Alabama vs Ole Miss Game Review

I would have done pretty much anything last night to not have to watch the dumpster fire that was the Ole Miss game again.  But, there I was, reviewing the game and typing away like a mad, weird scientist as I pounded away at over 3300 words of despair, desperation and hope.

Then it happened.  I went to fact check something as I was proof reading my work and suddenly everything that I had worked on had disappeared.  You know that feeling you got when the ball ricocheted off of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s helmet and into the waiting arms of the fastest Ole Miss player on the team and he vanished into the end zone?  Yeah?  Well, I got to experience that for a second time and then watched helplessly as 3300 words vanished like a fart in the wind (contrary to popular belief, no, the Ole Miss defense didn’t take it away).  For me, it was a fitting ending to an abysmal game.

So, instead of receiving a pretty thorough accounting of the game, you guys will get to enjoy an abridged version of the review.  I’ll have to go straight from memory and then will post some vines that better tell the story.  Let’s get to it (I’m hitting “save” right about now)….

Alabama on Offense

If our last three years of film study on Ole Miss told us anything it’s that they prefer a smaller, quicker defensive unit that makes it damn near impossible to run offensive plays at their perimeter.  Yet, Alabama’s brain trust decided that fly sweeps and toss sweeps would rule the day and even inserted Cooper Bateman as a running threat from the zone read option.  I guess I should put air quotes on “read” because Bateman reads it about as well as Stevie Wonder reads sheet music.  This perplexing game plan unravelled about as quickly as the entire night did with one bad play following the next.  I actually charted the sweeps and toss plays and it probably won’t surprise you to know that of eight or nine sweeps, only one gained more than 2 yards – a nine yard gainer from Derrick Henry off of a toss.  More than half of the sweeps lost yardage or failed to gain a single yard.  Whether it was Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry, Ardarius Stewart or Calvin Ridley, the wide plays went nowhere, just as we told you they wouldn’t in the W2W4.

Making matters worse, in the few instances when there actually were plays to be made on the outside with Bateman, he couldn’t read the defense correctly in order to make the proper decision.  We’d seen this in the first two games but it was even more apparent against Ole Miss and that’s what led to his permanent benching.  Say whatever you want about Coker but he’s far superior to Bateman in every aspect – including running the football.  Coker showed a lot of moxie with his runs and he showed a willingness and a desire to make plays.  Sometimes he did make plays.  Sometimes he didn’t.  But, fear was never his issue.

Quarterback Play

With Bateman struggling to read plays even on a first grade level, Coker was the only option for Alabama Saturday night.  It’s mystifying why the staff chose to start Bateman instead of inserting him into situations where there was no pressure on him to succeed.  To me, it upset the apple cart for the entire evening and set the table for the cluster that was Saturday night’s debacle.

Going into the season, Coach Saban told anyone who would listen that in order for Alabama to win football games in 2015 they would have to win with a solid defense, tremendous special teams and a conservative and mistake free offense.  So, when Coker was forced to become Dan Fouts or Dan Marino, the results were inevitable.  Also making the results inevitable was the fact that Coker had to share first team reps with five other QBs during fall camp.  I’m just guessing that it would have been helpful to his development if the staff had identified him earlier along in the process and given him the proper number of repetitions that could have made him more successful when he was asked to save the team from a 20 point deficit (which he nearly did in spite of limited reps).

To the good, I loved the way he climbed in the pocket and delivered throws.  Some throws were accurate.  Some were not.  But all were thrown with confidence and a comfort in the pocket that I haven’t seen from him before.  To me, we can take heart that there are some things he can build on from this game.  He showed a willingness as a runner and leader that is much-needed on this team.  And, for the Coker bashers, he’s still the guy that rallied the team from 30-14 and 43-24 to make it a ballgame.  Was it perfect?  No, far from it.  But that’s what you get when you ask a triple option QB to become Peyton Manning.

Lastly, we absolutely do have to address Coker’s two picks.  The first one was an awful, awful read and a horrible decision.  He telegraphed his throw to OJ Howard and then compounded that mistake by throwing into double coverage.  Dumb.  However, on the virtual game ending pick he was unable to step into the pocket and deliver the ball because Ryan Kelly was busy escorting an Ole Miss defensive end into Coker’s sternum.

Running Back Play

When Derrick Henry pounded into the interior of the line, he had a ton of success.  And, as predicted, he found even more success as a receiver out of the backfield as he was able to use his size and speed on undersized and unwilling tacklers.  To our surprise, Drake was never much of a factor in this game unless you count his fumble on a kickoff return.   There was a beautifully designed pass play to Drake off the zone read but Bateman somehow didn’t see the defensive end crashing down on Henry and he decided to hand the ball off up the middle.  Drake would have scored on this play and I’ll break it down for you in a Vine later.

Wide Receiver Play

Man, how sad is it that both the starting QB and the best receiver on the team are both transfers from other schools?  Take a moment and think about that.  At any rate, I was about to sing the praises of Richard Mullaney (who did have a tremendous game – what a hurdling display at the goal line!) until he dropped 2 or 3 very catchable passes at the end of the game.  Nonetheless, he’s the one receiver who consistently worked his way open just beyond the first down marker.

I’m so sad about Robert Foster’s season ending injury as I truly thought he was coming into his own.  Ardarius Stewart made some outstanding plays and Calvin Ridley is really exciting when he gets the ball in his hands but Foster seemed to be ahead of bot of them.  Overall, it was not a bad game from the receivers.  OJ Howard even managed a couple of big catches, as well.

Offensive Line Play

Good gracious, what exactly was the game plan to block Robert Nkemdiche?  Tire him out by letting him sprint into the backfield over and over again?  There were three different plays where the offensive line barely even bumped into him on his way to the backfield.  This was horrible.  He later put a spin move on Alphonse Taylor that left Taylor blocking air.  Strangely enough, Dominick Jackson fared pretty well this week and was one of the few bright spots on the night.  But, the interior of the line got abused.

There were also several other instances where the line didn’t adjust to an oncoming blitz, leaving unblocked defenders to knife in from the edge.  Overall, not a good game from the line but, to the good, much of the time they did provide Coker and Bateman a pretty decent pocket to throw the football from.

Offensive Strategy

First and goal from the Ole Miss two yard line and after a Henry rush, Kiffin decided to flip the ball back to Calvin Ridley who was subsequently tackled for a four yard loss.  Why would you not use the biggest baddest back in all of college football and a line that outweighs the Ole Miss line by 30+pounds to pound the rock into the end zone?  Once again, Kiffin wanted to outsmart the room and it blew up in his face.  I mean, it’s an easy game – why make it so hard?

Speaking of making the game harder, why not ask a third guy to attempt a pass during this game, right?  Ardarious Stewart’s reverse pass was ill-timed as Alabama’s running game was just getting its groove on.

And, we covered the decision to start Bateman.  I mean, why?

Lastly, twice Alabama was forced to go for it on 4th down from around the 34 yard line.  These used to be field goal opportunities but this year it’s not.  BTW – Alabama didn’t convert either 4th down attempt.

Alabama on Defense

Coming into the 2015 season, this Bama defensive unit was being heralded as the greatest Alabama defense since 2009 or 2011.  It was touted as having the best front seven in all of college football and it was said the back line had been shored up by moving converted corners to safeties.

After reviewing the game, I can tell you that this was one of the worst performances of an Alabama defense that I’ve seen since Nick Saban got here.  The Tide defense was gashed repeatedly on the perimeter of the defense.  The number of missed tackles was just mind-boggling as that never, ever happens when you watch a Saban defense play.  Whether it was the linebackers, the corners or the safeties, they all missed a significant number of tackles.  The safeties were the worst offenders but the linebackers continually took bad angles that took them out the play.

Alabama’s offense and special teams put the defense in awful situations on four different occasions – of that there is no doubt.  Ole Miss started drives at Alabama’s 19, 18, 26 and 26 yard lines off of Bama’s self inflicted turnovers.  The defense came up huge after the fumble on the opening kickoff, holding the Rebels to a three and out and a field goal – a huge win for Bama and a huge disappointment for Ole Miss.

However, on the next three attempts inside the red zone, Ole Miss scored touchdowns each and every time.  Once, the touchdown was set up by getting gashed for 20 yards on simple sweep.  Once, Minkah Fitzpatrick committed pass interference in the end zone, setting Ole Miss up at the five yard line.  And, finally on the last red zone turnover, Ole Miss found Laquon Treadwell in the corner of the end zone for an easy 25 yard touchdown pass.

Yes, the fluky tipped pass for a touchdown was a killer and it wasn’t the defense’s fault.  Shit happens, as they say.  And, yes, there was an offensive lineman 6.5 yards down the field (and another 4.5 yards down the field) blocking on the “Nick Marshall play” that broke our backs after getting it to a one score game.  But, on that play Alabama was once again victimized by a coverage breakdown and the Tide’s inability to hold the edge.  Kelly got outside of our containment and the rest, as they say, is history.

Again, I have numerous examples of poor defensive plays and I will cover them with Vines very soon.

Defensive Line Play

The three-step drops all but eliminated the pass rush but, even when Kelly took a deeper drop, there was little to no pressure applied.  To the good, Bama defenders batted down four passes at the line of scrimmage so that’s been a tremendous focus and a tremendous help this season.

On the sweeps that beat us outside, each time the defensive end to that side crashed down hard towards the center (clearly this is what they were asked to do).  This left the linebackers and safeties to deal with the blockers and the backs around the corners.  In the old days, Courtney Upshaw or Adrian Hubbard was asked to hold the edge and keep their outside shoulders free to contain the edge but this year the ends were crashing hard to the middle which opened up the outside.  Meanwhile, both Ragland and Foster (usually Foster) were slow to react to the play and were subsequently beaten easily to the corner and up the field.  Then you’d see the safeties come in and take absolutely terrible angles so that they’d miss out on any opportunities to make tackles.  Gone are Mark Barron and Landon Collins and they’ve been replaced by defensive backs who don’t know how to come up and make a tackle.

Linebacker Play

Ragland and Foster really didn’t show up a ton during the game.  Their flow from inside to outside was consistently very poor.  Sometimes they were confused by the fakes in the backfield but sometimes they were just flat-out slow to react.  As I’m thinking back on my notes, there really weren’t a lot of comments about either guy other than them missing tackles.  On a 3rd & 11, Kelly was flushed from the pocket with Foster and Jackson waiting for him as semi-spies.  Foster whiffed so badly that he got in the way of Reggie Ragland.  Then Jackson came up and whiffed, allowing Kelly to run for a critical first down.

Secondary Play

Marlon Humphrey missed tackles and dropped his coverage on the “Nick Marshall play”.  Cyrus Jones didn’t provide edge run support and was beaten deep for a touchdown.  Minkah Fitzpatrick committed yet another pass interference penalty, dropped an interception and missed tackles as well.  Eddie Jackson got beaten over the top (the pass was incomplete), lost coverage for a big gainer to the Rebels’ tight end and he missed more tackles than Trump has buildings.  And Geno Smith?  Whoa.  Even more missed tackles.  All in all, it was a horrific game from the secondary whether they were defending the pass or the run.

Strategy

Last year, Alabama’s defense rallied against the Auburn Tigers each and every time they came into the red zone, leaving Gus Malzahn lamenting that they didn’t score 60 points.  Yes, it’s true that, on Saturday night, the defense was screwed over by the offense and special teams repeatedly and they were asked to save the day more times than they should have been.  But, they didn’t save the day.  Wouldn’t the 2009 or 2011 defense at least have batted 50% in the red zone, holding the Rebs to just two touchdowns in four trips?  I mean, when did it become a foregone conclusion that when Alabama’s defense is defending the red zone, they will give up a touchdown?  And, it’s not like these drives were starting at the one yard line – each one started on the 18 or longer.

Collapsing the defensive ends down to the interior of the line opened up the flanks to the Rebels and they took advantage time and time again.  On the “Nick Marshall play”, Bama lost containment on the edge, allowing him to get outside and deliver the pass to a wide open receiver.  Not good.

Meanwhile, how did Rashaan Evans play?  Or Tim Williams?  In 33 drop back attempts, Alabama recorded two sacks on back to back plays and that was it.  The Bama scheme asks their front four to lock out the opposing lineman and determine if it’s run or pass.  If it’s run, they are supposed to be able to stuff it because they allow no gaps in the interior.  If it’s a pass, well, it’s too late to rush the passer because that first step is the key to beating an offensive lineman up the field.

In the last six games, the defensive stats are alarming and staggering.  In three of their last six games, the Tide allowed at least 42 points and allowed over 443 yards in each contest (at least 537 in two of them).  Since the beginning of the 2013 season, six opponents have gained at least 400 yards.  In the previous five seasons there were only four teams who reached 400 yards.  In 2011, only one team (Georgia Southern) reached 300 yards!  Now, the defense has given up five 40 point games since 2013 (they gave up zero in the previous five seasons).  Remember, this has been achieved even with Alabama having five or six #1 recruiting classes in a row.  It’s not a talent problem.

On this blog, we have long been concerned about the lack of a pass rush and we are even more concerned that it’s by design that there is no pass rush.  What is the point in having wickedly athletic defenders if they are never on the field or never allowed to get up the field to pressure the QB?  This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the secondary and with today’s refined passing games, it’s just not a fair fight.  Again, I will create Vines that will support this argument.

Final Hot Takes

I hate the term Hot Takes so I just put it in here to make fun of myself.  Anyhoo…

  • Coker’s performance is something that can we can build on. He shouldn’t be asked to throw it 40+ times as he isn’t built for that.  But, he showed a tremendous amount of leadership and poise during that game as he recklessly threw his body all over Bryant Denny Stadium, nearly leading a comeback in the process.
  • Turn the ball over five times while generating ZERO turnovers yourself and you are going to lose. Frankly, I’m amazed we had the ball with two opportunities to win the game.
  • Tackling must improve.   A&M, Tennessee and others will exploit this repeatedly.  And, imagine our safeties coming down in run support against Fournette or Chubb.  Yuck.
  • Waffle House is a wonderful cure-all after a long day of tailgating and an 8:15 PM kickoff.
  • In a related story, 8:15 kickoffs suck.
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