The Semi Final Game Preview – Alabama vs Ohio State

When it was announced that the University of Alabama would be playing “the” Ohio State University, it was said that somewhere Nick Saban was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Instead of having to deal with the high flying Baylor Bears or TCU Horned Frogs, Saban instead was matched against his old foe Urban Meyer. And, his old nemesis would be starting his third string quarterback who was making only his second career start on the largest stage imaginable. Yeah, I’d say Coach Saban and the team were thrilled with their semi final matchup against “the Ohio State” Buckeyes.

By the way, can we quickly address the whole “the” Ohio State University thing? I mean, as opposed to what? Or who? I mean, did Ohio State used to be confused with Ohio University or Akron? Was Ohio State commonly mistaken for Toledo or Cincinnati? Is that what caused them to start saying Ohio State was “the” state university? And yet their version of “Roll Tide” is simply to yell “O-H” and wait for someone else to scream “I-O!” So, does that mean they are Ohio Bobcats fans? Strange bunch, this Buckeye group is. And, ask anyone in the Big 10 and they’ll tell you the absolute worst fan base is that of “the” Ohio State University. So, Bourbon Street should be fun!!!!

So, our semi-final game boils down to two of the most legendary college football programs in the nation. Ohio State vs Alabama. Nick Saban vs Urban Meyer. The Process vs The Processed. While Alabama and Coach Saban celebrated the Ohio State selection, rumor has it that Meyer’s first call was to his cardiologist. Ok folks, let’s get this party started

Alabama on Offense

The Ohio State University defense comes in ranked 15th in the nation in total defense – 35th against the run and 15th against the pass. However, it appears that those numbers are skewed by playing run heavy Big 10 teams who struggled mightily to pass the ball. Consider that an anemic Michigan offense threw for 251 yards and scored 28 points. The best offense the Buckeyes faced was that of the Michigan State Spartans and the Spartans rattled off 536 total yards of offense, including 358 passing and 178 rushing.

When you watch film of Ohio State against Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, you realize that there are huge holes in the secondary and that they can also be pounded on. I’m very, very optimistic about Alabama’s chances to put up big points against this group. Their front four is very, very good – in particular, Joey Bosa (Bama finished second in his recruitment) is an absolute beast – but behind that they appear very, very average. Put it this way, after I was fooled by watching Notre Dame’s defense in 2012, I’ve begun peeling back the layers of any team that I think has played a suspect schedule. The Big 10 blows, as evidenced by the bowl games thus far, and the only truly balanced offense they faced absolutely torched them. Advantage Bama.

Immon Be Dey: I never have understood anything Michael McDonald has ever sung but this much is clear – the Ohio State defense is typically going to line up in their base 4-3 defense and they won’t change their looks very much.  As far as blocking schemes go, they should be right there were we think they will be.  Against Wisconsin, they often had nine and even 10 men in the box as they walked safeties down but I don’t think you’ll see much of this against Alabama.

One on One I Wanna Play That Game Tonight: The teams that have slowed down Amari Cooper the best played a ton of zone. Ohio State plays very, very little zone. Good times…

Orinoco Flow: That’s right, I just went Enya on ya. Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota all made yards in the running game by starting the flow going one way and then cutting back or countering against the flow. There should be big yards available here. The OSU ends crash down hard so this vacates the edge and allows for cut backs and bouncing outside.

Radar Love: Joey Bosa had better be in Blake Sims’ radar at every snap. Bosa is outstanding at getting upfield and turning outside plays back inside and he disengages from blockers easily. Basically, Bama should either run away from Bosa or target his end position directly (allowing for more of a head up block rather than an influence or reach block). FYI – he had 20 TFLs and 13.5 sacks and you absolutely cannot block him with TE.

Slots of Fun: Against Wisconsin, Ohio State struggled MIGHTILY to cover anyone in the slot. Tyvis Powell (#23) got burned repeatedly so look for him to get exposed Thursday night. At corner, look for Armani Reeves to get targeted, as well. Additionally, OSU failed to even cover the Badger TE when he flexed out to the slot, giving up 10 uncontested yards on 3rd & 2.

At First You Should Succeed: Look for Alabama to throw on first downs quite a bit as Ohio State plays a very traditional, safe defense on first downs.

The Way We Swing: Michigan effectively used swing passes out to their backs throughout their game against the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s linebackers typically failed in pass coverage so…paging TJ Yeldon….


  • In three games, I didn’t see the Buckeyes get beaten by a traditional screen to the running back one single solitary time. Very well coached.
  • Unlike Auburn’s defense, Ohio State’s run fits are very sound and solid. Again, well coached.
  • One of my notes says “seriously, slot receivers are wide ass open.” I’d imagine Amari may line up in the slot quite a bit.
  • I have another note saying “there’s tons of room in the Ohio State secondary. This should be a pass first offense which is basically what we’ve been all season anyway.   Advantage Alabama.
  • Michigan and Minnesota used the QB draw against the Ohio State defense with deadly results. Blake Sims should have some opportunities in the running game.
  • Look for Amari Cooper to have a huge game. Also, big backs like Derrick Henry had a lot of success between the tackles against Ohio State. I think there will be several opportunities for big plays Thursday night.

Alabama on Defense

As we said in the intro, you know that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have been licking their chops to construct a defense against a third string quarterback making only his second career start. There isn’t a whole lot of game film to analyze when breaking down Cardale Jones (and he will be the key to Ohio State winning or losing) but I have to say that what we saw in the Wisconsin game is certainly impressive.

At 6’5 and 250 lbs, Jones is a completely different animal from Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett and it’s quickly evident as to why he was the third string QB on the Buckeye roster.   While Miller and Barrett threatened defenses with the speed runs to the outside, Jones is a much bigger and therefore slower trigger man. However, what he can’t do with his feet, he certainly does with his arm. Wearing the #12 jersey, Jones has the nickname of “12 gauge” and when you watch him sling the rock, you understand why – the kid absolutely has a gun.

In the Wisconsin game, Urban Meyer had Jones getting the ball out of his hands on short, quick throws to his wide receivers on curls and hitches. Then, after forcing the corners to come up, Jones stood tall in the pocket and easily flipped the ball down the field to #9, Devin Smith, who adjusted to the underthrown balls. I can tell you that Jones holds the ball a long time and, when his first read isn’t there, he seems to take a bit of time to come off his #1 receiver. That should be where the Bama defense takes it to the Buckeyes.

OH-NO…: Nick Saban will certainly be varying the looks that he gives the sophomore quarterback and he’ll mix in blitzes with four man rushes, forcing Jones to try and figure out what Alabama is doing on defense. Rest assured, Alabama will stuff the running game of Ezekial Elliot so the game will hinge on the right arm of Cardale Jones. This should certainly favor the Tide. At the end of this game, Buckeye fans should be yelling “O-H” to be answered with “N-O!”

Same as it Ever Was: This Once in a Lifetime game for Cardale Jones is old hat for veteran coaches of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. And, for Meyer, when you watch his offense it isn’t a whole lot different than the Tebow-led Florida Gators bunch from 2008 and 2009. You still see the H-back/TE motion like you saw with Aaron Hernandez and you still see the short, quick passing game that tries to get their speedy players in space. Luckily for us, Saban has seen all this before and is likely one of the reasons he was pleased with this matchup.

Wide Open Spaces: From this season, the Ohio State offense resembles the Mississippi State offense almost perfectly. Alabama slammed the door shut on the running game but State found success in getting the ball out to their backs and throwing deep to their WRs. Look for Ohio State to come out four wide, as MSU did, and try to get the ball out to their backs out of the backfield. If Alabama’s defense has a weakness, it’s pass coverage with their LBs and this is likely where OSU will attack. That and…

Proud Mary: After watching Auburn and Mizzou roast the Tide secondary deep, look for Meyer to use the big arm of Jones to throw Hail Marys down the field in an effort to duplicate the Tigers success. Meyer had Jones throwing deep often against Wisconsin and while the results were there, the passes were woefully underthrown. Devin Smith was 3 for 3 in catching 50/50 balls. However, I look for Alabama’s safeties to have two picks in this game on underthrown passes (or Jones throwing high which he has a tendency to do).

Speed Racer: The Big 10 is knocked for not having speed but Devin Smith and Ezekial Elliot are extremely fast. They run Elliot a lot between the tackles but they also run him off the edge, a la Ole Miss or Auburn on the sweeps. Thankfully, Alabama rarely, if ever, gives up much yardage here. And, OSU has had to revamp their running attack with the losses of Miller and Barrett – Jones does not run very well at all.

Young Guns: The Buckeyes started four new OL this season and they’ve given up a ton of pressure against a few teams – most notably Virginia Tech. Look for Alabama’s front four to be very effective in controlling the line of scrimmage.

Hurt: In all three games I watched, I saw the Ohio State offensive line commit false start penalties. I suspect the Superdome crowd will be 70-30 in favor of the good guys so I think this environment will cause the Buckeyes numerous problems. Also, the Buckeyes had to burn multiple early timeouts and even had to take a delay of game on a punt – little things like this can be big things on a stage like the Sugar Bowl.

Twelve Blind Mice: I really don’t think Jones (#12) makes a read in the OSU zone reads. I think it’s a straight blind give. He also threw into double coverage a couple of times against Wisconsin. Sometimes he shows his youth and makes some questionable decisions – again, this should strongly favor the Tide.


  • I really liked what A’shawn Robinson did against Missouri and I think these last four weeks have done wonders for his health. I look for him to dominate Thursday night.
  • In fact, Alabama holds an advantage across the entire defensive line of scrimmage so I would be shocked if Ohio State is able to run the ball. So….
  • If they can’t run the ball, then the entire game falls onto the shoulders of a sophomore QB making only his second start in his career.
  • If DePriest or Ragland gets locked up on Elliot then that’s not gonna be good for Alabama at all. Oftentimes Saban/Smart match up Collins or Perry on the running backs out of the backfield so it will be interesting to see how that plays out Thursday.
  • You’d think Alabama would blitz the bejeezus out of Jones but somehow I expect the Tide to be patient between the 20 yard lines and only bring pressure in situations where they think they can disrupt the passing game.
  • With three plus weeks to prepare combined with a winning history against Urban Meyer (and his protégée Dan Mullen), the X&O advantage has to go to Nick Saban. And, the offense that Alabama is running today is completely and totally different than the one that Meyer saw when he last faced Alabama.

Special Teams

Both teams feature strong kicking games so I think this should be basically even. Of course, big returns can swing the momentum one way or another. Ohio State is 20th in kickoff returns (Bama is 54th) and 18th in punt returns so this could be a factor in an upset by the Buckeyes.

In net punting, Alabama ranks 2nd in the country but Ohio State is actually 6th. And, Ohio State is 16th in kickoff coverage while Alabama is 88th. This is a decided advantage to the Buckeyes. This could play a huge role…but let’s hope not!

One interesting thing I saw was that OSU nearly had two rugby punts blocked and after three weeks of film study it’s conceivable that Bama will go after a couple of punts.


Statistically and numerically, Ohio State offers up a ton of impressive numbers that would give most folks pause. However, when you watch them play you realize that they have been the beneficiary of a substandard conference and a substandard schedule. The few decent opponents they have faced have given them a world of trouble so it’s very difficult for me to imagine that Ohio State will come out ahead in this game. In order to pull off the upset, Ohio State will need to win the turnover battle and connect on more than a couple of deep throws in order to generate some points. Additionally, their advantages in the kicking game could produce some scores, as well. But…

In watching the back seven of the Ohio State defense, you find a ton of holes that should be exploited. Alabama will put up a high number of points which should shift the weight of the game to the right arm of Cardale Jones. I just don’t see any way that Jones can get the better of the Tide. I don’t see any way that Meyer can get the better of Saban. And there is simply no way that Ohio State is the better team than Alabama when they are relying on their third string quarterback.   While Alabama has lost the last two Sugar Bowls, this should be a historical win for the Tide in New Orleans!

Final: Alabama 41   Ohio State 16


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