Bama versus Texas A&M Game Review

It’s funny how every time Alabama woodsheds an opponent, the national pundits rush to their microphones to talk about how deficient and ill prepared for the game Bama’s opponent was. USC, Ole Miss, Tennessee & Texas A&M were all pumped up by the media and had the national rankings to show it. FINALLY, they said, now this team will challenge the mighty Tide!

But, when these highly ranked teams don’t challenge Alabama, many pundits choose to focus on how poorly prepared or undermanned the defeated opponent was coming into the game.

Well, which is it? Is Alabama exceptional because they are beating top 20 teams like a drum or are all of these teams simply getting too much hype from the talking heads in the hopes that someone, ANYONE, can stop the Tide?

This week, the Tide that never seems to ebb eventually drowned the Aggies in a defensive sea full of angry monsters. Hopefully, the media noticed that Alabama misfired and sputtered their way to a 19 point victory over the 6th ranked team in the country, knowing that this Tide is not even close to hitting their high water mark this season.

The offensive line issues from earlier in the season have vanished. Now two-thirds of Lane Kiffin’s play calls are running plays, with the fans screaming for the other third to be running plays, as well. The question marks that surrounded Alabama’s running backs have turned into exclamation points, with Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and Bo Scarbourough at times looking like three of the fabled Four Horsemen.

Alas, there is but one remaining question mark left regarding Alabama’s offense and that is Jalen Hurts. Hurts has been a revelation. Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin have a fabulous new toy that they can roll out, zone read and quarterback draw people to death with.  So many options! On Hurts’ clinching 45 yard touchdown run, the play was supposed to be a pass. But, when his read was taken away, Hurts tucked the ball and zigged and zagged his way into a breathtaking 45 yard touchdown run. On the ground, Hurts is amazing.

The beautiful thing about having three or four running backs is that when Damien Harris goes down, Joshua Jacobs can fill his shoes. When Jacobs takes a hit, Bo Scarborough can come in and house one from 85 yards away. On Saturday, Bama’s running back carries looked like this: Harris (17), Jacobs (11) and Scarborough (8). However, no one carried the ball as much as Hurts (21) did.

Passing plays were called but they were rarely well executed. Hurts missed open receivers down the field and inexplicably threw a pass into the midsection of a Texas A&M defensive back who was nowhere near any Bama receivers. Hurts bailed out on several deep shots, choosing instead to leave the pocket and get yardage with his feet. As fun as it is to watch, my butthole stays pretty puckered up whenever he leaves the pocket.

Twenty one carries. That’s a lot. The loss of Eddie Jackson reminds us that on any given play, a player’s season can be over in a snap so we’d really like to see Hurts begin to evolve as a passer.

Anyway, here’s what we saw on Offense this week…

Alabama on Offense

Each time Alabama has given up a critical score this season, the offense has answered immediately on the ensuing drive. With A&M suddenly holding a shocking 14-13 lead, the Tide offense (aided by a roughing the passer penalty) once again rose to the occasion on the next drive and emphatically answered the renewed Aggie challenge with a touchdown. Say what you will about the offense but when push comes to shove, they typically shove their way into the end zone whenever they need to put some points on the board.

On tape, we watched Tennessee gash the middle of the Aggie defense repeatedly so it was no real surprise that Alabama had their way on the ground between the tackles. But, after Josh Dobbs threw for over 400 yards, we expected to see Alabama connect on a few deep throws that were readily available during the game.

At some point, some defense is going to limit the effectiveness of the Tide running game so at some point we really need to see Hurts take the next step in his progression as a passer.

OJ Howard: Welcome back, OJ! It was great to see him catch eight passes on the day but it was even better to see that plays were designed specifically to get this big man the football. The first play of the game was a pop pass for Howard and then there was a little Utah/shovel pass to him later for a big first down. Later, Kiffin designed a beautiful play that slipped Howard out into the flat from his H back position with two outside receivers blocking for him on the edge. With OJ easly outracing the linebacker to the flat, the Tide’s receivers were blocking the only two defenders in the area, essentially becoming a type of slip screen for Howard. On one eight yard gain, Howard had acres of room to run and should have had a much, much bigger play. Nevertheless, it was great to see OJ making plays again.

Damien Harris: I love this dude. When we first saw him at the Under Armour All American game, I remarked that he looked to be ahead of TJ Yeldon at the time (and we thought the world of Yeldon coming out of high school). After a tentative freshman season, you can now see what we saw two years ago. Vision, power, speed and quickness are on display each and every time he gets the ball. On five different occasions Harris bolted into the secondary and had just one more man to beat to get to the end zone. Man, he was soooooooooo close soooooooo many times…

WR Blocking: When we first saw Gehrig Dieter, he couldn’t block Lee Corso (with or without the mascot head on). Today, he shows up time and time again making terrific blocks on the outside. And any time Hurts gets to the outside, these receivers become heat seeking gazelles designed to blow up any opponents in Hurts’ way. On Hurts’ 45 yard touchdown run, he bounced to the outside and seemed content to go out of bounds at the 5 yard line. However, Calvin Ridley had other ideas as he cut the last defender down at the knees (sending him off with the trainers in the process) and Hurts was able to saunter in for the final five yards. Ridley and Deiter were both seen scrapping it up after a play was over so you know these boys are looking to mess somebody up on every play.

OL: Alabama named Cam Robinson and Bradley Bozeman as two of the players of the week. Robinson graded out at 89% and limited Myles Garrett’s impact on the game (typically Garrett was unblocked any time he made plays and that was by design). Meanwhile, Bozeman continues to maul people up front and was a huge help to the interior running game.  The OL is really becoming a game changing unit.

Red Zone Woes: The Tide’s offensive philosophy seemed to change once it reached the red zone. After slamming the ball down the Aggies mouth, Kiffin seemingly inexplicably took to the air whenever he was inside the 10 yard line. However, in looking back at the results of the running game inside the 10, it was no wonder Kiffin chose to pass:

  • RUN: Hurts run for (-1)
  • PASS: Pass incomplete to Ridley. Total confusion on what the play was.
  • PASS: Sack
  • Field goal
  • PASS: Pass to Howard for (-2). He was knocked off his route.
  • RUN: QB draw for no gain
  • PASS: Pass incomplete to Ridley. More confusion on the play call prior to the snap.
  • Field goal
  • RUN: Harris runs one yard for first down to the 5 yard line
  • PASS: Five yard pass to OJ Howard for a Touchdown
  • RUN: Hurts run for (-2)
  • PASS: Five yard pass to Ridley for a Touchdown

Four runs: Minus 2 yards

Six pass attempts: 3/6 for 8 yards, 2 touchdowns and one sack.

What you didn’t see from the 10 yard line and in was a power run from the pistol formation.  However, the Aggies stuffed the Arkansas Razorbacks on 10 straight plays inside the two yard line so we think Alabama didn’t feel comfortable running at the red zone defense of A&M.

Hidden Yardage: We absolutely loved how Alabama came off the goal line. With the ball on their own one yard line, the Bama offense ran the same play three straight times in a row resulting in a huge first down. JK Scott then flipped the field from Bama having the ball on their own 10 yard line to the Aggies taking possession 70 yards away at their 20! After the ensuing possession, Alabama took over at their 43 – a 33 yard gain in field position.

Tidebits

  • The pistol formation was very, very good to Alabama’s running game.
  • Kiffin dialed up first down passes 14 times.
  • Alabama’s best success was found running at Myles Garrett.
  • There appeared to be four or five plays where Bama’s offensive players were in utter chaos as the play clock wound down…down…down. Typically, it was a formation issue with players running around aimlessly. On one play, neither Ridley nor Hentges knew the play and yet the ball was thrown in their direction.
  • I love getting the ball to Jacobs on a swing pass. He should have been tackled short of a first down but dude has some skills and he used them to evade two defenders and get a first down. And that leg drive…yes, please.
  • Bo nearly had another lost fumble. He averages one drop per game and he only gets five carries. Not good.
  • On OJ’s touchdown, Alabama used a similar concept that was effective for Arkansas’ tight end. At the snap, Howard initially blocked the end but then he quickly released into the open for the TD.
  • Damien Harris picked up quite a few blitzes and defensive ends during the game. He nearly got killed on one play and then got de-crapitated on the interception return. We were amazed he came back in b/c it looked like he was out cold.
  • We loved the drive that got Alabama into field goal range as that was the best Hurts looked as a passer.
  • The deep shots were available and Hurts must improve here. Otherwise, teams will stack the box and stuff the line of scrimmage with bodies upon bodies.
  • Additionally, nearly every throw was outside the hashmarks. The awful pick that Hurts threw was an ill-fated pass to Ardarius Stewart running a crossing route in the middle of the field.
  • Up 33-14, we didn’t like seeing Hurts carry the football three times on a meaningless drive. He’s way too valuable to be dialing up running plays for him in a meaningless point in the game.

Alabama Defense

Saban’s post game comments focused quite a bit on how difficult it was to stop the Aggies’ offense. Their skill players are top notch and they are one of the very few teams in the country who feature a balanced offense that can beat you via the pass or the run. Holding this unit to 14 points was an amazing feat, especially when you consider this game was the final game in a series of very difficult contests for the Tide. Our only concern coming into the game was exhaustion but Bama showed they have the depth and the attitude to come out and dominate every Saturday. Pretty impressive.

Superman: How on earth did Verne AND Gary miss the fact that a 300 lb man flew thru the air to sack Trevor Knight? I mean, the man caught air! At 300 lbs!!!! Eventually someone in the truck told them about the play about 15 minutes after it happened but I have no idea how they failed to mention it during the play! Jonathan Allen completely dominated this game and is now (I kid you not) getting Heisman consideration! Allen totaled six tackles, four hurries, a sack, a fumble recovery and touchdown. Or, it just another Saturday for Allen…

Weak Sauce: How about that “attempted” tackle by Trevor Knight against Jonathan Allen, eh? Given Alabama’s struggles in the red zone, don’t you know that Sumlin and Chavis wanted one more opportunity to stop the Tide offense in the red zone once again? Instead, Knight attempted to….fall down? We are not sure what it was that Knight was doing on the play but it certainly wasn’t a tackle. As a result, Alabama scored seven points instead of three or zero (I’m sure we all would have felt confident in another field goal attempt, right?) and the game was over. Oh, and if you see a replay of this play, watch the Aggie lineman that faceplants at the two yard line…hilarious!

Scoring: I hope you aren’t taking this unprecedented scoring outburst by the defense for granted. You are witnessing history. Five fumble returns. Four interception returns. Three punt returns. Alabama is just two non-offensive touchdowns away from tying the all-time record (14) set by Southern Mississippi in 2011.

Nickel > Dime: Saban said the Tide defense was giving up too much yardage on the ground in their dime package so in the second half they switched to playing a 4-2-5 nickel package. This effectively stopped the run and forced A&M into being one dimensional.

Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!: It was soul crushing to see Jackson helped into the medical tent. The tent is 20 rows below where we sit so we could see the pain and agony on his face as he came to the realization his season and Bama career was over. Not many teams can replace a first/second round draft pick with a 5-star defensive back but that’s exactly what Alabama will do when Tony Brown takes a key role in the dime package. However, Brown is the last bullet Jeremy Pruitt has in his defensive backfield gun. The next injury will result in some inexperience young ‘un having to play a critical role on the defense.

Foster: Reuben Foster was outstanding in this game, shooting gaps and running sideline to sideline to make tackles. He’s been exceptional and has been every bit as dominating as Allen has on the season.

Tidebits

  • Alabama contains the edge rushes better than any team in college football. Each Saturday they put on a clinic.
  • The only thing Bama’s defense shuts down more effectively is the bubble screen to wide receivers. A&M’s receivers must have gone over to the sidelines and begged Sumlin to not call that play anymore before one of them got killed.
  • Pruitt sent numerous blitzes but, typically, the blitzers were either Foster up the middle or Fitzpatrick off the edge. Each blitz seemed designed to blow up any potential running plays.
  • Alabama’s defense blew a couple of coverages on Aggie backs out of the backfield. On one particular play, Foster blitzed, leaving Fitzpatrick in man to man against the back. However, Fitzy forgot about his coverage responsibility and the back was left running free down the sidelines. They tried this play a couple more times, exposing Alabama’s coverage but thankfully either the back didn’t turn around for the ball or he dropped the ball at his feet. Whew.
  • I really don’t think Knight has any clue where any of his center’s snaps are going. Ever.
  • Marlon Humphrey’s interception was a mirror image of a pick that Knight threw against USC. It was absolutely beautiful coverage and an outstanding understanding of where Knight wanted to go with the ball. Hump fell off his underneath coverage responsibility and slid underneath the deeper corner route. Excellent film study and recognition there.
  • Tim Williams popped Knight a couple of times after handing off on the zone read. Just a friendly reminder that Knight needed to keep handing off. Loved that.
  • A&M’s second touchdown drive was set up on a play that saw Alabama jump offsides. The majority of the defensive players stopped, including Ronnie Harrison. Once he started back, it was too late and Knight converted a huge 3rd & 11 down the field.
  • After Alabama took the lead at 20-14, the Aggies actually crossed the 50 four times and could have stayed in the game. Instead, these were the key plays that ended the drives:
    • 3&10 at Bama’s 47: Running back dropped the ball on an open wheel route
    • 2&12 at Bama’s 48: Knight sacked by Williams for a loss of 14. On the next play (3rd & 26), Ryan Anderson forced the fumble and Allen rumbled in for a 26-14 lead.
    • 3&15 at Bama’s 40: Knight incomplete pass to Reynolds (dropped)
    • 4&15 at Bama’s 40:  Knight throws ball away  (Allen & Anderson forced throw)
    • 3&5 at Bama’s 25: Knight sacked by Tim Williams for a loss of 13.
    • 4&18 at Bama’s 38: Knight sacked by Hand for a loss of 3.
  • The Tide generated 5 sacks on the day. And now average 3.86 per game – good for 3rd in NCAA. Alabama has generated 3+ sacks in each of first 8 games which is the most since TCU in 2008.

Alabama on Special Teams

Our hearts and prayers go out to Eddie Jackson who was lost for the season with a fractured leg.  Not only was Jackson electrifying as a punt returner but he was an essential component as the key safety in the Bama defensive backfield.  With the defections of three DBs this season (Burgess-Becker, Smith and Sheffield), there is officially no more depth in the secondary for Alabama.  Former 5-star Tony Brown will be inserted into the dime packages with Minkah Fitzpatrick moving to safety.  One more injury and you’ll need to consult your local roster to figure out who is in the secondary.

Adam Griffith.  We love ya man but…wow.  Whenever he is lining up for a kick on the right hash, grab your rosary beads, bible, rabbits foot and four leaf clover and then ask Bear for a big ole favor.

We mentioned JK Scott above but his value in flipping the field should not be underestimated.  Alabama gained 33 yards in hidden yardage thanks to this punting phenom.

Final Thoughts

Alabama has officially completed their roughest and toughest stretch of the season.  Nick Saban and his staff have navigated a brutal road schedule and now stand essentially two games away from being right back in the playoffs for an unprecedented third year in a row.

The week off couldn’t come at a better time with Fitzpatrick having two weeks to prepare for his new role at safety.  Alabama’s secondary will be called upon to go toe to toe with Leonard Fournette and any casualties coming from colliding with him in the open field could be costly in a number of ways for the Tide.

This small, fast defense will be tested between the tackles by LSU so it will be interesting to see how the staff uses the next two weeks to get guys like Josh Frazier, Johnny Dwight, OJ Smith and Raekwon Davis into the rotation and into the thick of the fight.  November 5th is setting up to be a completely different type of game that could force the Alabama offense to be at their best on the road in Death Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

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