks just remember the Kick Six from 2013 rather than the fact that the Alabama defense gave up a measly 21 points for the first 59 minutes of the game. Building on that success, Alabama’s defense has successfully defended the nine out of 11 offenses that are considered HUNH attacks. The one blip on the radar was the Ole Miss game where the secondary melted under the hotness of Katy Perry.

Quite frankly, Mississippi State’s offensive attack is far more menacing this season and Alabama’s defense suffocated their running attack to the point where the Bulldogs were forced to become Air Mullen. Like the Rebs, the Bulldogs did have some success thru the air so if Auburn beats the Tide it will be the result of a high scoring game that saw Nick Marshall light up the Tide’s secondary. That’s not impossible – Marshall essentially won games against the Rebels and Kansas State with his arm and he certainly has the receivers to get the job done.

Waves: Kansas State used their safeties to effectively shut down the Auburn running game. Look for Nick Perry and Landon Collins to make a number of tackles around the line of scrimmage as they rotate up from a two deep look to a single high safety when Auburn shows the fly sweep.

Dynamic Duo: Georgia and K-State both used their linebackers to shoot thru the gaps left by the pulling guards in order to make plays in the backfield. Ragland and DePriest will likely come on a few run blitzes when they read the guards pulling.

Changes: I read that last season only 29% of Auburn’s plays went for 2 yards or less. This season that number is up to 40%! Why? The losses of Jay Prosch and Greg Robinson. When I watch Auburn’s offensive line, they rarely are able to control the line of scrimmage and they seem to struggle getting blockers to the second level. But, tight end Brandon Fulse is typically ineffective as a blocker (especially in space) and Shaun Coleman is horrific at left tackle. This season he’s been guilty of more holds than Stone Cold Steve Austin. Alabama’s front four should own the line of scrimmage and the backers should run freely in order to make plays.

Pretty Vegas: Slots. Look for Alabama to play the slots by run blitzing the snot out of Auburn with their slot corners and/or anyone else lined up in the slot. It was an automatic for Georgia, OM and K-State and it was highly effective in stuffing the running game.

Coconut Telegraph: Watch Auburn’s receivers (particularly their slot receivers). If they come out trotting, it’s a run. If they explode off the line of scrimmage, it’s a pass. Every time. K-State’s safeties and corners read this like a book and didn’t hesitate to fly up to the line of scrimmage to eliminate running plays. Their safety also read the pulling tight end as an automatic call for run support. No hesitation meant he was able to plug a gap very quickly.

Kool Kids: If Duke Williams is healthy, he’s a friggin beast. And, we all know plenty about Sammie Coates. Auburn can move the ball thru the air simply because all Marshall has to do is put the ball in their area code and there’s a 50/50 shot of them coming down with the ball. Seriously, they are outstanding wide receivers so Cyrus Jones and Eddie Jackson are going to have their hands full.

Leave Me Alone: This is kind of bizarre but Auburn consistently leaves the defensive end unblocked even when he’s continuously making plays in the backfield. Against Georgia and Ole Miss, they even left the defensive tackle unblocked! On purpose! Needless to say the unblocked defender disrupted the play.

Our House: I saw a ton of batted passes at the line of scrimmage so look for Alabama to go all Dikembe Mutumbo on Nick Marshall. “No, no no! Not in my house!”

Swingers: Auburn used the swing pass to their backs effectively against Georgia and that’s a play that’s hurt the Bama defense over the last two weeks.

Fly Guys: On any fly sweep action, the Georgia corner to the fly sweep side raised his hand as a sign to his safety that he was coming on an automatic blitz. This was highly effective.

Highlight Zone: Ole Miss and UGA both used zone defenses effectively because it allowed their corners to come up in run support. The Rebels’ zone allowed them to jump numerous routes, as well.

Tidebits

  • If Auburn rushes to the line of scrimmage, 99% of the time they are running wide in the hopes that their quick snap left the defense outnumbered on the edge.
  • If a corner sees their receiver crack down on a linebacker, they should immediately fill the spot where the receiver came from b/c that’s where the run is coming.
  • If Nick Marshall breaks containment, he’s a problem. His receivers have the ability to get open when the play breaks down so keeping him in the pocket is essential. Look for a mush rush except in passing situations.
  • In passing situations, any speed rusher (Anderson, Dickson, Evans, Williams, Hand) will blow by Shon Coleman. He’s awful at blocking on the edge (but is really good at holding).
  • Speaking of penalty yardage per game, Auburn is currently ranked No. 114 nationally. Ouch.
  • Look for Ricardo Louis to be the fly sweep guy as lately Corey Grant hasn’t had any success whatsoever.

Alabama on Special Teams

With Auburn ranked 12th in the conference in punting average, look for Alabama to have a massive advantage in field position throughout the game. Auburn does lead the conference in punt returns so the coverage teams will have their hands full.

Also, Auburn is ranked third in the conference in field goal percentage so God help us if the game hinges on a field goal. Perhaps the week off has helped the injured Adam Griffith enough to make a difference.

Final Thoughts

Everything lines up perfectly for Alabama to win this game. On offense, Alabama’s strength is their passing game and that’s exactly where Auburn is the most deficient. Defensively, Alabama dominates the running game and, without that, Auburn would be forced to do something they’d rather not do – pass. Nick Marshall is an erratic passer, so putting the game into his hands would seem like the best thing that Nick Saban could do. Marshall has really been struggling with his accuracy in his last two games, going just 11 of 23 for 112 yards against Georgia and 11 of 18 (for 171) against Samford. So, if Alabama can do as Kansas State, Mississippi State and Georgia did, then they should have a merry little Iron Bowl. But, Cyrus Jones and Eddie Jackson are going to have to come up big a few times when they are locked up in man to man situations against two outstanding wide receivers.

This game is at home. And Alabama is really, really good at home. Auburn has nothing to play for and their play of late seems to be reflective of the fact that their dreams have been dashed. Meanwhile, Alabama has everything to play for and, even more importantly, they are playing with a passion and a swagger that we haven’t seen around the Capstone in a long, long time. The beats will be pumpin, the guys will be swaggin’ and the crowd will be electric. So will the Tide lose to Auburn Saturday? NEVER AGAIN.

Final Score: Alabama 34               Auburn 21

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Western Carolina Game Review

Ok folks, it’s Iron Bowl week so look alive!  Well, that is unless you are A’shawn Robinson, Ardarius Stewart, Brian Vogler, Cam Robinson or Amari Cooper and then you need to be looking both alive AND well.  The story coming out of the Western Carolina game was obviously the ridiculous amount of attrition that Bama suffered during the game.  I’m no doctor and I certainly didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but of the injuries it appeared the injuries to Vogler and A’shawn were the two worst ones.  I personally think everyone except Vogler will play their usual roles against Auburn this week.  However, the one I’m most curious about is Cooper’s injury.  He took one helluva hit on his knee with it planted in the ground so I’ll be watching to see if he has that same ole Cooper burst that we’ve grown to love, admire and Coooooooop to this season…

But, before we get into the Iron Bowl, we want to devote a little bit of time to our chop blocking friends from Western Carolina.  I mean, really, those chop blocks were horrific and are beyond dangerous.  I think I’d garnish half of their paycheck for those hits, alone.  But, the Catamounts served their purpose because they gave us an extra week of prep for Auburn since they run some similar sets out of their offense.  Here are a few of the items we wanted to point out from that game before we turn on the tape to begin breaking down the broken down Tigers….

Alabama on Offense

After watching Nick Saban chew on Lane Kiffin’s ass for throwing the ball too much, all I can say is Nick, now you know how we feel!  The purpose of this game was to get the kids some reps and the only way to do that is to run up the score early and then sub in the puppies as soon as humanly possible.  Unfortunately, Lane evidently didn’t get the memo because the Tide took to the air repeatedly, causing misfires and keeping the score entirely too close.  At 10-7, Saban lost his ever loving mind and express his “desire” to run the ball down the Catamounts’ throat.  Soon thereafter, it was 38-14 and it was time to let the puppies out of their pen and onto the carpet.  Some of them peed.  Some of them went around in circles.  But, some of them chewed up some little Cats!

Ardarius Stewart:  We noticed a while back that Kiffin was making a concerted effort to get this playmaker the ball and I think we are all seeing why – Stewart is a speed demon!  Swings, hitches and deep routes are all on the menu for Ardarius and, if he’s healthy, I look for him to continue to expand his role.  He had one catch on a ball that was thrown behind him that was just stellar.  Let’s just say I think we found the heir apparent to Coop for next season.  Oh, and he’s the best blocking WR we have (and that’s saying a lot with Christion Jones and DeAndrew White on the team) – he had a beauty of a block on Derrick Henry’s 10 yard TD run.

Jalston Fowler:  Don’t you love seeing his big self line up at tailback?  My goodness.  Perhaps that’s why the little Cats resorted to chop blocking – running Fowler and Henry down their throats was just cruel and unusual punishment.  Fowler is going to be one tremendous pro football player…

Blake Sims:  What an up and down game for Sims.  There were moments where he was wild and erratic and then there were moments like the one where he hit Cam Sims on a deep cross.  Then he missed Stewart being completely wide open in the end zone but came back to zip a seed to Chris Black in one of the tighter windows we’ve seen him throw thru.  But, by and large Sims was not sharp and not accurate, under throwing balls or wrong shouldering his receivers.  Meanwhile…

Jake Coker:  Say what you will about this being Western Carolina but there were numerous times where Coker showed us what all the fuss was about coming into the season.  He completed NFL throw after NFL throw, showing tremendous timing, accuracy and velocity each and every time.  He only made one bad decision on the night when he forced a throw back into the middle of the field where it was almost picked.  But, he made some WOW throws that certainly made me think he has a ton of potential.  Maybe he’s finding his comfort zone or maybe Kiffin is working with him to get over some of his flaws.  Whatever the case, Coker looked outstanding.

OJ Howard:  Howard made two nice catches, including one where he high pointed and attacked the football. Nice.

Tyren Jones:  What do y’all want me to tell you about Jones?  I’ve been touting him for two years and now you all got to see what I saw at a fall scrimmage when he was a true freshman.  His vision and patience complement his speed and surprising power perfectly and I absolutely love to watch this kid run!!!!  Tenpenny showed strength and toughness, as well, but no one makes me as moist when they run the football than Tyren Jones does…  🙂

Final Thoughts

Not much else to say here.  It’s impossible to evaluate the offensive line because they are going up against kids who are literally half their size.  When Alabama wanted to run the football, they did so with ease.  And Alabama’s main goal was to get their second, third and fourth stringers in, and they did so by the start of the third quarter.  I do wish Sims had looked much more crisp but I am pleased that Coker appeared to have taken tremendous strides.

Alabama on Defense

Listen, I’m not going to bore you too much in this space about the defense.  It was men against boys so it was more than surprising when the “boys” put up 14 points!  But, Alabama began to take over once they got a little more interested in the game and I think it helped that Saban and Smart were dialing up blitzes like a fat guy dials up Dominoes.  Here are a few things that stood out to me during the game…

Lab Rats:  Saban and Smart dialed up a ton of different blitzes throughout the game and it almost seemed like they were experimenting to see what they liked and didn’t like.  Corners, backers and safeties all blitzed with reckless abandon and it seemed to ratchet up the intensity for the defense.

Hardcover:  Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland seemed to struggle again in pass coverage and for the second week in a row, Alabama’s defense gave up quite a bit of yardage to the running backs who are sprinting laterally on swing passes.  Look for Auburn to try this a number of times because the Tide has struggles in shutting this play down.

Trips Issues:  Dan Mullen found two route combinations in the red zone last week that resulted in passing touchdowns and this week Western Carolina used a similar combo to score their first touchdowns.  Alabama doesn’t play straight man in the red zone as they pass off combination routes to one another as they change.  Unfortunately, State and Carolina decided not to run the expected routes and confusion reigned in the secondary once again.

Cyrus the Virus:  Poor Cyrus Jones – he did not have his best day at the office.  But, to me, the worst play was when the little Carolina running back lowered his head and lowered the boom on Jones near the sidelines.  Jones fell down and the little Catamount chugged on down the field.  He honestly has been the best and most reliable corner on the team this season and he’s certainly been the most targeted defender, as well.  And when Saban is trusting you to play on an island, well, you will have numerous opportunities to fail.  Thankfully, he’s won far more times than he’s lost and he more than earned my trust when he battled two LSU throws in overtime.

Tim the Tool Man:  Tim Williams!  Get some!  No one on the team has a better rush that he does with the possible exception of Rashaan Evans.  Love me some Tim Williams – all he does is create havoc and get sacks.

Josh Frazier:  Welp, we got to see why everyone was talking about Josh Frazier in fall camp!  In one quick motion he had completed a swim move against the guard and was breathing down the QBs neck!  Frazier got his first of many sacks to come in his career.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to bore you guys to death with any other observations because, at the end of the day, it was a game against a team that Alabama should never schedule.  That being said, the Tide got a nice little practice session against a team that runs a similar offense to what Auburn runs and they got to unleash their young kids and get them some invaluable playing time.  Aside from the multitude of injuries, the story of the game to me was the play of Tyren Jones and Jake Coker.  We also got to see a variety of receiving weapons including Stewart, Black and Foster – all of whom looked brilliant at times.  The future is bright, but then that’s exactly what we’d expect with #1 recruiting class after #1 recruiting class, right?

So now we are on to Auburn.  The Iron Bowl.  The Tide wants revenge.  It wants an SEC West championship.  It wants a National Championship.  And, for the second year in a row, all that stands in their way is the Auburn Tigers.  Revenge is a dish best served cold, and I figure Alabama will be more than happy to put these Tigers on ice.

The Game Review for Mississippi State

In the end, beating the Bulldogs was a just Beautiful Grind.  While the Bryant-Denny crib was rocking and swaying to new jams, old jams and a mic’d up band, Saturday night the Alabama Crimson Tide football team simply did what they are known to do – they grinded up another opponent in what can only be described as the “Process.”

It was never flashy.  Sure, Amari Cooper skied so high that it nearly looked like he was one of the paratroopers delivering the game ball, but for the rest of the game it was just a Beautiful Grind.  When State closed to within one score at 19-13, Bama used 15 plays, converting three key third downs, to slowly march 76 yards in 6:07 to officially drive a stake into the heart of the Cinderella Bulldogs.  Saban called this Beautiful Grind drive “probably one of the greatest drives in Alabama history” and once it was finished, so were the hopes (including the Heisman hopes) of Dan Mullen and Bulldog fans everywhere.   When the clock struck zero, Alabama became the Lone Survivor in the West (if they continue to take care of business).

Sometimes I think the Tide’s methodical grind must be what it’s like to watch sausage being made.  I’m mean, it sure is a tasty product in the end sometimes how it all came about may not be the prettiest thing to see.  But, tonight, move over Abe Froman for Alabama is the Sausage King of the United States (and greater Chicago)!

Alabama on Defense

We start this week by applauding yet another valiant effort from Nick Saban’s defensive charges.  After spending the better part of 60 minutes fending off a corn dog assault, the Tide had to turn right around and face the SEC’s most prolific and diverse offensive attack.  As we mentioned in the W2W4, the State offense attacks all across the line of scrimmage with runs up the middle and off tackle and then flares out to the flats.  And, if they spied 1 on 1 coverage on their NBA power forward masquerading as a wide receiver (6’5 De’runnya Wilson) then they would be more than happy to attack down the field, as well.  This little group of Bulldogs is a LOT different than the previous versions so coming off an extremely physical game against LSU you had to know it would be a challenge.  Or, maybe not.

Nick Saban and Kirby Smart developed a high risk plan that asked their front four (or five, as we’ll discuss in a bit) to stuff the run pretty much by themselves.  And, because of their ability to do just that, Alabama was able to allow their safeties to concentrate solely on stopping the pass and since Nick Perry and Landon Collins both recorded interceptions, I’d say mission accomplished.  Let’s break it down…

Never Gonna Get It:  Typically when Alabama plays a zone read spread time (Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State) they keep two linebackers in the middle and play a four man front.  However, this week Alabama shifted into a five man front, leaving the middle with only one LB or, when they were in nickel, no LBs at all.  This look encouraged Prescott to look to run up the middle because he expected to find a crease and immediately escape out into the secondary since there were no second level defenders.  We’ve talked in this space before about how Alabama’s front line is asked to build a wall instead of shooting up the field and this technique all but eliminated the interior running game.  Jarren Reed, A’shawn Robinson, DJ Pettway, Brandon Ivory and others were all able to stand up their opponent and then move to form a brick wall in front of Prescott.  They were then able to disengage from the blocks and make a tackle or they stacked the line long enough to allow the safeties to come up and make plays when Robinson and Prescott bounced the ball outside.  Simply put, Bama’s front four dominated the Bulldog’s OL.

Whatta Man:  Throughout most of the game, Bama’s corners were locked up in man to man which allowed the safeties (who’s responsibility was oftentimes a back out of the backfield) to either come up in run support or play the RBs out of pass coverage (this is why the swings to Josh Robinson were so effective – the safeties were usually a pretty long way away).  Cyrus Jones fought like a demon throughout the whole game against the much taller, much more physical De’runnya Wilson.  Cyrus De’runnya’d with him, De’fought the ball with him and De’tackled him the entire game – what a man to man job he did.  Oh, and credit Jones for staying with his man in the end zone while MSU trotted out the tired ole jump pass once again.  I think last year’s Auburn game reinforced the fact that he will always stay with his man going forward…

Lonely Man on the Corner:  Bama brought a bunch of corner blitzes in this game that blew up several running plays.  Well conceived blitzes that ended plays sometimes before they began.  Bama changed up their coverages, too, which sometimes allowed the corners to peek into the backfield so that they could provide run support.

Nick of Time:  This was Nick Perry’s best game in a crimson jersey. Whether he was knocking down running backs or quarterbacks at or near the line of scrimmage or picking off passes in coverage, Nick Perry was outstanding.  His ability to come up and make tackles was a huge part in limiting the MSU running game.

Safety Dance:  I can’t think of a better way to set the tone of this game than to push the doggies back into their kennel for a safety.  Credit the blitz of Geno Smith because he blew up the right tackle and, together, they got in the way of the fly sweeper and that forced Robinson to bounce the run back into the end zone.  With no lead blocker, Trey DePriest and DJ Pettway were able to track Robinson down easily for a safety.

Party of Five:  I was shocked at how much Alabama emptied the area behind the defensive line by moving Trey DePriest to a position on the end that essentially formed a 5 man front.  Whenever they did this, they typically brought all five men after Prescott.  Also, this look usually was an automatic read for Prescott to run and Alabama suckered him into this time and time again.

Dead Zone:  For all of the talk about MSU’s red zone defense coming into the game, it was Alabama’s red zone defense that decided the game.  While Alabama posted three touchdowns, MSU was turned away time and time again.  Bama posted three interceptions that were all caught in the red zone and then they forced two field goals, as well.  Outstanding job by the D once again.

Tidebits

  • State used a bunch formation numerous times but Alabama’s secondary showed that they’ve worked on this a ton since the first few games of the season. What was once an Achilles heel for the team has turned into quite a strength.
  • Credit Dan Mullen for two very well conceived passing routes that were converted into touchdowns. With this on tape, believe me when I tell you we’ll be seeing these routes again.
  • I think Alabama was just fine with Prescott swinging the ball out to Robinson time after time.
  • Can teams go ahead and junk the jump pass already? Child, please…ain’t happenin’.
  • I’ve never seen a team that has a punter as a weapon. But now I have.  JK Scott is friggin amazing.  Alabama dominated field position throughout this game and nearly every other game.  Forcing an offense to march the length of the field against this defense is nearly unfair.

Alabama on Offense

Alabama’s offense enjoyed tremendous field position for the first three quarters of the game, starting drives with an average starting field position of their own 35 yard line.  So, it felt a little disappointing that the offense was only able to create 17 points out of those 11 drives.   But, when the Tide needed a drive the most, once again Alabama was able to pound out another long to put the game away. You think there’s a reason that Alabama has 23 SEC titles and 15 National Championships?  Drives like this are why.

The game didn’t exactly begin as planned with Lane Kiffin dialing up a three and out to start the game.  In fact, Alabama once again had trouble in this area as six of their 13 drives resulted in a three and out.  Many may not realize it but State actually outgained the Tide 428-335 so while the Tide dominated the scoreboard, there were still some issues on the offensive side of the ball.  I think it’s terribly important for me to point this out to you guys as we move forward into two big SEC games and then two more playoff games…

Communication: With Alabama playing LSU on the road last week and then MSU at home this week, it was easy to see why Alabama’s offense is so much better at home.  Communication.  On the road, Blake Sims (remember, this is his first year starting) gets to the line, looks over to Kiffin and then has to run up and down the line screaming out the play to his teammates.  Sometimes they don’t get the call.  Other times, everyone is in sync but the play clock is down to 1 at the snap.  Basically, audibles at the line become a Chinese fire drill on the road but are executed easily and quickly with plenty of time on the play clock at home.

Do Run Run Run:  As you could tell from the last drive, Alabama’s offense is very difficult to stop when Blake Sims is used as a runner.  On the third play of the game, Sims ran a QB keeper and it was open for good yardage.  I really thought he was going to get a huge chunk play but McKinney made a great play fighting off a block so Sims came up a yard short of the first down.  I’m disappointed we didn’t come back to this and I’m disappointed that it has to be the most dire of situations before Sims looks to run (but I’m elated that he finally did!.  With Sims throwing high and wide on a few rollouts, at some point it seems like a good idea would be to take the 15 yards of open grass in front of him.  Just a thought.

Remedy:  A few weeks ago we noticed true freshman Ardarius Stewart lining up in the backfield and getting the ball.  This week we saw him used in motion, on crossing routes and on two deep passes.  This kid is fast and has some ridiculous hops so it’s easy to see why they would turn to Stewart to replace Kenyan Drake’s speed out of the backfield or DeAndrew White’s (hamstring issues) vertical threat.  Look for him to continue to be used as he’s an exceptionally fast player – Sims underthrew his speed twice.

Spread Em:  If you haven’t noticed, Alabama has embraced running out of four wide receiver packages.  Sometimes Jalston Fowler and Brian Vogler are lined up as “wide receivers” which allows them to come down to make some pretty devastating blocks.  Bama has run the ball much better out of the spread this year than any other formation.

Rammer Jammer:  It was awesome to see Alabama run the ball effectively between the tackles.  TJ Yeldon was particularly effective and the threat of the interior run allowed him to bounce it outside for the game winning touchdown.

Trojan Men:  The offensive line’s pass protection was OUTSTANDING Saturday.  The Bulldogs came into the game leading the SEC in sacks but they rarely were seen harassing Sims in the backfield.

Red Rain:  Alabama absolutely made it rain in the red zone.  With MSU ranked first in the country in the red zone, the game was won because Alabama converted THREE trips into the red zone into touchdowns.  Don’t underestimate how difficult this was – scoring TDs instead of field goals won this game.  Key passes to TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper set up easy runs to convert the red zone scores.

Imagination:  After two straight years of watching Jalston Fowler run nothing but flat routes, it caught everyone by surprise when he turned his pattern back to the middle!  He was running down the seam wide open – perfect play call and a perfect way to take advantage of a known tendency on offense.

Jukebox Hero:  I have to mention DeAndrew White’s blocking in this space.  Numerous times this season it’s been White who has provided a key block down the field to allow extra yardage.  This week, White provided a key block to allow TJ Yeldon to get a first down on a pass out of the backfield and then it was White who allowed Sims just enough room to convert his second straight scramble for a first.  Exceptional.

Second Half Doldrums:  I’ve noticed for a few games that Alabama isn’t nearly as productive in the second half as they are in the first but I don’t think it is because they have been conservative.  With State moving the ball and beginning to wrest control of the game, Kiffin dialed up three straight passing plays.  All of them were incomplete and after the punt, State scored to make it 19-13.  In fact, prior to “The Drive” Alabama threw the ball ten times to only three runs.  Not exactly conservative.

Tidebits

  • I was disappointed Alabama didn’t call more “now” or hitch routes out wide as I thought they were available.
  • Cam Robinson actually whiffed on a couple of blocks and also was called for a false start. I hope he gets a chance to rest up and heal up this week.
  • On one roll right, the MSU linebackers were shouting to shift into the roll. The linebacker looked down at the OL’s feet and then started shouting.  Sure enough, Cam Robinson and Arie K turned out to protect the backside of the roll so I think they may be tipping something with their feet.
  • I still don’t know how Amari Cooper caught that deep ball. The MSU defender actually got his hand on the ball.
  • Half of Derrick Henry’s body was in the end zone WITH the football. Amazing that the refs ruled it a fumble and that the play had to be reviewed.
  • Love the pop pass to OJ Howard. Hate the fact he dropped a perfect throw to start the second half.
  • State’s LBs did a phenomenal job in avoiding second level blocks and making tackles.

Final Thoughts

Nick Saban is now 4-1 against the #1 team in the nation when he’s in charge of the Alabama Crimson Tide. That’s amazing to me.  Overall, he’s had five wins over the #1 team in the nation which is more than anyone else has beaten the #1 team since the polls were created in 1936.  In Saban we trust!

But, against these fabled spread attacks, I’m not sure we’ve trusted Saban.  Now, perhaps we should.  In consecutive weeks Saban and Smart have shut down the aerial assault of A&M, the power running of LSU and the diversified attack of the SEC’s top ranked offense in Mississippi State.  While the offense may sputter at times, the defense remains on point.  No other team in the country has the athletes or the variety of schemes that can allow them to have success against these three very different offensive attacks so credit recruiting, coaching and schemes for bringing Alabama back to the #1 spot in the country.

I apologize for the delay in getting this out – lots going on this week.  We’ll pass on doing a W2W4 for Western Carolina but we’ll do a Game Review and then get ready for the Iron Bowl…