Before we begin this week’s segment, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this moment to thank the past, present and future men and women of our armed forces for their service to our country. Both of my grandfathers served during WWII and my dad served in the Air Force so I have a very healthy respect for those who are in the military. The Lighthouse sends a sincere thank you to all who have served!
Speaking of serving, Alabama nearly served up another victory to an opponent with yet another fourth quarter fumble deep in their own territory. But, unlike the Ole Miss game, this time the defense rose up and held LSU to a field goal (with the help of a questionable personal foul penalty) and they allowed Alabama’s offense to have some hope and fifty seconds of time to work with. And that was all they needed.
All was lost…until it wasn’t. The fat lady was singing…until she was abruptly removed from the stage. The offense was dead and buried…until it unexplicably rose from a Death Valley grave. Instead of Alabama’s dreams dying, it was Les Miles’, who certainly regurgitated a good bit of that Death Valley turf shortly after the game was over. Like a microcosm of the entire season, it was the best of times and then it was the worst of times…and then it was the best of times again. Lane Kiffin went from using the most unimaginative game plan I’ve ever seen to calling the most inspired play calls of his career. In other words, it was just another day, er, night at the office in Baton Rouge. Let’s take a look at how it all came together as we continue to dare to dream because, contrary to what we thought when Yeldon fumbled, our dreams are still very much alive…
Alabama on Offense
After watching Auburn, Mississippi State and Florida repeatedly gash the LSU Tigers’ front, it only made sense that Alabama would look to do the same. Naturally, the Bama staff decided to do something completely different. It will surprise you to know that Alabama actually averaged more yards per carry (3.7) than LSU did (3.3). However, Alabama chose to run the ball only 29 times while throwing it 46 times. After mixing the run and the pass on the first drive, the Tide attempted nine straight passes (giving up one sack) leading to three consecutive three and outs. In the next possession, runs of 6, 12, 18, and 4 yards led to a missed field goal but you felt that Alabama had finally found something in the running game. Runs of 13 and 6 yards kick started a touchdown drive in the second quarter but when faced with a third and one in the third quarter, Alabama inexplicably chose to pass. The incompletion led to a three and out that allowed LSU to have the ball for all but FIVE plays in the second quarter. WHERE WAS THE RUNNING GAME?
I could go on and on here and perhaps I should, but I’ll finish my overview with this. Prior to the season, Coach Saban stated that Alabama was going to get back to the basics and once again become the team that everyone hated to play. Power football. Smash mouth football. That would once again be the Alabama offensive identity. The offensive game plan that we witnessed against LSU was mindnumbingly ridiculous, at least until that last two drives of the game. Perhaps they were afraid of asking too much from an injured TJ Yeldon. If so, I’d remind Bama fans that backs like Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny were all well thought of coming out of high school and could easily bear some of the load. But, instead, the game plan seemed to consist of one play – go deep. All was lost. But then it was found…
Gimme Three Steps: Of the 13 drives before the last one in regulation, NINE of them consisted of three plays or less.
Time Is (Not) On My Side: As a result, LSU had the ball for more than 38 minutes. Alabama had it for less than 22. And with 46 passes vs 29 runs, Alabama has completely lost their identity as a physical offensive team.
Go Deep: Alabama took seven deep shots/fades to wide receivers in one on one situations and completed none. I’ve personally hated the fade ever since it became the en vogue play in football (but I do love the back shoulder fade as good timing means it cannot be defended). Instead of running an actual play or route, Alabama chose to throw uncatchable balls to tightly recovered receivers seven different times. What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?
Move Your Body: Ole Miss and Auburn both had success on the LSU flanks but Alabama only ran wide with a “student body left” look just a couple of times, resulting in a 12 yard and 8 yard gain. Everything else was between the tackles. Why not work the flanks? And where oh where has the zone read gone?
Coconut Telegraph: Alabama attempted four screens to their running backs and each one was sniffed out quickly by LSU. And when I say quickly, I mean very shortly after the snap. Alabama is tipping their screens somehow.
Southern Cross: After running a gorgeous crossing play to DeAndrew White on the first play of the game, Alabama never came back to this route. Sims missed White badly on a couple of deeper crossers but the shallow crossing pattern didn’t seem to come back around. It was open.
Sugar Walls: There was little to no slipping inside the Tigers’ defensive wall. Even when the Bama line had a numeric advantage, they were stalemated at the line which allowed for very little running room between the tackles. LSU did a great job of establishing a wall with their front four.
Trojan Men: Kudos here to Cam Robinson (still can’t believe he played) and the rest of the line for doing an exceptional job in protecting Blake Sims. They did a great, great job in pass protection.
I Mean I Missed Again: Not the best night of work for several key Tiders. Amari Cooper had four drops. Blake Sims was wildly inaccurate through much of the game. TJ Yeldon fumbled and had a critical dropped pass. It seemed all of our key contributors played a less than stellar role.
Man Up!: So with the three offensive leaders struggling, others had to step up. OJ Howard had three key catches, including two on the final drive that he alertly took out of bounds to stop the clock. After being absent for so many weeks, Christion Jones snagged THE critical catch of the game with a diving grab that set up a game winning field goal. And then Brandon Greene. Who? The big converted tackle showed a sweet pair of hands in one of the coolest plays you’ll ever see. Think it was easy? Ask the LSU fullback how easy it is to catch an easy pass in overtime…
Anatomy of a Trick Play: I haven’t seen a better breakdown of the trick play in overtime than this one. Please hit the link and enjoy it again. I’ll make just a couple of quick points about the play:
- Bama hurried to the line of scrimmage and quickly shifted, catching LSU off guard. Sims went from under center to shotgun while Derrick Henry left the backfield, taking a position as a wide receiver. I’m not sure Derrick Henry was set for a full second when the snap took place but since he was off the line of scrimmage it may not have mattered.
- Cooper and Fowler lined up next to the “tackles” but then shifted into the slot – Cooper in the slot left next to Henry and Fowler in the slot right next to big Cam Robinson. Watch the LSU secondary as this happened – utter confusion. They did roll three defenders to Henry and Cooper while the other safety and linebacker vacated the middle to defend the three “receivers” to the right of the formation.
- The unsung beauty of this play was the baby roll that Sims took to the right, looking at White and Fowler while Robinson was break dancing at the line of scrimmage. This forced the middle linebacker and safety to completely vacate the middle. On the backside, Cooper ran from the slot to the left corner of the end zone, taking the corner and safety with him. This created a massive void down the middle of the LSU secondary.
- Credit Sims for lofting an easy catchable pass that Greene hauled in and took to the one. It was an incredible call.
- This was a maddening game to break down from the offensive standpoint. Who are we?
- Austin Shepherd had his worst game in a long, long time with three bad whiffs.
- I think we actually miss Brian Vogler in the running game.
- On the game winning touchdown, Alabama mimicked the same play that Ole Miss ran for their touchdown versus LSU. The outside receiver ran at the inside safety while the inside receiver ran free to the flat. This time LSU stayed in man which allowed the “rub route” from Jones to be extremely effective. White was wide open.
- Credit Adam Griffith for removing his head from his ass after doinking his first attempt. At that point he’d missed five of his last six kicks so it was a huge accomplishment for him to come back and hit his last two critical kicks.
Alabama on Defense
After watching the Bama offense cough and sputter throughout much of the contest, it had to be demoralizing for the defense to trot back out there time and time again to get bludgeoned by the LSU rushing attack. But, the Bama defense never wilted. Ever. Even when facing a first and goal with a minute remaining in the contest. They kept fighting and scrapping and continued to take the fight back to the LSU line and running backs. The Tide rotated defenders throughout the contest, particularly at the defensive line position. Players like Darren Lake, Dalvin Tomlinson, DJ Pettway and Brandon Ivory played key roles alongside stalwart defenders like Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson. At the flanks, Ryan Anderson, Xzavier Dickson and Denzell Devall rotated with a few breaks from Dillon Lee. It was pretty much an all hands on deck type of game and that’s the only reason the 38 minutes of smash mouth football never pushed the Tide out. This Tide was coming in all night long – wave, after wave, after wave of it.
One final quick point on the defense before we get into the game. I don’t think there is another defense in the country that can do what Bama’s defense just did in consecutive games. Defenses are either good against the spread or good against the power running games but rarely if ever are they good at both. This defense, however, can defend both. After shutting out the Texas A&M Aggies high flying passing attack (ask Auburn if that’s hard to do), Bama stepped up, manned up and beat back the physical LSU Tigers’ running game. This speaks to the diversity of the athletes on the Bama roster.
Let’s Get Physical: There wasn’t much imagination in the LSU attack, either. They simply lined up in the I formation and attempted to beat Alabama into submission. While Reggie Ragland and Trey DePriest are getting the most love (as they should), kudos here go out to Brandon Ivory for holding the point. Between Ivory, Reed and the rotation of interior defenders, LSU found the middle of the defense to be pretty stout. And, on the times they made it past the first level, Reggie Ragland and DePriest were there to shut them down. The safeties really rarely had to make a tackle.
Wrecking Ball: On the first drive of the second half, Brandon Ivory showed what a beast he can be. LSU faced a 1st & 10 after completing a first down pass to Connor Neighbors. At the snap Ivory shoved the center five yards into the backfield (he did this several times throughout the game). This time, Ivory shoved the center down, creating a traffic jam in front of Fournette. This alone was pretty impressive but Ivory wasn’t done. This time, Ivory continued down the line of scrimmage and hog tied Connor Neighbors, bringing him to the ground, as well. The rest of the troops quickly arrived to stuff Fournette for a one yard gain but only because Ivory was a wrecking ball in front.
Sorry Miss Jackson: I am fo real that Eddie Jackson made two critical plays that no one is talking about. The first was obvious – he picked off an ill advised pass at the end of the first half, setting up Alabama for a huge field goal. But, LSU’s bread and butter is the deep shot to Travin Dural and as LSU gained momentum in the running game they decided to attack Jackson with a perfect throw down the right sideline. For once, an Alabama defensive back turned, found the ball and with one hand extended Jackson knocked the perfect pass away. LSU loves to pound away for a while and then take a shot down the field but Jackson was there when we needed him the most. Great. Play.
Cutting Edge: Devall, Anderson and Dickson all did an excellent job in staying home and defending the LSU bootlegs. LSU tried to boot Jennings out on five different occasions but there was a Tide defender in his grill each and every time.
Give Me a Second: LSU won on first down at an alarming rate, getting five and six yards several times. However, Alabama absolutely dominated second down. Eight times LSU faced 2nd & 4 or shorter and seven of those times Alabama’s defense forced a third down. So, while they gave up some yards on first down, they always bounced back on second down to force LSU to make a play on third down. LSU was only 9 of 22 on third down even with many favorable first down plays.
Four Plays: After the Tide scored to take a 20-13 lead, they simply had to defend four plays to seal the win. Here’s a look at the last four plays for the Tigers:
- On first down, Miles had the perfect call on but not the perfect player. Instead of FB Connor Neighbors in at fullback, they went with the bigger, clumsier Melvin Jones. Thank God. He was wide open off of play action but he inexplicably dropped the ball. Here’s to you, Melvin!
- On second down, LSU went to their favored fade route against Cyrus Jones. Jones was in bump and run against Dupre with an emphasis on bump. At five yards, Jones gave Dupre a straight arm “bump” and then turned to box him out against the sidelines. Technically, Jones continued “bumping” with his arm beyond the five yard mark but the fact that the pass was thrown five yards out of bounds probably helped keep the officials’ flags in their pockets. Whew. Jones was in picture perfect position, though, with his eyes on the ball and using his butt to box Dupre out of bounds.
- Nick Perry isn’t getting enough love for this play but he should. The last time we saw Perry in Death Valley, he was getting torched by every LSU receiver they had on their roster. This time he came up from his safety position and cleanly and perfectly knocked away a pass down the middle. Beautiful play – perfectly done.
- And then there’s the last play. I’ve watched this play frame by frame and am a little surprised there was no flag thrown. Prior to the hand fighting that most people focus on during this play, Dupre turned to adjust to the flight of the ball. As he turned, Jones had a fist full of Dupre’s jersey and you could clearly see it get tugged. After that, Dupre fought Jones off with a very solid stiff arm while Jones attempted to stay close. As the ball approached, Jones turned and located the ball but he jumped up too early to defend the pass. As he came down, Jones kept his hands above his head while Dupre launched himself into the air to snag the pass. Neither player got their hands on the ball as the ball struck Jones in the helmet and deflected away as Jabriel Washington slammed into Dupre to clean everything up.
- Why Jennings didn’t run for the first down instead of throwing a jump ball into double coverage I’ll never know. But Anthony, beers are on me for chucking the ball into the end zone!
- I can’t say enough about the defense’s ability to match the physicality of LSU for four quarters. Vicious hits were handed out like Halloween candy, with Landon Collins and Reggie Ragland laying the biggest jawbreakers.
- Bama didn’t blitz much but when they did, they got hurt. The worst blitz was one where DePriest and Collins ran thru the same gap which allowed Neighbors to block them both. Jennings then picked up an easy first down with his legs.
- Speaking of, it was a little troubling that Jennings converted so many first downs with his legs. Credit Alabama for eventually adjusting to this and recording a critical sack late in the fourth quarter.
- LSU dropped four passes that would have converted first downs. Cheers!
The LSU game has easily supplanted the Tennessee game as the Tide’s biggest non-Auburn rivalry and it’s not even close. In the last 11 meetings, Bama leads the series 6-5. The Tide has now won the last four in a row, two of which had to be salvaged with last minute heroics, so every time these two get together they put on a heart stopping, gut wrenching show. For Alabama, the show must go on as they ready for #1 Mississippi State. For LSU, well, they have to figure out a way to move past another extremely difficult loss to Alabama. Grief counselors are standing by and they speak Farmer Fran (the coach from The Waterboy).
I think it bears mentioning (because it’s true) that Alabama was the beneficiary of several interesting calls and no calls. I’m not saying we got preferential treatment but I am calling this to your attention so that you can digest it as you will. Here is a listing of calls and non-calls that went in favor of the good guys:
- The phantom touchback. Video shows the ball didn’t cross the line and the ref closest to the play marked it down at the one. The ref furthest away ruled it a touchback. Now he was looking down the line but it certainly wasn’t an irrefutable call. Instead of getting the ball on the one, we got it at the 20.
- Pass interference on Cyrus Jones. In the first half the refs threw a flag against Jones for PI and then picked it up, citing “no foul.” Odd.
- Illegal formation. The refs threw a flag for illegal formation but when Nick vehemently disagreed the refs picked up the flag. I’ve honestly never seen that happen before.
- Personal foul against Vidal Alexander. Hmm. There were a TON of extra curriculars going on throughout the game so this was an odd time to throw a flag. After the play, the whistles had clearly blown numerous times to break up a different fracas so when Alexander shoved Robinson for grabbing his leg, the flag was thrown. The refs had clearly had enough so they caught Alexander on a ticky tack push. Tough call. But, feel free to give the Academy Award to big A’shawn.
- No PI called against Cyrus Jones on 2nd down in overtime. He was clearly grabbing Dupre beyond the five yard mark but with the ball going out of bounds it made it difficult to throw a flag.
- No PI against Jones on 4th down in overtime. He clearly grabbed Dupre’s jersey but then Dupre certainly retaliated with a right handed shove to the throat. Dupre continued arm barring while Jones continued grappling. They both were guilty but the tug of the jersey by Jones was blatantly obvious.
In fairness, LSU also committed pass interference twice against DeAndrew White and the refs did call a semi-questionable roughing penalty against Leon Brown (I watched it and felt it was a good call) so Bama didn’t get all the calls. But, I could see where an LSU fan would be incensed right about now.
Regardless, Alabama has survived and now it advances. Leave it to Nick Saban to out Hat “the Hat” with the kind of trickeration that we’ll talk about for an eternity. When all was lost, all was suddenly found. The Tide offense found their rhythm and found new playmakers besides Amari Cooper. Adam Griffith found his groove. Lane Kiffin found another page of the playbook besides “go deep”. And Blake Sims found his defining moment as the Alabama quarterback and found a new moniker of Big Hero 6. Meanwhile the Alabama defense found a resilience to continue fighting and continue defending, even when all the odds (and the offense) were against them.
So Alabama marches on with all of their goals in front of them and with all of their dreams intact. Now face their two biggest foes within the friendly confines of Bryant Denny Stadium. With over 102,000 screaming home fans for us, who can possibly be against us?