SEC Championship Game Review – Adieu Mizzou

When the clock hit 0:00 and hundreds of blue and yellow streamers descended from the ceiling, it occurred to me that this wonderful moment wasn’t really about Alabama beating Missouri or winning their unprecedented 24th SEC championship.  Instead, it was about the Alabama head coach who proudly grabbed the microphone away from Allie LaForce so that he could beam about his newest championship team.  And, Nick Saban should be immensely proud of this team because they are the result of the finest coaching job that he’s done in his many years of being a head football coach.

Teams are funny things.  Sometimes a team can be composed of a group of tremendously talented players – an embarrassment of riches that should honestly never lose a game.  Yet, that same team can fall short of every single goal they set out to achieve.  The 2010 Alabama football team had a treasure trove of exceptional football players.  Thirteen players from their two deep on defense are in the NFL today.  Twelve offensive players were drafted into the NFL, eleven of which are still in the league.  All told, 25 players off the two deep roster of this team made an opening day roster in the NFL…and yet this team finished with a very disappointing 10-3 record.  When everyone isn’t marching to the beat of the same drummer, teams can find themselves offbeat.

However, the pride and joy of Nick Saban’s 2014 team is its ability to work together and operate with one collective heartbeat.  You may recall that in February Saban mentioned to the leadership council the need to “get players to buy in” in 2014.  Brian Vogler quickly spoke up and said, “We need to get players to WANT to buy in.”  One simple word.  One simple message.  One simple thought can change an average group of players into one great team.  What Saban and his staff (and don’t underestimate the value of Kiffin here) set out to do in February, they saw come to fruition in December.  This game was less about overcoming the Tigers and more about overcoming the mindset that had led to disappointing defeats.  Mission accomplished.

Alabama on Offense

I apologize for getting this review out to you all in such a late fashion.  The beauty of having a blog is that there are no deadlines and there are no editors banging away at you for content.  Unfortunately, that’s also the detriment of the blog as writing can only flow when it’s given time to pour out and flourish.  Given the late date of this posting, this will probably not be one of those flourishing times but I hope to use the off time before the bowl, er, semi-final playoff game to post more pictures and diagrams of how the Tide was so successful in this game and during this season.  For now, please accept the abridged version of the game review and know that more is on the way…

  • Why were we in road whites again?   The #1 team in the country can’t wear their home crimson jerseys?  Blasphemous.  Ok, moving on….
  • Alabama won the toss and elected to score in 3:36. Loved it.  But, has Danielson seen us play?  We’ve used hurry up throughout the year and not because Auburn had some success against Missouri with it last year!
  • This game, more than any other, featured strong play action to one side to create flow only to see Alabama drag a player against that flow in the opposite direction for a big gainer. The game opened up with Jalston Fowler on a little play action boot and then saw Amari Cooper and Christion Jones catch passes as they ran behind the line of scrimmage against the flow of the play.
  • As we stated going into the game, Mizzou is perfectly comfortable in giving up short passes – hence the 12 catches for just 83 yards. Credit Kiffin for designing a play that would cause the safety to jump a Cooper crossing route, leaving DeAndrew White open for a 58 yard bomb.
  • I plan to diagram this later but there’s a reason safeties and corners often jump the wrong routes when they are in their zone concepts. Kiffin oftentimes will run patterns that are in direct lines with one another and the quarterback.  On the above play, Sims’ eyes appeared to take him to Cooper but White’s pattern was directly behind Cooper and within the same sight line.  Later, Sims found Jones in the seam when his eyes followed Cooper on the slant and then led him to the open white jersey behind Coop’s pattern.  This has happened time and time again but, put simply, the patterns lead Sims’ eyes to the next pattern in the progression so it’s impossible to read which receiver will get the ball.  I’ll diagram this and it will make more sense, I promise!
  • I will also diagram this for you guys but hopefully I can make it make a little sense right now. We talked about how aggressive the Mizzou defensive ends were and how Bama could take advantage of this.  They did.  Many times, they left the DE unblocked which allowed the Bama tackles (Shepherd and Robinson) to make their way out to the second level.  As the DE raced upfield, Alabama brought Brian Vogler or OJ Howard over to “trap block” them – this opened a huge running lane that was exploited time and time again.
  • On TJ Yeldon’s two touchdowns, I loved the fact that he didn’t pitter-patter his feet. Instead, he took the ball and hit the hole hard each time.  Loved seeing this out of Yeldon.
  • How about Blake Sims’ ability to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball, knowing he was going to get popped. The bomb to DeAndrew White was a thing of beauty and when Sims let it go, I think he knew he was going to get jacked.  He also hung in the pocket til the last instant on a throw down the outside seam to Jones and on a jump pass thrown to a crossing Cooper.  This was the first time I’ve really seen Sims wait inside the pocket and allow his progressions to work themselves free…
  • And once again, Kiffin raised his arms signaling a touchdown long before Sims launched the ball deep down the field to White. That’s so cool…
  • I think my favorite play was a new wrinkle that Kiffin came up with to get two massive lead blockers in front of Cooper. The play starts with Cooper motioning towards Sims, who is in the pistol look but with the addition of big Jalston Fowler to his left.  It’s kind of like an off-set I formation from the pistol.  At the snap, the ball is pitched forward to Coop and he allows 250 lb Fowler and 240 pound Henry to get out in front of him on what ends up being a student body left sweep.  Love getting the two big tanks out in front of the fleet-footed (but patient) Coop!
  • Once again, when the opponent closed within one score, Alabama answered on the very next drive. It’s uncanny how they are able to answer scores immediately.  Once Mizzou closed to within 21-13, Bama outgained them 225-65, and outscored the Tigers 21-0 the rest of the game.
  • I think there were a few “business decisions” late in the game that resulted in some Tiger defenders not getting in the way of big Derrick Henry. I need to diagram the touchdown that put Bama up 35-13.
  • It was fun to watch the offense early in the game as they turned the “Show Me” state into the “Fool Me” state. Kiffin trotted out four wide receivers and then would run the ball.  Then, he’d send in multiple tight ends and/or a fullback and would take to the air.  The Mizzou defense was off-balance all afternoon long.

Alabama on Defense

In the interests of time, I won’t spend a lot of space or effort breaking down the defense.  If you saw the game, then you know the defensive front six absolutely dominated the Missouri Tigers offensive line.  Sometimes the box score doesn’t tell the story but this time, it certainly does.  Missouri rushed 23 times for only 41 yards as Bama’s front line spent most of the afternoon in the Tigers’ backfield.  The only play that worked for the Mizzou offense was a backyard “go deep and I’ll run around and throw it as far as I can” kind of Hail Mary and, much to our dismay, this worked three different times.  Passes to Jimmie Hunt for 32, 63, 47 accounted for 142 of their 272 yards – that’s a staggering 52% of the offense!  And while that number certainly indicates how brutal those Hail Mary’s were, it also speaks to the otherwise inept offense that the Tigers had during the rest of the day.  Those three plays averaged 47 yards per play but the other 53 plays averaged just 2.41 yards per play.  Wow.  Here are a few things that stood out to me…

  • A’shawn Robinson had his most dominating performance of the season. Plagued by injuries early in the season, Mr Robinson owned the Georgia Dome neighborhood all day long.  He led the Crimson Tide with nine tackles, including three for a loss and was also credited with a hurry and at times would penetrate 3, 4 and 5 yards into the Missouri backfield.    The next three weeks should allow him to get even more healthy so Buckeyes beware.  And God help the pourous Oregon offensive line if Robinson gets to line up against that bunch.
  • Alabama continues to turn the opponent’s red zone into the dead zone. The Tigers reached the Dead Zone on three occasions but had to settle for just one touchdown and two field goals.  In today’s game of football, field goals are the equivalent to a punt so kudos to the Tide defense for standing strong once again.  FYI – amazingly, Alabama has given up ONE rushing touchdown in their last five games.
  • One Saturday it’s Eddie Jackson giving up big plays and then the next week it’s Geno Smith. Mizzou went after Smith with Hunt all afternoon long – targeting eight times with four completions for 111 yards.  Meanwhile, Jackson appeared to be targeted only four times, giving up two completions for 33 yards.
  • Bama’s front four were amazing. Not only did they destroy the running plays, they also flushed Mauk numerous times forcing throw aways and Hail Marys.  Dickson and Anderson were particularly good at applying pressure…
  • As Auburn did with Quan Bray, Missouri motioned a back out of the backfield out wide and he ended up being single covered by Reggie Ragland. If I were Ohio State, I’d attack this.
  • I thought Hunt pushed off on two of the three Hail Mary’s. One was blatant.
  • There was a beautiful defensive play that most folks probably missed. With the Tigers threatening on the Alabama 15, they faked a bubble screen and slipped Hunt down the sidelines to the end zone.  The hope was that Bama would bite on the screen but they didn’t – the Tide secondary played this perfectly, forcing a check down pass for one yard.
  • I thought DJ Pettway and Dalvin Tomlinson were very effective on the inside.
  • Alabama continued using just one linebacker as they often flanked Ragland out beyond the defensive ends. No one has been able to run on this look that they’ve been using since the Mississippi State game and that’s a credit to the front four.
  • I think on the touchdown, Bama’s secondary was supposed to be in combo coverage which switches on crossing routes. It appeared two of the three Tide defenders played combo while one (Geno Smith) played straight man and this allowed the pick play to work.
  • How about JK Scott getting that punt off after the low snap? Pretty smooth under pressure by the true freshman!
  • Since Mizzou was so inept at running the football, it was pretty interesting that they stuck with it even late in the ballgame. Show Me how to run down that clock, Mizzou!
  • During the broadcast, Gary Danielson mentioned how Oklahoma’s loss to Ok State actually hurt both Baylor and TCU. No one else mentioned that but he was so right.  Also, he correctly predicted FSU in the #3 spot.

Final Thoughts

How perfect was it that Blake Sims ended up getting the MVP trophy?  The kid who everyone questioned going into the season actually set a championship game record for completion percentage by completing 23 of 27 passes (85.2%).  That’s amazing to me.  And after Sims received his curtain call, it was easy to see how his teammates responded to him when Collins, Fowler, Ivory, Saban, Kiffin and others embraced the senior.  The Kiffin hug was particularly poignant as they shared a long embraced that seem to be a thank you both from coach to player and from player to coach.  What a moment…

And while Allie LaForce was on stage and accidentally proclaiming the Alabama Crimson Tide as “national” champions, Kiffin was over 50 yards away simply playing with three blonde little kids that clearly belonged to him.  Somehow I found this to be fascinating – the man who was as responsible as anyone for the team’s success was more interested in playing with his kids than he was basking in the glow of the spotlights.

But the thought that stayed with me long after we left the Georgia Dome was the sight of Bill Battle holding up the SEC Championship trophy with Nick Saban.  It was usually Mal Moore who got to share this special moment with Saban, and somehow you knew that Mal was upstairs smiling down on the successes for the coach and the AD that he selected to continue the Alabama tradition.

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