Alabama versus Tennessee Game Review

Wanna get away?  After eight straight grueling weeks of smash mouth football, the Alabama Crimson Tide has finally reached their much needed bye week and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.  Unlike teams in the other Big 5 conferences, in the SEC there are scant few opportunities to rest key players when needed.  Everyone on the team has been manning their battle stations for weeks on end.

For Alabama, there is no Wake Forest, no Kansas, no Colorado and no (insert woeful Big 10 team here) where the coaches and players can take their foot off the gas pedal even for a weekend.  Instead, Alabama’s schedule features much anticipated and featured games at Georgia and at Texas A&M.  Then the Tide has to return home to play a physical Arkansas team and an ever improving Tennessee team.  Take one week off, or even one play off, and it can bring about disastrous results.

Saturday’s game against Tennessee wasn’t disastrous but it was certainly more than just a near miss.  With the Crimson Tide playing with one foot out the door and headed for a much needed vacation, Tennessee reminded them that each and every team deserves the Tide’s full attention in order to secure a Bama win.  Poor blocking, penalties and turnovers continue to plague the Alabama offense meaning this version of the Crimson Tide must be focused each and every week to come out with the “W”.  Meanwhile, Tennessee’s now 3-4 record belies just how talented this Vols team truly is.  Thankfully, the reemergence of Adam Griffith, JK Scott and Ardarius Stewart made sure that Bama’s much needed vacation started with a big win and NOW, finally, all eyes can turn towards yet another marquee prime time match-up with the LSU Tigers.  Let’s get it on!!!!  But, before we do, here’s what we saw during the Tennessee game…

Alabama on Offense

This third Saturday, well actually it was the fourth Saturday, in October featured a dead legged Alabama squad squaring off against a well-rested Tennessee defense.  The much maligned Vol defense looked and played much differently Saturday throughout the ballgame and was everything we hadn’t seen on film.  They were faster off the snap, much more physical at the point of attack and much more aggressive with their linebackers.

Meanwhile, the Alabama line was so bad that they had to abandon all of the pulling action from the interior guards as Tennessee’s linebackers kept shooting the gaps and making plays in the backfield.  And, we understand that poor Cam Robinson needs a break worse than an employee in a Chinese sweatshop but…wow.  Whether he was getting beaten for a sack, getting called for a penalty or just getting lost in space, Cam Robinson was just downright deplorable on Saturday.  With white jerseys pouring into the backfield throughout the first half, Kiffin changed the running scheme to feature more zone blocking.  After the adjustment, instead of getting tackled for a loss in the backfield, the second half then featured numerous sacks and penalties.  And, unfortunately right now instead of a “failure”, we call this “progress”.

In the end, Ardarius Stewart, OJ Howard, Calvin Ridley and Jake Coker saved the day and overcame all the negatives on offense to create one big positive win for the Tide.  Here’s what we saw in the review…

W2W4 Gold:  If you read the W2W4 then you were pretty well-informed that this would finally be OJ Howard’s breakout game.  It was nice to see the staff take advantage of Howard’s skills and it was even better to see him take advantage of the opportunity to be a vital play maker in the Tide’s attack.

Losing My Religion:  Ugh.  We’ve been harping on the blocking schemes that have resulted in tackles for loss but this issue has now reached a Swine Flu like over reactive epidemic status.  When the Tide’s guards would pull, Tennessee’s linebackers continually shot thru the vacated position to make play after play in the Bama backfield.  This lead to a 102,000 person chorus singing WTF!!!!!  With the exception of one play, the Tide switched schemes entirely in the second half because they had no answer for the tackles for loss.

Flip it Good:  Credit the Tide for continually working in the little flip passes to wide receivers going on the fly sweeps.  No, it hasn’t worked since the Louisiana Monroe game (and yes, we’ve been screaming at the TV about it to no avail) but this week there seemed to be much more space for the receivers to run thru.  In particular, Calvin Ridley looks like he’s really getting comfortable with the play as he actually darted up inside for a nice gainer when he read how the blocking was working out.

Free Cams:  Oy.  These were my observations of Cam on the day:  1) 74 just whiffed.  Awful.  2) 74 beaten badly.  Wow.  Wow.  3) 74 beaten wide.  4) 74/71 both missed blocks on a twist.  5) 74 & 88 both blocked the end – neither blocked 21 who makes tackle for loss.  6) 74 called for chop block (questionable call).  7) 74 beaten badly again.  Folks, that’s seven plays that went backwards for the Tide that Cam Robinson was involved in.  SEVEN.  Here’s to you, Mr Robinson:  (insert truck backing up sound) Beep…beep….beep.

Northern Aggression:  There were three plays where Kenyan Drake was asked to just get North and run between the tackles.  All three plays resulted in probably his best runs in recent memory.  I think adding the interior element to his game makes him more effective as teams can’t focus their undivided attention on the flanks.  One man’s opinion, of course….

Fade to Black:  Alabama used and abused the Tennessee corners with a number of back shoulder fades.  Credit Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart for coming up with HUGE catches on the final game winning drive but this play was used effectively throughout the game.  The fade is darn near unstoppable when run with the right timing so we are seeing Ridley (remember, he’s a true freshman) and Coker getting their timing down now that they are getting all of the first team reps together.

Our Darius:  Ardarius Stewart had the game of his life on Saturday. Coming into the season, it was opined in this blog that Stewart and the dearly departed Robert Foster would be the bell cow receivers for 2015.  Foster, of course, is out with a season ending injury and Stewart has had a number of opportunities to go up and aggressively make a play on a ball but has failed to do so throughout the season.  However, on Saturday we saw Stewart go up high down the middle to snag a ridiculous reception and then, of course, he made a HUGE play on the last drive.  Stella may be getting her groove on and that would be a welcomed compliment to the play of Ridley.

Anatomy of a Game Winning TD:  The design and execution of the game winning touchdown was just a thing of beauty.  We’ll post a Vine soon to show you just how awesome this was but here’s our best description.  Bama overloaded the right side of their line with two tight ends and then motioned Mullaney right, making the right side the obvious side to run to.  Naturally, the flow started to the right but Taylor and Howard actually pulled left and led Derrick Henry in that direction.  With Cam Robinson caving in the defensive end on the left side of the Bama line (and the entirety of the line), Bama had a huge numbers advantage on the left which allowed Henry to walk in with the game winner.  Credit Taylor and Howard for the kickout block on the one Vol on that side of the field and credit Stewart for staying engaged with his block on the corner – all three made it easy sailing into the end zone for Henry.  But, the design and flow was the key as UT had no one on the left to defend the play.

Tidebits

  • Early in the game, Coker completed a nice pass off of a play action bootleg. After that play, Tennessee kept a backside player at home and this ruined three other bootleg plays.
  • As described by Gary Danielson, Tennessee baited Coker into his interception. The throw was there had it been thrown earlier but a slow decision and delivery gave the safety time to poach the pick.
  • There were a ton of audibles at the line of scrimmage and several times it appeared the offense was completely lost at the snap. Once, Coker was even surprised by the snap and had to just throw the ball away as the rest of the line seemed surprised, as well.
  • I’d like to see Derrick Henry get the ball all day, every day when Bama has the ball at the opponent’s two yard line. Someone please make this happen b/c Kiffin doesn’t seem to understand that a 240 lb battering ram can be useful down there near the goal line.
  • As pretty as the game winning TD was, the subsequent two point conversion attempt was extremely ill conceived. Bama left the defensive end unblocked on the right side of the Tide line and then sent one single solitary player into the pass pattern on that side.  The result was a QB under duress throwing to a receiver who was double covered.  No beuno.
  • Alabama had eight first down plays that either lost yardage or resulted in a penalty.

Alabama on Defense

The first two drives of the game saw Tennessee making the kind of hay in the running game that we Bama fans are not used to.  The Vols exploited the edges where Minkah Fitzpatrick was lined up in the slot and they hammered him with the run throughout the first two possessions.  Tennessee also has seen the speed rush of Tim Williams on tape so they used his upfield aggression against him as QB Josh Dobbs ran for a first down thru the vacated area left by the speed rush.

In the end, Alabama adjusted to the sweeps, draws and all of the other motion from the Tennessee Vols.  And, in the end, Tennessee was forced to pass the ball in order to move the football and right now Dobbs is just too erratic to consistently deliver the mail thru the air.  When the Alabama line was able to pin their ears back and rush the passer, the results were overthrows, near interceptions, sacks and fumbles.  Once Alabama regained the lead, the game was simply over.  Here’s what we saw when Alabama was defending…

Tractor Pull:  Tennessee did something with their line that I haven’t seen before.  At the snap, several times they pulled one guard to the right and then another to the left.  Bama’s linebackers were confused by seeing two different keys and this allowed Dobbs and Hurd just enough time to get outside of the linebacker’s pursuit.  Pretty interesting little wrinkle there…

Give a Hoot(ie):  I thought it was interesting that when Eddie Jackson was forced to leave the game, true freshman Ronnie Harrison was moved to the very important safety position instead of Hootie Jones.  Jones has been on the roster longer and was a highly recruited player.  Interesting…

Love Locked Down:  As we mentioned above, the fade is a very difficult play to defend when it’s perfectly executed and Alabama’s corners have had a devil of a time defending the play up until this season.  Enter Mel Tucker as the defensive back coach and suddenly every player in the secondary can defend the fade.  In particular, Marlon Humphrey is defending this play better than they do on Sundays.

Foster, Australian for Beast:  Reuben Foster is playing exceptional football right now and Saturday was his best effort to date.  Against the Vols, Foster recorded 11 tackles, two of them for a loss, a sack and he broke up a pass for good measure.  The sack actually pushed a Tennessee field goal back to a difficult 43 yard miss.  This season, Foster is in complete command of the defense and his speed is a huge upgrade from Trey Depriest last year.

Double Trouble:  Once Eddie Jackson left the game, true freshman Ronnie Harrison was asked to line up at the deep safety position where he promptly took a bad angle on a huge Vol run.  Later, in the same drive, Harrison committed a pass interference penalty that set Tennessee up deep in Bama’s red zone.  Then, on 3&7 Alabama shifted to their dime package which smartly moved Harrison back to his usual position next to Reuben Foster.  Unfortunately, this meant that Jabriel Washington was moved into the deep safety position and there he had a wonderful seat to watch Tennessee score a touchdown between him and Cyrus Jones.  Moral to the story:  Eddie Jackson is very important to this defense.

Swing for the Fences:  I have to say I was a little shocked to see Alvin Kamara have so much space to run on his swing passes. Coming into the game, we talked about his usage out of the backfield in the W2W4 and mentioned he was the second leading receiver on the team.  Disappointing, to say the least.

Dictators:  Alabama continually blitzed from the slot position and this forced Dobbs’ reads each and every time.  Alabama has been doing this to the zone read teams throughout this season and it’s been very, very effective.

Paper or Plastic:  Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have historically asked their defensive line to simply post up the offensive line and form an impenetrable picket fence at the line of scrimmage.  This season, things have changed as Bama is leading the league in sacks!  Saban and Smart have unleashed Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans off the edges and they’ve used the astounding athleticism of guys like Johnathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Denzell Devall and others with stunts and twists that have confounded opposing offensive lines.  After years of lamenting the pass rush, Bama leads the SEC in sacks and is 15th nationally in adjusted sack rate – now teams cannot run or pass against the Tide D!

Third Down for Naught:  With the exception of the third down throw for a touchdown, the Vols failed miserably on third and long.  Pressures, sacks, batted balls – all ruled the day on third downs for UT.

Bunches of Coverage:  Tennessee used a clever bit of motion to create the bunch formation that Alabama has annually struggled with.  But, Bama adjusted on the fly and never, ever busted an assignment from the bunch formation.  Huge improvement here – especially since they had to adjust their formation and coverages on the fly.

Tidebits

  • The defense allowed seven plays of 10 yards or more during the first two drives of the game. They allowed only six of these during the rest of the game.
  • Alabama should have picked off at least three passes during the game. Ronnie Harrison, Reuben Foster and Minkah Fitzpatrick are getting razzed pretty badly in the film room right about now…
  • Alabama’s biggest improvement this season on defense may be their ability to substitute players on the fly. Bama has become very adept at getting their sub packages on and off the field.
  • In 14 games last season, Alabama broke up 72 passes. In eight games this season, Alabama has broken up 62. Bama is #1 in the country with 7.8 passes defensed per game.
  • When Tennessee was called for illegal touching late in the first half, I still do not understand why they were not assessed with a five yard penalty AND the loss of down.
  • The defense on the last Vols’ series was awesome but nothing was as awesome as watching Allen blow up the UT guard on 1&15. I’ll post a Vine on this but he dumptrucked the Vols’ guard and then launched himself over the fallen white shirted speed bump into Dobbs for a sack.

Alabama on Special Teams

Hallelujah for JK Scott’s triumphant return!  We began seeing signs of the Scott, Version 1.0 against Georgia but he’s officially exploded into a weapon of mass destruction now.  Time after time, Scott flipped the field on the Vols, making them drive lengthy distances for a score.  One of the reasons they had to settle for long field goals was the fact that they had such a long way to go in the first place.  Four punts for a nearly 50 yard average.  Wow.

Speaking of field goals, take some time to marinate on this:  Alabama won because they had a decided edge in the field goal kicking game.  Disagree?  Well, much maligned Adam Griffith was 2 for 2 while poor Aaron Medley had a medley of bad kicks, going OH-for 3 on the day.  He actually missed four consecutive kicks as he also hit the upright on a kick that was nullified due to a time out.  Bama was plus six with the kicks and only won by five so….

Tennessee came into the game leading the nation in kick return yardage and in his one attempt, Evan Berry showed us why as he ran through four tacklers and nearly took a kickoff to the house.  Thankfully, Berry just got the one lone attempt as Griffith’s other kicks made it deep into the end zone, thereby neutralizing a significant Vol weapon.  This was significant.

Final Thoughts

We at the Bama Lighthouse are not the sort of folks that spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back.  Frankly, it’s hard enough to find the time necessary to review the latest Bama game, post Vines and then review at least two games to provide a W2W4 for the upcoming opponent – we just don’t have a lot of time to pat ourselves on the backs!  But, this week we are particularly proud of the W2W4 that we released prior to the Tennessee game as it was pretty outstanding.  If you weren’t prepared for a tight game contested by a better-than-you-thought-they-were opponent, then you simply didn’t read this week’s UT novella.

Tennessee is a much better team than their 3-4 record suggests and that makes it pretty easy to begin looking ahead to a bye week and then to the LSU game.  Pundits were doing it.  Fans were doing it.  And, you guessed it, the players were doing it.

Alabama’s goal was to just “get thru” the Tennessee game and get to the bye week.  Thankfully, the Tide’s passion and intensity was greater than a college kid’s on the Friday before their spring break begins but that was only part of the challenge this week.  Tennessee came in well rested and with an excellent game plan that forced Alabama’s offensive and defensive coaches to adjust on the fly.

But, Bama did adjust.  They came.  They saw.  They conquered and climbed Rocky Top.  Now it’s time to pause, rest, relax and reflect on the climb and the gains they have made this season.  It’s never pretty.  It’s never perfect.  But everything the Alabama Crimson Tide wants still lies directly ahead of them…and who would have thought that would be the case six weeks ago?

 

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