W2W4 – The SEC Champion Edition

A few weeks ago, following Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and then their narrow escape in Fayettville, not many people would have predicted that Alabama would be ranked #1 in the country and playing for yet another SEC Championship.  I’m not breaking any news here but this year has absolutely been Nick Saban’s best coaching job at Alabama to date.  He’s taken a former running back and turned him into a solid quarterback and in order to do that, Saban had to take make a reclamation project out of Lane Kiffin.  I’m not sure which odds were worse – Sims to perform at a high rate at quarterback or Lane Kiffin to direct a highly successful offense.  But, somehow and some way Saban has culled it all together to produce the nation’s best collegiate football team.

Across the field, almost as improbably, Gary Pinkel has the Missouri Tigers back in the SEC championship for the second year in a row.  Less than a Big 12 stalwart, somehow Missouri has easily navigated the SEC East going 14-2 in the SEC over the last two years.  That’s amazing.  Even more amazing is the fact that a 3-9 Indiana Hoosiers team beat Missouri earlier in the year.  Now, this same Tigers team is in Atlanta and is the last remaining hurdle to keep Alabama out of the playoffs.  We’re pressed for time so, after watching Missouri play A&M and Arkansas, here’s the best W2W4 we have time to cobble together before we head to the Georgia Dome…

Alabama on Offense

Here are a few tidbits that you’ll need to know about the Missouri Tigers when they are on defense.  First, they are extremely sound both in their run fits and in their coverages.  This is a well coached team that doesn’t allow the gaffes that we saw last week against the Auburn Tigers.  Also, they are athletic – they like to sit in a zone and allow their front four (especially their two defensive ends) to wreak havoc on the offensive line.  When you watch them play defense the best comparison I can give you is Ole Miss as they played a very, very similar style of defense (and you all know how that went).

Statistically, their defensive stats bear out exactly what I saw on tape.  Here are a few numbers that stood out to me:

  • #1 in the conference in getting sacks
  • #16 in the nation in total defense (Alabama is 11th)
  • #35 in the nation against the pass (Alabama is 54th)
  • #26 in the nation against the run (Alabama is #2)
  • #20 in the nation in turnover margin (Alabama is #72)

So, if you have seen them play or you’re good at math (or if you can just read this article), then you should realize that Alabama is going to have to earn each and every yard they get versus the Tigers.  Here are some other notes we gleaned from 8 hours of watching the Show Me bunch…

Tidebits

  • Mizzou plays a very sound 4-3 defense that utilizes zone pass coverage combined with speed rushing defensive ends. The  speed rushers can be encouraged/influenced upfield so draws, QB draws/runs and any runs to their vacated area should be available.
  • Their defensive front is small like Ole Miss’ so you’ll hear me screaming to run the @#$@#@ ball repeatedly.
  • And, we are now a pass first team so I fully expect to be frustrated throughout much of the game.
  • The windows to throw into their zone are much more open than the windows of the Ole Miss Bear Rebels with slants and square ins being available. Hunter Henry (TE for Arky) was open quite a bit but at this point mentioning OJ Howard is about as pointless as diagramming plays for Ozzie Newsome.
  • Wide receiver screens should be available.
  • The Tiger linebackers take deeeeeeeeeep drops so look for some underneath routes from the backs and, dare I say, tight end during the game. The short flats were wide open consistently.
  • The Mizzou LBs come up to stop the run with reckless abandon so play action should be effective if and only if we’ve established the threat of the run.
  • Shane Ray (#56) leads the conference in sacks and his best move is the outside/in move against the tackle. He arcs outside as if to speed rush but then knifes inside, beating the tackle easily.  He’s outstanding.
  • I’d concentrate my running plays between the tackles. With few exceptions, Missouri’s defense is able to get to the edges with numbers so the best attack would be to take them head on at the point of attack.
  • Missouri’s front four weighs: 260, 280, 295 and 245.  Ends Ray and Golden look like our linebackers.  This is why I’ll be begging Alabama to run the @#$@#$% ball!

Alabama on Defense

This matchup should be the difference in the game.  While Alabama has a fairly prolific offense, Missouri is downright anemic.  Here are some stats to marinate on as you get your popcorn ready for the game:

  • Missouri is 12th in the conference in total offense (11th in passing, 8th in rushing)
  • Against Florida, Missouri rushed for 99 yards and passed for 20. TWENTY!
  • Against Georgia, the Tigers rushed for 50 and passed for 97.

As you can see, when Mizzou has encountered a decent defense, they more than struggle.  Again, the Missouri Tigers offense will remind you of the Ole Miss offense where all of the runs are from the shotgun and all of them are designed to get to the outside of the defense.  Alabama has never, ever had any trouble in stuffing these types of runs.  I didn’t see a lot of push from the Tigers’ OL so I look for Bama’s front to dominate this matchup just as Florida, Georgia and, for the first half, Arkansas did.

Missouri does have a couple of outstanding wide receivers so if Maty Mauk can get the ball in the general area then they will be able to make plays vertically in the passing game.  However, the Bama safeties will not be concerned with the Tigers’ running game so their ability to help in the passing game will be sure to not allow Alabama to give up another 4 million yards of passing.  Here are some other notes…

Tidebits

  • Mauk is a 53% passer.   Good.  His short stature doesn’t allow him to see the field well so he blindly flings the ball around whether it makes sense or not.  In the two games I watched, I saw SEVEN batted balls (not his but, rather, the football) so keep an eye on that.
  • Mauk will check his first read and maybe his second one but, after that, he tucks and runs. He’s an adept runner so Bama may use a lot of the “mush rush” principals once again during this game.  However…
  • The Missouri right tackle is AWFUL! Against Arkansas alone he was beaten like a rented mule on six different occasions.  So, I’d like to see Bama put an edge rusher and let him play sic em around the Tigers’ right tackle.
  • There are two favored plays in the Missouri offense – the wide receiver screen (seen five times against Arky) and the swing pass to the running backs (seen five times). So, our linebackers are going to have to play well in coverage against their backs.
  • Speaking of their backs, their top running back (#32 Russel Hansbrough) was seen being carted off last week after suffering a severe ankle injury at the end of the game. Word is that he’ll play but he may not be 100%.  This is a major development.
  • Missouri loves throwing the quick slants to #21 Bud Sasser (6’3). Look for a Bama linebacker to get into the passing lane and make a play here.
  • Their deep threat receiver is #88 Jimmy Hunt and they will stretch the field with him at least three times during the game. Against Arkansas he dropped two balls before he finally hauled in a juggling catch for a big gainer.  He’s hit or miss but he could be a problem down the field.
  • Alabama will dominate in short yardage situations. Missouri’s line is athletic but they are not physically dominant at the point of attack – Arkansas pushed them back repeatedly.
  • Mauk runs the zone read with the backs but, frankly, I have no idea what he’s reading. I think the play is called and he just gives the perception of reading it b/c he consistently makes the wrong decisions here.
  • Look for Alabama to play press man to eliminate the quick, easy throws. The vast majority of the Tigers’ offense is predicated on quick, short throws and when those are taken away Mauk panics and makes very, very, very bad decisions.

Alabama on Special Teams

We hope the two weeks off have been good to Adam Griffith because after watching Conor Rayborn’s low kick get blocked it’s obvious that Griffith is our Obi Wan Kenobi – he’s our only hope.  Both Griffith and Baggett come into the game hitting a mere 67% of their kicks and Baggett has had a particularly rough patch recently.  I’ll say this is a draw but if Griffith is close to healthy then this is an edge for Bama.

JK Scott leads the world in punting so that will help the Tide flip the field consistently.  However, look out for the Missouri return game – they are ranked 2nd in the conference in kick off returns and 4th in the conference in punt returns.  As a good friend of mine pointed out, Alabama seems to be required to give up a huge return on special teams each and every time they play in the Georgia Dome so look out!

 

Conclusion

Before I sat down to watch Missouri, I assumed that Alabama would win this game by at least 20 points.  But, after watching them play Texas A&M and Arkansas, I can’t help but give much due respect to the Tigers’ defense because it is very, very impressive.  But, while their schemes remind me of Ole Miss, the Mizzou D simply is not quite as good on the back-end.  And offensively, the Tigers have put up some massive stinkers against the two decent defenses they’ve faced and they looked rather pedestrian against Arkansas, as well.

At the end of the day, you have to look at Missouri’s offensive failures against Florida and Georgia and understand that the Tigers’ offense should have even more difficulty moving the ball against the Crimson Tide.  Alabama’s physicality along both the offensive and defensive lines should eventually win the game but I think it will take a while before Alabama gets their footing offensively.

 

Final Score:  Alabama 27                Missouri 13

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