W2W4 Alabama vs Washington

Saturday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide will return to some very familiar territory. Over the last several years, the Georgia Dome has been extremely good to Alabama and Nick Saban. In fact, since 2008, the Tide is 9-1 in their Dome away from home with their only loss coming in 2008 against Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.

But Saturday Alabama also makes a familiar return to the college football playoffs. Alabama is the only team to make the playoffs in all three years of its existence so the travel, the routines, the practices, the events and the pressures of the game are almost as familiar as the Georgia Dome is for the Tide.

And then there’s Washington.

Washington hasn’t been relevant in the landscape of college football since Nick Saban’s mentor, Don James, was roaming the Husky sidelines from 1975 to 1992. Now, suddenly in Chris Peterson’s third season in Seattle, the Huskies have mushed their way into the spotlight of college football’s biggest stage.

Is Washington ready?

Well, our crack staff was able to put down their new toys from Santa long enough to watch the Washington Huskies take on Utah, Colorado and USC and we came to a very startling conclusion. This is one damn good football team. The Huskies are very balanced on offense, exhibiting a penchant for power running and a perfectly timed passing game with a big play receiver. On defense, they are superb.

In our opinion, Washington is the most complete team that Alabama will face in the college football playoffs. Yep, we said it. Here’s what to watch for on Saturday…

Alabama on Offense

When we turned on the tape of Washington’s defense, the first thing that jumped out was their outstanding secondary. Earlier this week, Coach Saban compared them to the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary and while we aren’t quite ready to go that far, we can definitely say they are outstanding. Their corners hold up very well in man to man coverage and their safeties are the ballhawking, hard hitting safeties that you are accustomed to seeing in crimson jerseys.

If there is a weak spot on Washington’s defense, it’s in their front seven. We never saw them generate much of a pass rush in any of the games we watched. Additionally, Utah ran for 213 yards – most of which was between the tackles. Further research revealed that the lowly Arizona Wildcats thundered for 308 rushing yards in a 35-28 overtime thriller earlier in the year. Yes, that’s the same Arizona team that went 3-9 this season.

Still, Washington’s defense comes into the game ranked 11th in the country in total defense (316.2 yards per game) and they lead the country in forcing turnovers. Even after giving up over 200 yards to Utah and Arizona on the ground, the Huskies’ rushing defense still ranks 20th in the country, giving up 123.5 yards per game on the ground. The Huskies are also ranked 20th in the country against the pass, giving up 192.6 yards per game. Basically, they are really good at playing defense.

Here’s what to watch for when Bama has the ball…

Run the Damn Ball, Lane: You will very likely be screaming “RUN THE DAMN BALL” at the TV Saturday afternoon, just as you have done all season. Washington’s defense is predicated on speed, speed and more speed. Defensive end Connor O’Brien is just 232 pounds. Their middle linebacker DJ Beavers is 216 lbs. Playmaking linebacker Keishawn Bierra (#7 – he’s outstanding) is only 221 lbs. If Alabama can root out Washington’s two husky defensive tackles (both weighing over 318 lbs), then they can have their way with the ends and the second level. Utah slammed the ball down Washington’s throats between the tackles and that’s where Alabama’s bread should be buttered Saturday.

Beware of the Passing Game: Washington’s pass defense is outstanding. They have playmakers all across the back end of their defense and they love to play coverage. So, look for Washington to employ a three man rush and a spy against Hurts much of the day in an effort to force Hurts to throw into tiny windows. Washington is 6th in the country in forcing interceptions (19 picks) because they play solid coverage and they have playmakers who can catch the rock. If Kiffin gets pass happy Saturday, things will not go well.

Beware the Tell Tale Blitz: I’m convinced Washington actually wants the QB to read the blitz early before the snap so that they can bait the QB into throwing where they want him to throw. I saw Husky defensive backs jump routes in all three games – when I tell you these DBs can play, please hear me. Their DBs can play. Kevin King (6’3), Sidney Jones (6’0), Taylor Rapp (6’0) and Budda Baker (5’10) are all big and physical and can all play the football in the air. In particular, look out for Baker (#32). He reminds us of the Honey Badger.

Remember Thy OJ Howard: Utah and USC both confused the Husky coverages by slipping their tight ends out into the deep flats (think corner routes). Washington plays a ton of zone coverage and both Utah and USC used their wide outs to clear an area for their tight ends to freely roam. While Ridley and Stewart will likely have difficulty getting the ball, OJ should be a big factor.

North/South, not East/West: Washington’s defense will surprise you with their team speed. The Huskies fly to the football and come up with a mean spirited nature about them. This season, Alabama has had a tremendous amount of success with the fly sweeps, bubble screens and other East/West plays designed to stretch a defense. From what we saw on tape, these Huskies will devour perimeter plays like a doggie biscuit. Between the tackles is the way to go.

Passing Lanes: USC beat Washington because they limited the Huskies to just 17 yards rushing and because Sam Darnold played out of his mind. For those of you chalking up the USC victory as a sign that Alabama will easily have their way with Washington, you should go to You Tube and check out the USC game – it was a tight one. Darnold was able to complete numerous passes in tee-tiny little windows as Washington challenged nearly every throw. There were a couple of times where their zone coverages were confused but, by and large, Darnold had to be pin point accurate. Can Jalen throw the ball as well as Darnold? No, he cannot. Hurts cannot, at this stage of his development, make the same throws Darnold did against the Huskies. Consider it a win for Hurts if the pass goes incomplete.

Blitzen: Against USC, Washington repeatedly brought slot corners and linebackers effectively on the blitz. In particular, look for #7 (Bierria) to hit the A/B gaps hard. They do tip their blitzes so Alabama should have some checks to counter the blitzes for some big gainers.

Tidebits

  • Colorado, Utah and USC used slants effectively. Washington did jump a couple of them for interceptions, however.
  • Against Utah, the Huskies played with two down linemen and two stand up defensive ends. The Utes stayed in a spread formation and attacked the smaller linebackers and ends by slamming the ball between the tackles.
  • Look for Washington to rush two or three and use at least one spy on Hurts. They want to force Hurts to throw the football just as LSU did.
  • USC used a TON of crossing patterns in the middle of the field causing confusion in the zone coverages for the linebackers. This is not Hurts’ favorite throw to make but there should be open receivers between the hashes around 10 yards down the field.
  • Utah’s big back Joe Williams (5’11, 210) carried UW defenders down the field like little piggy backs so look for Bo Scarborough to push his way for chunks of yardage.
  • Utah ran a beautiful passing play inside the five yard line for a TD. Their TE flared out at the goal line, forcing the flat corner to vacate his zone and come up to play the TE. Meanwhile, the wide receiver on that side simply ran to the back corner of the end zone and was wide open for the touchdown. Kiffin will flood zones and create conflicts for UW in coverage.
  • Look for Hurts to effectively use play action and then roll right to find open receivers. USC ran this play three or four times with big success.
  • Washington effectively defended every screen pass we saw.
  • We think the QB draw could be huge against a blitz.

Final Thoughts on Offense

This game will test Kiffin’s patience like no other and we think Washington’s defense will be more challenging for him than Kiffin getting on the team bus. Will Kiffin get cute and attempt to show the country how awesome his FAU offenses will be? Or will he stick to his knitting and hit the small UW defenders with heavy doses of Hurts, Scarborough, Harris and Jacobs on the ground? Washington knows that if Hurts’ first couple of options are not there, he’s going to tuck and run and they will defend Hurts’ running game at all costs. When Hurts drops back, he’ll have tons of time so the question becomes whether or not he can throw an accurate ball into tight coverage.

Alabama on Defense

After watching Utah, Colorado and USC cause serious problems for Jake Browning in the passing game, we came away with the conclusion that the Washington offense really isn’t about Browning at all. Yes, he has some outstanding numbers this season. However, UW’s offensive success is entirely dependent upon running the football. USC controlled the line of scrimmage and limited the Huskies to just 17 yards rushing. As a result, Browning was asked to put the game on his shoulders and, aside from one bomb to the outstanding John Ross, Browning failed to deliver (17 of 37 for 259 yards, 70 of which came on the aforementioned bomb to Ross).

In a tight game against Utah, it was the running game of Miles Gaskin that came to the rescue in their seven point win on the road. UW rushed for 199 yards in the game and Gaskin accounted for 151. Against the Colorado Buffaloes, Browning was just 9 of 24 for 118 yards so, once again, Gaskin and the Husky running game had to come to the rescue. Gaskin rushed for 159 yards while Lavon Coleman rushed for 101 yards and the Huskies rolled to 265 yards on the ground in the Pac 12 championship.

So, stop the run and Alabama should win the game. As it happens, Alabama is the #1 team in the country in stopping the run so the odds are forever in their favor that they will contain the Washington running game.

Can Browning win this game on his own? In a word, no. Here’s why…

Dominate the Trenches: Utah and USC both disrupted the pocket, forcing Browning to flee from his usual launch point. When Browning is on the move, he’s a sub par passer. Therefore, Alabama must dominate the trenches and generate pressure in the UW backfield. It’s of paramount importance that Alabama stuff the running game so Daron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jonathan Allen must own the interior of the line. USC says this is possible so we think it’s likely that Bama will own the line of scrimmage.

Contain the Edges: Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams will be asked to contain the edges as Miles Gaskin loves to sweep the ball and bounce the ball to the edges. Most of Gaskin’s big runs are outside the tackles so Alabama will have to contain the edges (as they always do).

John Ross: Ross caught 17 of Browning’s 42 touchdown passes this season and, against USC, Ross was THE focal point of nearly every single throw. Out of 37 passes on the day, 20 of them seemed targeted for Ross. Alabama really needs to keep a safety over the top of Ross and force the other UW receivers beat them. Alabama’s Achilles heel on defense this season has been giving up the deep ball and that is precisely where John Ross excels. Ross reminds us of Calvin Ridley and he will certainly beat man coverage more times than not so the Tide front will have to generate pressure and the defensive backs will need to disrupt the routes and timing of the passing game.

Chris Peterson: Washington’s best chance to win this game boils down to Chris Peterson. Peterson is one of the best coaches in the country and he’s had a month to break down the tape of Arkansas & Ole Miss throwing for over 400 yards against this vaunted Tide defense. He’s had a month to look at how Austin Appleby directed three outstanding drives against Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Peterson will employ a quick passing game predicated on timing and rhythm. He will attempt to attack Rashaan Evans in the passing game by targeting backs out of the backfield and tight ends down the seams. IF there is a game plan out there that can beat Alabama’s defense, Chris Peterson is the man who will find it.

Trick Plays: Peterson is, of course, renowned for his arsenal of trick plays. During the games we watched, the double pass seemed to be his favorite gadget play this season. If it’s in his bag of tricks then look for it to be used Saturday afternoon. With Evans starting his first game in place of Shaun Dion Hamilton, he will be challenged to make the right read and fill the right gaps. Look for Peterson to find a way to isolate him into coverage on some kind of throwback to a tight end or running back.

Student Body Left: The bread and butter of UW’s running game is a delayed lateral handoff that allows three (THREE) offensive linemen to pull and lead Gaskin around the edge. USC attacked this with safeties, linebackers and team managers so look for Alabama to do the same. Gaskin is very agile and has excellent vision to find yardage among the mass of humanity so look for Alabama to push up field and take out as many of these pullers as they can before the OL can get up the field to make their blocks.

Fun with Formations: Peterson will test Alabama’s alignments by shifting multiple tight ends, wide receivers and anyone else they can find to move around before the snap. If Bama overplays one side or the other, Washington has checks to attack the weak side with an option pitch.

Tidebits

  • UW scored a touchdown on more than half of their opening possessions this season so the Tide better be ready at the opening kick.
  • Gaskin is very fast and loves to get to the edge. Alabama must contain this. Oddly enough, nearly all of UW’s handoffs are of the delayed variety so the hope here is that it allows Alabama to get up the field and stuff the running lanes before they can open.
  • Right guard Shane Brostek (#60) was repeatedly beaten in every game we watched. At just 289 lbs, he’s going to have a long day.
  • Washington’s OL goes 309, 297, 293, 289 & 308 across the front line from left to right. Look for Tomlinson and Payne to dominate the guards and center as they introduce themselves to the country and take up residence in the Husky backfield.
  • Browning has more agility than he gets credit for but he’s certainly not a dual threat QB. When he’s forced to flee the pocket, his accuracy does way, way down.
  • Browning doesn’t have a lot of arm strength so he makes his living on timing and accuracy. Bama must disrupt routes and get pressure in his face in order to disrupt the passing game. Browning has a long windup and had a few passes batted down so that may play a factor, as well.
  • Running back Lavon Coleman (#22) is asked to pass protect quite a bit and he’s not very good at it. If he stays in to block, look for Evans and/or Foster to come on a delayed blitz. God help Coleman on Saturday.
  • If the Huskies line up in a bunch formation, look for Gaskin to run wide (usually away from the bunch).
  • USC and Utah used twists and loops from their defensive ends with great effect. UW did not pick up these games with the linemen.
  • Washington left the defensive end unblocked numerous times and, if you’ve read this blog a while, you know Alabama capitalizes on this by sending their DEs on a seek and destroy mission.

Final Thoughts on Defense

If Alabama can stuff the Washington running game then they will win the game. It’s just that simple. For all of the love of Browning, there are numerous examples of the running game being the key to the Huskies attack. The interior of the Bama line should overwhelm the UW front so Peterson will look to attack the flanks in an effort to get his skill guys outside of the brutality of the Tide defense. Ryan Anderson, Rueben Foster and Rashaan Evans will all have to play a huge game and we think they will.

Special Teams

This is actually a game where we think the special teams strongly favor Alabama’s opponent. John Ross (#1) returns kickoffs and he’s exceptional with the ball in his hands. Dante Pettis (#8) returned a punt for the winning score against Utah and is ranked 13th in the country in punt returns so the Huskies have two game breakers at the return positions.

Meanwhile, Alabama has been struggling to find their way in the return game since Eddie Jackson was injured. Also, Alabama is ranked 83rd in kick coverage so Washington has a huge advantage in the return game.

To the good, Alabama ranks 16th in the country in net punting (40.22) while Washington is ranked 122nd with a 33.98 yard net punting average so field position should be the Tide’s friend throughout the game.

The Huskies look to be more solid in the place kicking game as Cameron Van Winkle is 16 of 20 on the season, only missing one kick inside of 40 yards. However, Washington has allowed three kicks to be blocked this season – USC flew in off the left side to swat one down in their game so that could play a role.

On the Alabama side of the ledger, Adam Griffith comes into the game hitting 19 of 26, missing three times inside the 40. You’ll remember the Georgia Dome was a house of horrors for him during the SEC championship game so let’s watch those first few kicks to see how the ball is flying off Griffith’s foot.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

We expect this game to be a low scoring, hard fought contest and Alabama absolutely can lose this game if they play into the strengths of the Washington defense. Washington will likely generate points via the long pass to Ross, a trick play or two and an early drive that takes advantage of a slow start by Alabama. What the Tide simply cannot do is give the Huskies additional possessions by committing turnovers.  Washington is one of the very few teams that offers up a challenging, balanced offensive attack so we’d prefer not to see them have any extra possessions.

Alabama’s offensive line should be able to overpower the Huskies at the point of attack so the Tide running game should play a huge role in getting Saban yet another win in Atlanta. If the Bama defense can stuff the UW running game as we expect, then it should be Alabama who is able to create turnovers and take advantage of UW mistakes.

It’s all fun and games until Alabama’s front line hits you in the mouth and then the shit squarely hits the fan. Alabama has been here. They’ve done this. They expect to do it again. Washington is here for the first time and when the game kicks off at 2PM EST, it will be 11AM PST on the west coast. In interviews, the UW players admitted the time change is “very real.” We expect they will say the same about the Alabama Crimson Tide as the Tide is “very real” as well. Look for Bama to win a close one and advance to Tampa…

 

Final Score:   Alabama 24   Washington 20

 

 

 

 

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An Iron Bowl Preview – A Look at Common Top 25 Opponents

Many thanks to the Notorious PAB for statistically breaking down the Iron Bowl this week. Here’s the first of his two installments this week!  Enjoy!

Looking Ahead to the Iron Bowl –

Games Against Common Opponents Texas A&M and LSU

Introduction

Keeping with long-standing and respected tradition, this season’s Iron Bowl – to be played on November 26 at Bryant-Denny Stadium – is the last SEC and regular season game for the Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. Having wrapped up the SEC West Division when Georgia bested Auburn, 13-7, on Nov. 12, Bama’s next stop will be the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to vie for the SEC Championship.   (Par-tay in The ATL for sure.)

Conference rules require each SEC team to play all other teams in its division. Thus, the Tide and Tigers have five common West opponents in 2016: Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. (There are no common foes from the East Divison this season.) In this article, we’re going to focus on the two common opponents included in CFP rankings that were released on Nov. 15: the LSU Tigers at #16 and the Texas A&M Aggies at #25.

A Look at Bye Weeks and “Tune-Up Games”

One interesting aspect of the Iron Bowl is what Bama and Auburn do the preceeding week. There are four alternatives: schedule a bye week, compete against a non-FBS team in a so-called “tune-up game,” play an SEC team, or face an opponent from one of the FBS (aka Power Five) conferences. Not surprisingly, the Tide and the Tigers have taken different approaches over the years. Let’s look at what’s happened since Coach Saban set up shop in T-Town in 2007.

Bama

From 2007, Bama has been very consistent in its approach to the “week before.” In 2008, the Tide played Mississippi State, winning 32-7. In all other years of Coach Saban’s tenure, Bama has played non-FBS foes:

2007         Louisiana-Monroe         LOSS   14-21

2009         Chattanooga                   WIN   45-0

2010         Georgia State                   WIN   63-7

2011         Georgia Southern            WIN   45-21

2012         Western Carolina             WIN   49-0

2013         Chattanooga                     WIN   49-0

2014         Western Carolina             WIN   48-14

2015         Charlestown Southern   WIN   56-6

2016         Chattanooga                     WIN   31-3

In the nine games against non-FBS squads, the Tide is 8-1, scoring a total of 400 points (44.4 ppg), while surrendering 72 (8.0 ppg). The only loss was in 2007, when the Louisina-Monroe Warhawks topped the Tide by one touchdown, 14-7. That season, the Warhawks were 6-6 overall, 4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. But the team had experience against big-time programs, playing Clemson and Texas A&M earlier that season before taking the field at Bryant-Denny.

This year’s opponent, the Chattanooga Mocs, entered the game 8-2 overall / 6-2 in Southern Conference play, and led the Tide, 3-0, at the end of the initial quarter.

Auburn

The “week before” experience for Auburn since 2007 has been a mix of bye weeks and contests versus non-FBS teams. The Tigers’ schedule is shaped by its annual rivalry game with the Georgia Bulldogs, the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” (The series started in 1892; there have been 115 games; and, since 1947, the contest has been played on the second or third Saturday in November.)

2007 – 10   bye week after Georgia game

2011           Samford                             WIN 35-16

2012           Alabama A&M                 WIN 51-7

2013           by week after Georgia game

2014           Samford                             WIN 31-7

2015           Idaho                                   WIN 56-34

2016           Alabama A&M                   WIN 55-0

In these five contests, Auburn is 5-0, accumulating 228 points (45.6 ppg), and allowing only 64 (16.0 ppg).

We note that since Gus Malzahn became head coach in 2013, Auburn has had only one bye week. Schedules can be, and often are, made years ahead, but there is relatively more flexibility in arranging late-in-season games with non-conference, non-FBS opponents. (We realize that money – i.e., “major payday for a small school” – can play a big part.) It would not surprise us if Coach Malzahn, who faced Saban-led Bama teams as Auburn’s OC/QB Coach in 2009-2011, decided that when it comes to preparing for an Iron Bowl, playing a game is more useful than having a week off.

This season, Auburn defeated the Alabama A&M Bulldogs of the Southwestern Atlantic Conference. The Bulldogs were 3-6 overall / 3-5 in SWAC games going into their matchup withg the Tigers.

Schedule Context for the Texas A&M and LSU Games

Sometimes, when and where teams meet can affect a game’s outcome. (On the other hand, elite teams are little influenced by such factors, which has been true of the Tide so far this season). Let’s place the Texas A&M and LSU games in the context of Bama’s and Auburn’s 2016 schedules.

Auburn

9/17     Texas A&M (#17 AP)     Jordan-Hare Stadium     LOSS 16-29

9/23     LSU (#18 AP)                 Jordan-Hare Stadium     WIN   18-13

Texas A&M was Auburn’s first SEC contest of the season. The Tigers were 1-1 going into the game, previously losing to Clemson (AP #2) and topping Arkansas State, 51-14.   Auburn played the Aggies and Tigers on consecutive Saturdays, the third and fourth of five straight home games. The winning score against LSU was comprised of six field goals; Auburn scored no TDs in the contest.

Bama

10/22   Texas A&M (#6 AP)        Bryant-Denny Stadium     WIN 33-14

11/5       LSU ( #15 CFP)               Tiger Stadium                     WIN 10-0

First, we note that the opponents came in the same order – Texas A&M first, then LSU.   Bama had to go on the road, however, traveling to Baton Rouge to play the Tigers. In that game, the Tigers were led by a new head coach. After losing to Auburn, Les Miles was replaced on an interim basis by Ed Ogeron, who had been in charge of the defensive line. Orgeron was also interim head coach at Southern Cal in 2013.

Bama faced the Aggies and Tigers in consecutive games, not on consecutive Saturdays. Bama and LSU both had bye weeks prior to their epic defensive struggle. These games came during a very challenging stretch: prior to taking the field against the Aggies, Bama had back-to-back contests against ranked SEC West teams: Arkansas (#16 AP) on 10/8 and at Tennessee (#9 AP) in the “Third Saturday in October” game (10/15).

The Tide’s 10-0 victory at Tiger Stadium produced Bama’s smallest winning margin of 2016 and its only shutout. LSU’s only SEC losses have been to Auburn and Bama. (The loss to Auburn likely cost Les Miles his job, while a win over Bama would have certainly boosted Ed Orgeron’s case to have his “interim” designation removed.) The Tigers’ other defeat was at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, now #7 CFP) on Sep. 3 at Lambeau Field.

Game Statistics

Opponent – Texas A&M

    Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total
Scoring by quarter TEXAS A&M 0 7 7 0 14
  BAMA 6 7 13 7 33

 

  TEXAS A&M 3 13 3 10 29
  AUBURN 7 3 0 6 16

 

Bama didn’t have an “offensive explosion” in any quarter against the Aggies, just solid production and scoring in each period. As usual for this season, the second and third stanzas were when the Tide put up the majority of their points. The Auburn defense, in a losing effort, thwarted several A&M drives, forcing the Aggies to settle for field goals five times. Unfortunately for the Tigers, those 15 points exceeded the eventual margin of victory.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
Time of possession 35:50 24:10   31:04 28:56
Total yards 451 278   399 478
First downs 28 17   26 19
3rd-down conversions 7 / 14 5 / 16   6 / 17 2 / 15
4th-down conversions 0 / 1 1 / 3   0 / 2 1 / 1

 

We looked at these “high-level” stats from the Bama / A&M game and thought, “Maybe A&M was lucky to have lost by only 19 points.” The Tide enjoyed +11:40 in time of position (essentially 3:2 ratio), +173 total yards and +11 first downs.

Auburn, in its losing effort, had the ball a little longer (+2:08), but generated 79 fewer yards, despite 7 more first downs. The most interesting/confusing anomaly in the game are the third-down conversions. At 35.3%, Auburn did OK, but A&M was abysmal, converting only twice on 15 opportunities (13.3%)

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
PASSING          
Passing yards 164 164   163 247
Comps/atts 15 / 25 (60.0%) 14 / 31 (45.2%)   22 / 35 (62.9%) 20 / 40 (50.0%)
Yards/att 6.6 5.3   4.7 6.2
Yards/comp 10.9 11.7   7.4 12.4
Passing TDS 2 2   0 1
INTs 1 2   0 0

 

The Tide and Aggies accumulated equal passing yardage, but Bama had six fewer attempts, and a far superior completion rate (60.0% – 45.2%). Yards per completion were essentially the same. The Aggies were hurt by one additional interception. In the Auburn game, A&M threw more (40 – 35 attempts) with a lower completion rate (50.0% – 62.9%), but accumulated 1.5 yards for every one yard by Auburn. The yards per completion ratio was 1.7:1.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
RUSHING          
Rushing yards 287 114   236 231
Rushing atts 57 38   54 37
Yards / rush 5.0 3.0   4.4 6.2
Rushing TDs 1 0   2 1

 

We’ll cut to the chase: Bama’s run game really stood out. Fifty-seven attempts is evidence of a deep commitment to rushing the football. That commitment was rewarded with 287 yards, which is just over 2.5X what the Aggies gained. 5.0 yards/carry is definitely conducive to moving the chains and keeping the clock running. (Only one rushing TD is a bit curious.) Auburn and A&M generated about the same total rushing yards, but Auburn required about 1.5X as many plays, so the Aggies were clearly more efficient on the ground.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
OFFENSIVE BALANCE          
Total plays 82 69   89 77
Total yards 451 278   399 478
Yards/play 5.5 4.0   4.5 6.2
           
Rushes 57 38   54 37
Percentage of plays 69.5% 55.1%   60.7% 48.1%
Rushing yards 287 114   236 231
Percentage of yards 63.7% 41.0%   59.1% 48.3%
           
Passes 25 31   35 40
Percentage of plays 30.5% 44.9%   39.3% 51.9%
Passing yardage 164 164   163 247
Percentage of yards 36.3% 59.0%   40.9 51.7%

 

First, a question about the current pace of offense in big-time college football: “Are you kidding me?” Look at the total plays – 82, 69, 89 and 77. The average is 79.3 plays/team/game, a little more than 2.6 plays per one minute of game time. Bama and Auburn both favored the run game against A&M, the Tide a bit more so. The Aggies had a supremely balanced offensive effort versus the Tigers with rush/pass play mix 48.1% – 51.9%, and rush/pass yardage 48.3% – 51.7%.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
PENALTIES          
Number / yards 7 / 44 9 / 81   6 / 28 9 / 70
           
TURNOVERS          
Fumbles lost 0 1   1 0
INTs 2 1   0 0

 

A penalty is never a good thing, but these 31 penalties were called during a total of at least 317 plays. (Penalties are called during special-teams plays, of course, as we all know too well from the ubiqitious “block in the back” foul during punt and kickoff returns.) Bama and Auburn both played “cleaner” games than the Aggies. The Tigers were very disciplined – only 6 penalties that cost them 28 yards.

Opponent – LSU

Auburn and LSU are both known as the Tigers, so we’ll use school names in this section to avoid any confusion.

    Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total
Scoring by quarter BAMA 0 0 0 10 10
  LSU 0 0 0 0 0
             
  LSU 7 0 6 0 13
  AUBURN 3 6 3 6 18

 

Defensively, the 2016 Bama / LSU matchup was one for the ages, recalling the epic 6-9 overtime contest in 2011. With the score 0-0 going into the fourth quarter, cell towers in the Baton Rouge area were no doubt overwhelmed by calls from NFL scouts, all telling defensive coordinators about the wealth of talent on the field. Auburn scored no TDs, but kicked six field goals in its win over LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Note that Auburn stayed close during all periods, allowing them to stick to a game plan that paid off in the end.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
Time of possession 33:55 26:05   32:11 27:49
Total yards 323 125   388 338
First downs 16 6   18 14
3rd-down conversions 7 / 17 4 / 15   8 / 9 4 / 13
4th-down conversions 1 /2 0 / 2   0 – 1 0 – 0

 

In this time of fast-strike, “impact play” offenses, time-of-possession doesn’t matter as much as it once did… unless we’re talking about low-scoring games in which excellent defenses hold sway. Bama had the ball for 7:50 longer and made great use of that time – 198 more in total yards and a +10 margin in third-down conversions. (Holding LSU to 125 total yards was amazing.) Auburn held a smaller time-of-possession edge (+4:22) on its way to amassing 50 yards more in total offense (388 – 338). Auburn’s ability to keep drives going was absolutely first-rate: eight of nine third-down opportunities were converted.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
PASSING          
Passing yards 107 92   234 118
Comps/atts 10 / 19 (52.6%) 11 / 24 (45.8%)   19 / 26 (73.1%) 15 / 27 (55.6%)
Yards/att 5.6 3.8   9.0 4.4
Yards/comp 10.7 8.4   12.3 7.9
Passing TDS 0 0   0 1
INTs 1 1   0 0

 

LSU’s passing attack was ineffective in both games: 26 completions in 51 attempts (50.1%), 210 yards and one touchdown. One touchdown in eight quarters. Bama’s approach was quite conservative, but efficient: 107 yards from 10 completions. Auburn outgained LSU by almost 2:1 in the air, averaging 12.3 yards/completion with a stellar 73.1% completion rate. But LSU kept Auburn receivers out of the end zone all game.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
RUSHING          
Rushing yards 216 33   154 220
Rushing atts 51 27   49 32
Yards / rush 4.2 1.2   3.1 6.9
Rushing TDs 1 0   0 0

Using an old-school, four-function calculator, we find that 33 X 6.55 = 216. That’s how superior Bama’s run game was throughout the evening of Nov. 5. We don’t know exactly what LSU’s game plan was going in, but being held to an average of 1.2 yards/carry no doubt threw a big, rusty wrench in the works. The Tide rolled up 216 yards against a defense with a lot of guys who’ll be playing on Sundays and kept the clock moving.

Stifling the LSU running game, of course, meant controlling RB Leonard Fournette. And that’s exactly what the Tide did. Fournette was held to 35 yards on 15 carries (2.1 yards/rush) and 0 TDs. (In 2015, his numbers were: 19 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD; in 2014: 21 carries, 79 yards, 0 TD. Mr. Fournette must have nightmares about large, fast men, clad in crimson and while, chasing him relentlessly.) Even if we take away QB Danny Etling’s -16 yards rushing, the LSU ground attack would have generated only 48 yards.

After any stellar defensive game, it’s a good idea to look at how punting affected field position.   In this contest, Bama and LSU punting efforts – by kickers and cover men alike – were nothing short of spectacular.

LSU       8 punts     average – 42.0 yards     longest – 51 yards     2 punts returned for 1 yard

Bama   6 punts     average – 51.6 yards     longest – 66 yards     3 punts returned for 16 yards

Field goals determined the outcome. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson – who also handled kickoff duties – went into the contest 6-for-6 and came out 12-for-12. He was successful three times from 29 yards and from distances of 31, 37 and 51 yards. (Carlson was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2015 and will surely be so again this season.) His counterpart, Colby Delahoussaye, made two of three field goal attempts, scoring from 25 and 19 yards.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
OFFENSIVE BALANCE          
Total plays 70 51   75 59
Total yards 323 125   388 338
Yards/play 4.6 2.5   5.2 5.7
           
Rushes 51 27   49 32
Percentage of plays 72.9% 52.9%   65.3% 54.2%
Rushing yards 216 33   154 220
Percentage of yards 66.9% 26.4%   39.7% 65.1%
           
Passes 19 24   26 27
Percentage of plays 27.1% 47.1%   34.7% 45.8%
Passing yardage 107 92   234 118
Percentage of yards 33.1% 73.6%   60.3% 34.9%

 

Bama was clearly focused on the run, on offense and defense, against LSU. Running plays accounted almost 73% of play selections and just over two-thirds of the total yards that Bama gained. Bama achieved a massive +183 margin in rushing yards. The Tide outgained LSU marginally on passing plays (+15 yards), but was able to do so on five less attempts, a good thing against a secondary with LSU’s talent. Your basic fewer passes = lower risk situation.

Auburn, in contrast, threw one less pass than LSU (26 – 27), but the margin in passing yards was +116, almost doubling what LSU gained through the air (234 – 118). Auburn did not emphasize the passing game (only 34.7% of the play calls), but the aerial effort delivered just over 60% of Auburn’s total yardage for the afternoon. Excellent “return on investment” right there.

By comparison, Auburn’s running game was (no pun intended) pedestrian. 154 yards against an LSU defense is not bad, but 3.1 yards per carry is not going to sustain enough drives to win. LSU got 66 more yards on 32 fewer running plays.   Leonard Fournette did not play, but Kerryon Johnson stepped up big time, contributing 93 yards on 22 caries (4.2 yards/carry; longest run – 14 yards).

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
PENALTIES          
Number / yards 6 / 29 3 / 20   5 / 50 4 / 28
           
TURNOVERS          
Fumbles lost 1 0   1 1
INTs 1 1   0 0

 

Bama prevailed despite more penalties (6 – 3 ) and one additional turnover. It helped that the six turnovers only cost the Tide 29 yards. An interesting coincidence – both games had a total of nine penalties called. In each contest, LSU was whistled fewer times and had the turnover advantage.

 

 

Alabama vs Texas A&M – Stats vs PAC 12 Teams

In an effort to provide you with the the most detailed analysis on the interwebs, the Notorious PAB decided to delve into the two PAC 12 games the Tide and Aggies have played.  Alabama, of course, opened the season against USC while Texas A&M opened against UCLA.  Here is his additional analysis for the season openers….

Bama and Texas A&M Against Non-SEC Power Five Opponents

Introduction

While perusing the Bama and Texas A&M schedules, we discovered an interesting coincidence.  Both opened their respective 2016 campaigns against Pac-12 teams.  Ranked teams, no less, and both representing institutions from sunny California.  (Actually, the Pac-12 reaches inland all the way to scenic Boulder, Colorado; but then again, the Big 10 has 14 teams, so details like this are obviously not important when it comes to “branding.”)

In the spirit of “buy one, get one” and “half-price sale,” we’ve gone ahead and examined those games in some detail.  If doing so adds any value, great.  If it doesn’t, well… what do those hippies and celebs in La-La Land know about football anyway?

Performances Versus the Trojans and Bruins

To date, the Tide has played two non-FBS teams – Western Kentucky and Kent State – while the Aggies have faced one program from outside the Power 5 Conferences: Prairie View A&M.  Not to discount the efforts put forth by the Hilltoppers, Golden Flashes and Panthers – much respect for all those young men – but we’re not going to include data from those games in this article.

Looking at non-conference, FBS opponents, both Bama and the Aggies opened their seasons against then-ranked teams from the Pac-12.  Bama defeated the Southern California Trojans, 52-6 in the Advocare Classic on September 3 in AT&T Stadium. USC was ranked #20 going into that game.  The Aggies bested the UCLA Bruins in one overtime, 31-24 on that same day, in a contest played at Kyle Field (their home stadium).  The preseason AP poll had the Bruins slotted at #17.

Both USC and UCLA are now in the midst of disappointing seasons.  The Trojans are 4-3 overall, 3-2 in the Pac-12.  (To be fair, USC has played four Top 25 teams to date).  The Bruins’ record is 3-4 overall, 1-3 in the conference.  It is, however, specious reasoning to evaluate past events based on what we know and how we feel currently (ask any competent historian).   So we’ll look a bit closer…

Bama vs. USC

Here’s what you need to know about Bama’s effort against the once-mighty (*) Southern Cal Trojans: (a) two freshmen played QB for the Tide; (b) USC was ahead 3-0 at the end of the first quarter; (c) the time of possession was essentially even – 29:17 for the Men of Troy,  30:43 for Bama; and (d) the final score was Tide 52 – USC 6.   Even using “Common Core” math, that’s a 48-point difference.

Was it really that one-sided?  Consider:

Total yards:     Bama 465                                                  USC  194 

First downs:     Bama 15                                                   USC 11

Passing:           Bama 12/18 ; 223 yards; 1 INT            USC  18/37; 130 yards; 1 INT

Rushing:           Bama 45 att ; 242 yards; 5.4 y/att   USC 30 att ; 64 yards; 2.1 y/att

Third downs:    Bama 6/15 (40%)                                 USC 4/18 (22.2%)

Fourth downs:  Bama 1/1 (100%)                                 USC 0/2 (0%)  

The only area of the game in which USC held any advantage was turnovers.  Bama suffered one INT and one fumbles lost; USC threw one INT.  Number of first downs was close (15 vs. 11), but that stat is skewed by four big-gain plays made by the Tide.

We’ll note three aspects of Bama’s play:

= balance: 223 yards passing and 242 yards rushing;

= efficiency: 60% pass completion rate and 5.4 yards/attempt on the ground;

= explosive plays: 39- and 71-yard TD passes; 46- and 71-yard runs.

Winning high-profile, national-audience, kickoff games at neutral sites against strong opponents is pretty much old hat to Coach Saban’s Bama squads.  Even so, this one stands out.  B E A T D O W N !

* “Once-mighty…”  We think that’s fair: six Heisman Trophy winners; 80 consensus All-Americans; .700 overall winning percentage; 33-17 bowl record (.660); 38 conference titles; two BCS championship appearances (2004 and 2005) and one BCS title (2005); and some of the most stunning cheerleaders to ever pick up a set of pom-poms.

Aggies vs. UCLA

First things first: A&M’s 31 – 24 win over the Bruins in College Station was an upset.  UCLA was ranked #16 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, while the Aggies, with 81 points, were the second team below the cutoff (Miami/FL had 159 points).  Ranking teams before any games are played is an inexact science at best, but this was an unexpected outcome.

Total yards:       A&M 442                                              UCLA 468 

Passing:             A&M 22/42; 239 yards; 1 INT         UCLA  26/47; 343 yards; 3 INT

Rushing:            A&M 41 att; 203 yds; 5.0 y/att      UCLA 40 att; 125 yds; 3.1 y/att

Third downs:     A&M 4/15 (26.7%)                           UCLA 5/18 (27.8%)

Fourth downs:   A&M 1/2 (50%)                                UCLA 1/2 (50%)  

UCLA’s superior passing attack (+104 yards) was undercut by three INTs.  A&M’s rushing was better, generating +78 yards on only one additional attempt.  (The UCLA running game continues to be a serious problem.)  Interestingly, A&M had fewer first downs – 23 vs. 28 – despite a heavier reliance on the run game (45.9% of its total yardage vs.  26.7% for the Bruins).

UCLA trailed 24-9 at the start of the fourth quarter, then the Bruins scored on a 9-yard TD run (4:19) and a 62-yard TD pass (2:39).   In OT, the Aggies used eight plays to cover the 25 yards and add seven points.  UCLA managed 20 yards on seven plays when they got the ball, failing to score.

This was an important win for A&M and started the Aggies on the path to their 6-0 start.  But giving up two TDs in quick succession late in the fourth quarter is a red – or crimson, if you prefer – flag.  A&M had the Bruins down, but could not keep them down.  Given Bama’s big-play ability, having a modest lead as the clock winds down should give A&M cause for concern.

For a look at the original post, click this link to see the statistical analysis of the two common foes of Alabama and Texas A&M.