2015 Iron Bow Review

How did Alabama and Adam Griffith answer “The Kick Six?”  Well naturally with a kick seven!  Griffith kicked two extra points and five field goals, one of which was a 50 yard bomb that flew over the head of a Tiger return man, landing 10 rows deep in the end zone.  Seven attempts, seven solid kicks in the behinds of the Auburn Tigers.  Auburn even missed a field goal of their own leaving Gus Malzahn lamenting over the fact that they could have hung 16 on Alabama…

And how did Alabama counteract the presence of two Heisman trophy winners on the Auburn sidelines?  By introducing Bo Jackson and Cam Newton to their new roomie in the Heisman House – Mr Derrick Henry.  Bo got to witness history as Henry broke more records than the invention of CDs – here are just a few:

  • Most rushing yards in a single season in Alabama history – 1,797
  • Most rushing touchdowns in a single season in Alabama history – 22
  • Most carries in a single season in Alabama history – 46
  • Most rushing yards in an Iron Bowl – 271 (sorry, not sorry, Bo)
  • Most 200 yard games in a season in SEC history – 4

There was very little that Straightjacket Will’s defense could do to stop the King Henry train and now he owns the Iron Crown, the state , the entire SEC and, very soon, a Heisman trophy.  Ahh, it’s good to be the king…

As for Bama fans, it’s good to be us, as well!  Bama has now won two straight against the Tigers…and four of the last five…and six of the last eight.  When Auburn wins it requires miracles and heroics that their fans post on social media, hang banners and create catchy slogans.  When Alabama wins, they simply move on to the SEC championship game.  There are no murals, no slogans, no catch phrases and no miracles.  Such is the life of an Alabama fan as beating Auburn is simply expected.

And now we’re on to Florida…after the Iron Bowl review, of course…

Alabama on Offense

Welp, this shouldn’t be a difficult section to right.  Derrick Henry to the left.  Derrick Henry to the right.  Derrick Henry up the middle.  Of the 76 plays that Alabama ran, Henry carried the ball 46 times – a stunning 60.5%.  Of the 465 yards Bama gained, Henry was responsible for 271 – that’s 58% of the offense.  And, late in the game, all of God’s children knew that Henry was getting the football (14 straight times, in fact) and yet Straightjacket Will’s defense was powerless to stop him.  In essence, that was your ballgame and your “Alabama on Offense” report.  However, there were a couple of key plays that we wanted to bring your attention to…

Jake the Snake:  Coker make three exceptional plays that were directly responsible for 10 points so we feel strongly that his exploits should be mentioned.  The first play was a 3rd & 8 play where Coker somehow eluded the rush, escaping the grasp of an Auburn lineman in the process, and scrambled forward for seven tough yards.  The fact that he didn’t lose seven was amazing enough but to think he actually gained seven was unthinkable at the time.  This set up a 4th & 1 that Alabama was somehow forced to convert twice (which they did).  Two plays later, Coker eluded Carl “if only he could return Auburn could have an average defense” Lawson AND five-star “stud” Byron Cowart and fired the game winning touchdown pass to Ardarius Stewart.  Two amazing plays that exhibited the style and the leadership that put Bama on the cusp of another SEC championship.

Jake the Late Hit Snake:  Most folks forget that it was Coker’s ability to evade the rush once again that led him to the sidelines for an eventual late hit against the Auburn defense.  Coker’s escapability was on display once again as he avoided a sack and ran out-of-bounds, negating a loss.  There, he was pushed out-of-bounds (in the field of play) by one Tiger and then a second Tiger hit him three yards out-of-bounds (i.e. not in the field of play).  The flag for the late hit was a no brainer and while the medics and trainers attended to the poor ref who destroyed his backside when he slipped and fell, this gave time for Muschamp to lose his ever-lovin mind.  Thirty yards later, Bama was in position to kick another field goal and make it a two score game – all thanks to Coker’s ability to avoid pressure (and Muschamp’s inability to handle his internal pressure).

Straightjacket Will:  Will Muschamp isn’t the head coach of the Auburn Tigers.  That designation belongs to Gus Malzahn.  Gus has some latitude with the refs but any other assistant coaches simply do not.  Frankly, it’s amazing that Muschamp didn’t get a second flag for unsportsmanlike behavior (i.e. going Red Ross or David Banner/Hulk on the refs).  Had Muschamp received a second flag, he would have been ejected and, as a referee texted me, by rule Gus Malzahn would have been ejected, as well.  It was clear that Gus wasn’t happy with Will and, honestly, I do not expect them to coexist in the future.

Ridley’s Believe It or Not:  Calvin Ridley is a straight up playmaker.  On one WR screen, he left some AU undergarments on the field as he juked an Auburn defender right out of his shorts.  Two plays later, Ridley came down with a tremendous diving catch at the AU 4 yard line.  While Gary Danielson screamed for a review, the replays showed that Ridley had made yet another incredible play…as a true freshman.  Wow.

Nowhere to Run To:  Facing 2nd & goal from the Auburn one yard line, Auburn stuffed Henry for his only loss of the game.  From the left side of the Bama line, Ross Pierschbacher was absolutely blown off the line of scrimmage and tight end Brandon Greene was destroyed off the right side.  The result was a pinching action that left Henry with nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide.

Final Nail:  I’ve heard that some folks were upset about Bama “running up the score” with the last touchdown.  There was still over a minute left and Alabama was facing  4th & 1 – they needed to convert one final first down for the game to actually be over.  Bama ran a dive play off the right tackle and blocks by Stewart, Robinson, Jackson and Hentges (!) opened up a hole that easily Henry exploited, going untouched into the end zone.  Bama had to run a play and it was just a simple dive play so…..

Tidebits

  • Bama used three flip passes and five WR screens to work the flanks of the AU defense.
  • Henry slipped and fell on four cuts. The ref, though, had the worst slip & fall experience.
  • The offensive line blocked the interior about as well as it can be done on several occasions. Ryan Kelly and Alphonse Taylor were particularly effective on the interior.
  • I don’t understand how we are 12 games into the season and there is no other back on Alabama’s roster that they trust to carry the football. Damien Harris had one single solitary carry.
  • I don’t recall OJ Howard’s name being called. For anything.
  • The pistol formation was particularly effective in springing Henry as Auburn had to honor and respect the flip passes/fly sweeps from the receivers.
  • Coker threw four or five passes that were very poorly thrown. Not his most accurate day throwing the football.
  • I noticed Cam Robinson being used as a pulling guard. Pretty interesting and very devastating.

Alabama on Defense

Gus Malzahn darn near hung 16 on the Tide defense so I’m sure he’s not sleeping well this week.  But, in all seriousness, the Gus Bus was humming along early in the game while Bama committed just six men to the box.  Jovon Robinson (a beast in his own right) came out of the gate with a vengeance, ticking off 8 or 9 yards per carry.  As Auburn approached the red zone, Malzahn dug into his Harry Potter bag of tricks and that’s when things went south as Jeremy Johnson failed to complete a two yard lateral by throwing it out-of-bounds.  Oops.

On each of Auburn’s first two scoring drives they were able to isolate their running backs on Reuben Foster and the resulting blown coverages allowed the Tigers to pass for 28 yards to Peyton Barber and 20 yards to Robinson.  These two plays along with the 77 yard Jason Smith “Prayer at the Hare: Part 2” accounted for 125 of the 170 passing yards for the Tigers (73.5%).  For the rest of the game, Johnson was 7 of 20 for 45 yards.

The early body blows and coverage breakdowns eventually subsided and the Bama defense began committing a 7th man to the box with regularity, limiting the space in which Auburn’s offense had to operate – just as expected.  Here are a few other things we saw when we reviewed the tape…

Fill and Replace:  Alabama completely contained the Auburn fly sweeps and they did so with excellent communication between the corners and the safeties.  As the fly sweep presented itself to the boundary, Alabama’s corners would release the WR to the safety so they could fill the edge and contain the play.  The safety recognized this and immediately jumped the wide receiver, thereby taking away any tricky running-option-throw-it-down-the-field-while-our-offensive-line-is-10-yards-down-the-field plays.  Bama executed this flawlessly.

Reed-ing the Defense:  When Auburn had success running between the tackles, it was typically a result of double-teaming Jarren Reed.  Reed was blown out at the point of attack several times, opening running lanes for the interior runs.

Blitz Scheme:  Alabama employed a couple of awesome blitz packages that had tremendous effect.  Bama linebackers Ragland and Foster showed blitz at the right of the Auburn line so Johnson looked to the sidelines and adjusted the protection accordingly.  But, at the snap, Foster and Ragland fell off into coverage as the blitz came from Auburn’s left side in the form of Mincah Fitzpatrick and he was untouched on his way to the QB.  Later, in a similar concept, Bama blitzed Geno Matias-Smith and Maurice Smith and found a way to match them up on Auburn’s RB and H-back.  Both backs picked up Matias-Smith and Maurice came thru for the eventual sack.

Prayer at the Hare:  Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson were in perfect position on the 77 yard touchdown pass.  Unfortunately, Geno dove for what he thought was an overthrown football instead of simply whacking the receiver into next week.  As Geno dove, he took out Eddie Jackson and the rest was history.

Tidebits

  • I love the way Eddie Jackson read the Auburn guard who was releasing at him as he led the eventual reverse. The action of the guard tipped Jackson off that the reverse was coming and he made the tackle for a five yard loss.
  • Cyrus Jones defended Ricardo Louis about as perfectly as you can on a bomb down the sidelines. He turned late, found the ball and broke up the pass at the goal line.
  • After the 77 yard touchdown pass, Auburn called five straight pass plays.
  • With 2:22 left in the game and Auburn down 9, the Tigers ran a play action pass off of a fake reverse. As if Alabama would bite on a reverse…
  • Reuben Foster was all over the field on the very last drive, breaking up a pass down the field and destroying a hook and ladder play on the game’s final snap.

Alabama on Special Teams

What more can be said about Adam Griffith’s performance in this game?  The much maligned kicker seemed to put things together around the third game of the season and hasn’t looked back ever since.  The five field goals were all very well struck but the 50 yarder was an absolute bomb.  You could almost feel two years of “Kick Six” frustration getting pounded into the football as it flew well into the stands.  Griffith even nailed seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, negating a strong Auburn return game.  Nick Saban has confidently stood by this young man for the past two years so it was wonderful to see such a perfect performance from him Saturday.

It’s difficult to say there were any failures in the Bama kicking game at all, especially since JK Scott had three punts for a 48.5 yard average.  However, two of the three punts went into the end zone for a net of 28.5 yards per punt.  Too bad Bama couldn’t down one of these inside the 20.  On the other punt, Auburn schemed the Tide really well by having two returners back for the punt.  One of the returners waved for the fair catch, enticing both Bama gunners to that side of the field.  However, the punt went in the opposite direction and Marcus Davis was able to get 21 yards on the return (and Bama was lucky it wasn’t worse).

Final Thoughts

There’s so much to potentially cover here regarding the Iron Bowl that I’m not sure where to start.  First and foremost, we have to congratulate the efforts of Derrick Henry and Adam Griffith.  Each of them put forth a historic performance that will be remembered for years to come.  Second, Jake Coker continues to deliver in spite of what the fans, media and opponents believe he can do.  His Houdini-esque escape and the resulting TD pass turned a tight game into a game that Bama was certain to win, and it was one helluva play to boot.

Defensively, Alabama did what it had to do to win the game.  They shut down the fly sweeps and they limited the AU quick strike offense to one bobbling, juggling play.  Gus dug into his bag of tricks but in 2015, his tricks were for kids.

In this space, we also have to address the childish behavior of Will Muschamp.  If anyone believes that the penalty enforced against his antics cost Auburn the game then you simply have Will Muschamp to blame.  Head coaches have the latitude to argue a call (to a point) but assistant coaches have no such latitude.  As long as Will has been in this game and been on the sidelines, you’d think that he would have a pretty good understanding of how far he and his temper can push things.  But, he does not.  He doesn’t know his place as an assistant and he doesn’t have an ability to reign in his emotions.  I’m glad he is not on the Bama sidelines.  And, yes, Saban has certainly had his own vitriolic meltdowns but there are significant differences in his approach.  1) He’s a head coach so he can argue a call.  2) He doesn’t personally call the ref names but rather argues a “BS” call.  Cursing the penalty is different than cursing the man who threw the flag.  3) I don’t recall Saban netting himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a one score game that caused the game to become a two score game.  That’s just stupid.  The only thing more stupid would be to defend his actions like the Auburn broadcast team did.  That was horrendous.  Suddenly, I’m extremely thankful for the professionalism of Eli Gold, Phil Savage and Chris Stewart.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the field.  You should know that it’s a time-honored tradition of setting up the home field to best suit the home team.  Kinda like the Geico commercials, “it’s what you do.”  Notre Dame used to grow the grass very, very long before the Miami & USC games in an attempt to slow the Canes & Trojans down.  Both teams had to play on the same surface and since Alabama nearly doubled the yardage that Auburn gained, I’d say it had a minimal effect.

Now Bama is onto Atlanta once again and will face a Florida team that appears to be limping towards the finish line.  If Alabama handles business as they should, they will improbably be the only repeating team to make the College Football Playoffs.  Whodathunkit?

 

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