What to Watch For When Alabama Plays Clemson

For the second year in a row my own personal nightmare in writing this blog has come to fruition. I grew up with Dabo Swinney and graduated with him from Pelham High School in 1988. He’s a friend and he’s a person whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for. To pick against Dabo is to pick against my childhood, my teammate, my classmate and my friend.

And then there’s the University of Alabama. My father went to school there and, when I was just three years old, he indoctrinated me into the mystique, tradition and aura that is Alabama football. When I graduated from Pelham there was no question where I was going to school and no other schools were even considered (although I did whimsically send my ACT score & transcripts to Hawaii – sadly, I was not accepted). Being an Alabama fan is all I have ever known and Alabama football has given me some of the best moments of my life. Going to games with my dad and being with him in New Orleans for the 1992 National Championship are memories I’ll cherish forever. To pick against Alabama is to pick against my father, my degree, my classmates and my team.

And yet, once again, I have to chose between these two outstanding teams.

Last year the Bama Lighthouse scouted, analyzed and scrutinized the Tigers and what we found was a ridiculously talented team that appeared to be every bit as talented as Alabama. At the end of the day, our analysis pointed to the difference between these two teams being Deshawn Watson’s penchant for throwing interceptions and Alabama’s strength and superiority on special teams. As it turned out, Watson threw a pick that Alabama turned into a touchdown and Saban’s onsides kick and Kenyan Drake’s kickoff return for a touchdown created a dramatic victory for the Crimson Tide. In short, our analysis was spot on.

Neither friendships nor diplomas factored into picking the winner last year and they will not factor into our pick this year, either. Once again, we’ve broken down tape, analyzed matchups and used our film studies to come to our conclusions. And, once again, we should all be in store for an epic game that we’ll be talking about long after it’s played…

So, let’s get to it. This week we reviewed Clemson versus Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Florida State and NC State. It was an exhausting research project and, as a result, we have more notes than we know what to do with. That said, here’s the What to Watch For (W2W4) in the Tide v Tigers national championship tilt, Version 2.0…

Alabama on Offense

For all of the talk about the irresistible force that is Deshawn Watson and the dynamic Clemson offense versus the immovable object that is Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen and the steel curtain of the Alabama defense, Alabama’s success or failure when their offense has the ball will determine the final result of this game. Like last year, rest assured that Clemson’s offense will most certainly put up some points. So, the question then becomes whether or not the Tide’s offense can keep pace.

The distractions of the Lane Kiffin circus have been removed, only to be replaced by the distractions of “Sark Week.” Steve Sarkisian hasn’t called plays as an OC since 2008 (he did call plays as the USC head coach in 2014) so the change in coordinators isn’t a change to take lightly.   Changing coordinators one week before a critical playoff game would be upsetting to a 14-year NFL veteran quarterback so the fact that it’s happening to an 18 year -old true freshman should not be discounted, either. Changing the OC is a big, big deal.

Across the field, defensive coordinator Brent Venables employs an uber aggressive defense that ranks third in the country in generating tackles for loss. When you turn on the tape of the Clemson defense you see Venables dialing up virtually everything under the sun to generate pressure in the backfield. We saw 3 man rushes and 7 man rushes and everything in between. Against Virginia Tech he even rushed zero and sat 11 men in coverage! In the back end you’ll see man to man coverages, zone coverages , zone blitzes and pretty much everything else you can think of.   It’s very confusing for a QB to decipher – in fact, Clemson’s defense picked off 20 passes this season which is actually four more picks than Alabama’s vaunted defense had this season. Honestly, Clemson’s schemes are pretty cool to watch…unless you are trying to call plays against it.

Up front, Clemson uses three thick, athletic defensive linemen who all play at over 305 pounds. And, unlike Washington’s small linebackers, Clemson’s linebackers are no runts either, each playing at 235 pounds. This is a defense that looks every bit like the Tide defense that played in last year’s national championship game. Remove A’shawn Robinson, Jarren Reed and DJ Pettway and insert Christian Wilkins, Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence and you wouldn’t tell a lot of difference other than the fact that Clemson’s front is even bigger. Yikes.

So, it’s going to be a very tall order for Sark to dial up plays that Jalen Hurts can execute confidently on Monday night. And, all night long in the back of his head Sark will have to be wondering “am I reaching this kid and giving him plays he feels comfortable with?” And, if the offense starts slowly, will Jalen Hurts be wondering, “Does this guy know what he’s doing?” A fast start will be very, very important for the Tide this week – they must have success early.

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

Perimeter Plays are Back: Last week against Washington we told you that Alabama’s biggest success would come between the tackles. This week, bubble screens, fly sweeps and running back sweeps should be back with a vengeance. On tape, when Clemson gave up a big play in the running game it was typically outside the hash marks.

Point, Counter Point: Time and time again teams picked up big yardage against Clemson with counter plays. Plays that would start in one direction would cause Clemson’s hyper-aggressive defense to fire into the running lanes at the snap. Opposing offenses took advantage of this by starting in one direction and then countering to the opposite direction. Pittsburgh, in particular, was very good at this. And, nearly all of Dalvin Cook’s 169 yards rushing came off of counter plays.

Bootlegs: Many teams used play action bootlegs to get their QB outside of the blitzing Tigers and this was very effective. Last season, Jake Coker converted a huge 3&3 on a naked bootleg inside the Clemson 10 yard line. Jalen Hurts is perfectly suited for bootlegs and rollouts so look for Sark to move the pocket Monday night.

QB Runs: Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans rushed for two touchdowns between the tackles off of zone read keepers. It was tough sledding for him as he rushed 17 times for only 62 yards but he was one of the few runners who found room between the tackles. And, when Clemson rushes just three or four, while they are able to push the pocket they often do not apply much pressure. Opposing QBs have easily broken containment and pick up yards when Clemson only rushes their big guys so Hurts’ scrambling should be a weapon.

Misdirection: Two of OJ Howard’s huge catches last year came on a play action run fakes in one direction while OJ slipped out undetected in the opposite direction. Pittsburgh also used their tight ends in a similar fashion against Clemson this season. Look for Bama to generate the flow one way and then sneak OJ out in against the flow.

Up Field Rush: Clemson’s defensive ends are hell bent on getting up the field and, at times, offenses were able to take advantage of this. The ends would take themselves out of the play by coming up the field hard and running lanes would open up behind them.

Zone Defense: Clemson played waaaay more zone defense than normal last week against Ohio State, presumably because they were playing a mobile QB. Look for Venables to call for a heavy dose of zone coverage and zone blitzes this week. If he does, 5 yard hitches and quick crossing throws underneath should be the order of the day.

Bama’s Best Matchups: OJ Howard on any of the Clemson linebackers should be a big win for the Tide but perhaps Alabama’s biggest mismatch could be Ardarius Stewart on Clemson’s 5’9 corner, #31 Ryan Carter. If Hurts spies Carter in a one on one situation with Stewart, he should just throw the ball up and let Stewart go get it. At 6’1, 210 lbs, the former runner up in the state long jump should be able to elevate over Carter and come down with the football.

Running Backs Become Passing Backs: I really like Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris this week more than big Bo Scarborough. Their speed and quickness may be more useful than Bo’s power, particularly if they are used (as they should be) in the passing game. Yards are available if anyone gets matched up on #10 Ben Boulware in coverage. Boulware is better suited as a blitzer and a plugger than he is for playing against athletes in space. FYI – James Conner and Dalvin Cook each got wide open on wheel routes so I’d like to see Sark dial up a couple Monday night.

Protect From Inside Out: Venables brings a ton of A gap pressure so Bama’s line will have to protect from the middle out to the flanks. This is where Boulware excels and is another reason to use Harris more than Scarborough since he’s the better pass protector.

Throw it Deep: If all else fails, Alabama should just drop back and throw the ball deep wherever they can find one-on-one coverage. Clemson was among the leaders in the FBS in committing pass interference and defensive holding penalties. Pittsburgh’s QB took advantage of this by standing in the pocket until the last minute and then firing it down the field towards one on one matchups. Typically they either got a completion or a penalty. FSU attacked Clemson’s man-to-man coverage as well – this is a MUST for the Tide offense. And, it’s not like Kiffin didn’t call for deep shots last week. On five separate occasions off of play action, Hurts appeared to have down field options but, instead, he tucked the ball and tried to run.


  • At 6’5, 6’4 and 6’3, Clemson’s front line bats down a lot of passes.
  • Only one true freshman QB has ever won a national championship.
  • Clemson’s defense has given up the same number of touchdowns (12) as the Alabama defense has this season. The Tigers sacked the QB 49 times this season, just one fewer than the Crimson Tide defense.   And, Clemson’s defense has 20 interceptions – four more than the Tide. Clemson’s defense is outstanding.
  • What you see is not what you get with Clemson’s defense. If they show a three-man front, it’s likely that three more pass rushers will come at the snap. When they show a seven-man blitz, typically two or more will drop into coverage – you just never know which two.
  • Clemson likes to time their blitzes to the snap count so hopefully Hurts will be able to have some dummy counts that will either get the Tigers to jump offsides or will declare the Clemson blitzers.
  • The Clemson corners and safeties are wired to stop the run so when they see run, their instinct is to come up fast. Look for Sark to dial up some play action passes and fake bubble screens where the Tide receivers appear to be blockers but then quickly release down the field for a pass.
  • FSU killed Clemson with crossers and tunnel screens against the blitz so look for Ridley on shallow crossing patterns.
  • I think Venables will play a ton of coverage in an attempt to limit Hurts’ running abilities.  Look for him to rush just three or four and then drop defenders into zones so that they can keep their eyes on Hurts.

Final Thoughts on the Offense

There will be plays available this week for the Tide offense but Jalen Hurts will have be the one to make them. While perimeter runs and counter play runs may be available, the majority of the damage inflicted against Clemson has been thru the air. Unlike last week, Jalen Hurts will have to win this game with his running and throwing…and Steve Sarkisian will have to find a way to help him do it.

Alabama on Defense

The nation’s number one defense will face its biggest challenge of the year this week when they take on Deshawn Watson and the Clemson offense. The Tigers have so many terrific weapons available to them that it must be incredibly difficult for them to call plays. Should the two-time Heisman runner up Watson run it? Or, should he throw it to the best wide receiver in college football in 6’3, 220 lb Mike Williams (#7). Last season against Alabama, Watson found little known Hunter Renfroe (#13) for two touchdowns but this year they’ll have speedy Deon Cain (#8) as an even better option in the passing game (he sat out the game last year due to a suspension). Oh, and then there’s Artavis Scott (#3) who is just Clemson’s all-time leading receiver with 242 career catches – more than Sammy Watkins or Dendre Hopkins – and Jordan Leggett who at 6’5, 260 lbs is a matchup problem at tight end.

And that’s just the passing game. Honestly, any of those guys (and #34 Ray-Ray McCloud) above could be a very real problem for the Tide secondary but Clemson compounds the passing game problems by presenting a challenge in the running game, as well. Wayne Gallman (#9) is very, very solid and he gives the Clemson offense the perfect run/pass balance.

So how do you stop this Clemson attack? Well, last year Alabama didn’t. Clemson gained 550 yards, 405 of which came thru the air. They generated 31 first downs and 40 points. Yikes.

But this year is different. Gone is Kirby Smart and his “picket fence” approach of pushing the pocket and containing Watson. This time it’s Jeremy Pruitt who will be calling the shots and his FSU and Georgia teams were extremely effective in shutting down the Tigers attack. In 2013, Pruitt & the Noles limited Clemson to just 14 points.   In 2014, Pruitt’s Georgia defense held the Tigers to 21 points. But, Watson didn’t start either one of those ballgames.

This season, Alabama’s defensive personnel is different, too. The 255 pound LB Reggie Ragland was a complete non-factor in last year’s game. A 240 lb Reuben Foster really didn’t show up on tape, either. They were just too big and too slow to make a difference in the open field. This year, in place of Ragland is Alabama’s fastest linebacker Rashaan Evans – he had Bama’s only two sacks of Watson last year. And, Foster is a totally different player when he’s playing at a svelte 225 pounds instead of his 240-pound frame from last season. Evans and Foster will be the keys to stopping the Tigers from gashing the Tide as they did last season.

So, here’s what to watch for when Clemson has the ball….

Empty Sets: When Watson is alone in the backfield, look for either a quick throw or a QB draw. FSU batted down four passes when they anticipated the short throws (usually intended for slot receivers) so Bama’s front line should get their hands up when Watson stands alone in the pocket. And, when Watson runs, he’s gift-wrapping opportunities for the Tide to knock him out of the game. We think Watson will run the ball 20 times this week so that will be 20 times that Tiger fans should hold their breath.

Off Script: Last season, Watson burned the Tide defense with a number of “off script” plays when he escaped the pocket. Look for Alabama to blitz their fastest players in an effort to trap Watson in the pocket. Opponents had a lot of success when blitzing up the middle so look for double A gap pressure from Evans and Foster. However, this is where he’s most dangerous – if he evades the rush then we got problems.

Pace & Depth: Clemson used pace to tire out the Tide defense last year, forcing Saban to try an onsides kick just to keep the ball and give his defense a chance to rest. Look for Clemson to go very, very fast as they’ll attempt to prey on the lack of depth in the defensive backfield, linebacker and defensive line positions. Eddie Jackson’s injury and the multiple defections from the secondary have left he Tide woefully thin in the back. At linebacker, the loss of Shaun Dion-Hamilton will be felt. What was once thought to be a thin red line across the front may actually be the deepest position on the defense – Williams, Hand, Frazier, Jennings and Miller all may have to play a role this week up front.

Attack the Left Tackle: #75 Mitch Hyatt is Clemson’s left tackle and we think he’s in for a very long day. He struggled mightily against Ohio State and Florida State and he would be the guy I would try to isolate Tim Williams on as much as possible. Look for Alabama to blitz off the left side of the Clemson line in an effort to force Hyatt to take on Williams all by his lonesome.

Predeterminations: Watson’s Achilles heel is his penchant for throwing the ball to the wrong team. In fact, his 17 interceptions are more than all but four teams! Watson determines where the ball is going pre-snap and this is what gets him in trouble. He eyeballs one receiver and often doesn’t see underneath defenders who are in the passing lane. Alabama typically disguises their blitzes until a fraction before the snap but this week I think you’ll see Alabama “tip” their blitzers in an effort to encourage Watson to pre-determine his throw. Of course, Pruitt’s secondary will be expecting the route and the throw and should be able to create a couple of interception opportunities.

Slants: Mike Williams is a huge, huge target for Watson and Alabama will likely have to devote two defenders to him throughout the game. But, Williams is damn near unstoppable on slants – it’s their “go to” route.

Blitzes: It will be fascinating to see how much Pruitt utilizes the blitz because Watson typically can recognize it and deliver the football before anyone gets home – he beat Ohio State’s blitzes frequently. Alabama will likely have to play Allen and Anderson at DE as they attempt to play the run but this will not generate much of a pass rush. If Anderson and Allen are at defensive end then we think Evans will come as a fifth pass rusher quite a bit. Bud Foster used his linebackers to blitz the bejeepers out of Watson and this was very effective in forcing Watson to get the ball out. Va Tech blitzed on nearly every play and his guys got a lot of clean hits on Watson.

Fly (Sweep) Guys: Unlike most college offenses, Clemson does not typically use fly sweep motion as window dressing. In the games we watched, the fly sweep guy (typically Scott, #3) either got the ball on the sweep or received the ball in the flat about 90% of the time.

Wheel Routes: In many of the games I watched, backup running back CJ Fuller (#27) was utilized as a receiver – particularly on a wheel route. If they can isolate him on Evans then the Clemson band is likely going to be playing their fight song.

Follow the Pulling Guards: Alabama held Clemson’s rushing attack in check last season primarily because they focused on attacking wherever the pulling guards went. Clemson uses a ton of “window dressing” with motion going in virtually every direction. However, if the Tide linebackers key on the pulling guards and tight ends, then they’ll be taken right to the ball. Of course, Clemson likely has some counters to this, as well, as they showed against Ohio State.

Watch the Inside Slot Receiver: A large percentage of Watson’s throws to a three wide receiver side of the field will be to the inside slot. Basically, if there are three receivers to a side, look for the receiver closest to Watson to get the ball. Additionally, slot blitzers were not effective against Watson as it just gave him a clean line of sight to his favored targets.

Mike Williams: #7 for Clemson is just a beast.   He runs all the routes, too. Slants, back shoulder fades, go routes – everything. And, at 6’3, 220 lbs, he’s always open. Look for Watson to find Williams any time Alabama blitzes and he’s in a one on one situation

Redemption: Minkah Fitzpatrick will be playing with a mad on after last year. He gave up two touchdowns and a pass interference and was targeted in the end zone on five separate occasions.

Spies Like Us: I personally hate the whole idea of a spy as most of the time they are just standing around doing nothing. But, last year Evans played the spy role and was actually effective. Pruitt will be mixing things up but I’d bet you anything that he shows blitz (intentionally) and then just rushes three with Evans as a spy.

Jordan Leggett – The X Factor:  When times have gotten tough for Watson, the tough has looked for #16, Jordan Leggett.  Leggett is a 6’6, 260 pound TE that moves like a wide receiver and is a matchup problem for anyone.  When things get tight, the ball goes to Leggett.  The like to split him out wide and run him on a slant against the safety so look for them to target Minkah once again.  In Clemson’s close games, Leggett has performed:

  • Louisville – 3 catches for 71 yards and one touchdown.
  • Pittsburgh – 9 catches for 95 yards and zero touchdowns.
  • Florida State – 5 catches for 122 yards and one touchdown.
  • Virginia Tech – 4 catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Alabama (2016) – 5 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.


  • How much will Tim Williams play? If he’s in the game then Clemson’s ability to run the football will increase. However, he’s the defender who is best suited to disrupt the pocket and chase down Watson. So, what’s the balance between playing Allen and Anderson at defensive end versus moving Allen to tackle and playing Anderson and Williams at DE? Look for Allen and Anderson to start the game and then Williams will come in any time Clemson substitutes.
  • If it’s first and goal inside the five yard line, Clemson will run the zone read repeatedly. Look for Watson to keep the ball more times than not.
  • As good of a receiver as Leggett (#16) is, he’s an awful blocker. Bama will dominate him at the point of attack any time he’s asked to block.
  • If it’s 4&1, Dabo is going for it. Book it.
  • Gallman likes to extend the ball at the goal line so look for Bama defenders to rip it out if he does.
  • The Jeremy Pruitt factor is not to be ignored here.  In our opinion, he’s better suited to defend the Clemson attack and he has better weapons to do so this year.
  • When Clemson has struggled in games, it’s been solely due to turnovers.  With Watson throwing 17 picks this season, Bama could get a NOT (Non-Offensive Touchdown) that turns the game around.
  • While there were occasional breakdowns along the Clemson offensive line, other than Hyatt there were no repeatedly blatant issues. And, aside from Hyatt (295), Clemson’s line is over 305 pounds across and seem to form a relatively solid front.  But, Alabama’s front four is the trump card.  When LSU and Washington held Alabama’s offense in check, it was the defense and the front line that dominated the game and allowed the Tide offense to score just enough to win.

Final Thoughts on Defense

I thought, for the most part, Ohio State and Florida State both held up pretty well at the line of scrimmage.   Even Pittsburgh limited the Tigers to just 50 yards rushing, so I sincerely doubt the Tide will be challenged by Clemson’s running game. The difference in those games and likely in this matchup will come down to Watson’s ability to read coverage and deliver the ball. Even when the plays are perfectly defended, Watson’s ability to extend plays absolutely sucks the life out of a defense.

Alabama MUST get off the field on third down. Clemson will once again be using pace and this year’s defense, while better, isn’t as deep as last year’s defense was. The longer Clemson can keep the Tide defense on the field, the worse the results are going to be later in the game. Lastly, in each game I watched the Clemson offensive coaches adapted to what they were seeing defensively and were able to counter with plays that took advantage of what the defense was trying to do to them.

Alabama on Special Teams

The two return games are pretty similar so, aside from Trevon Diggs looking like a complete train wreck last week, unlike last season all should be relatively even here.

However, Alabama has a significant advantage in the punting game as the nation’s third ranked punter, JK Scott, owns a 47.4 to 38.0 punting advantage over Clemson’s Andy Teasdall. Once again, the Crimson Tide should own the field position game and that was no small part of their victory over Washington.

But, this year there is no Cyrus Jones and no Kenyan Drake to save the day in the return game and with Diggs’ problems last week we’d guess if something catastrophic happens in the kicking game it will happen to Alabama.

In the place-kicking game, the two teams are pretty similar. Greg Huegel hit 73.7% of his attempts, missing three times inside the 40 and twice outside the 40. Meanwhile, Adam Griffith hit 74.1% of his kicks, missing three times inside the 40. From outside the 40, Griffith hit just 3 of 7 while Huegel made 5 of 7 kicks so the Tigers may hold a slight advantage when dialing up kicks from long distance.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The Alabama offense limps into this contest with a new offensive coordinator and a passing game that forces you to hold your breath and pray each time Hurts drops back to pass. Last year, Bama was very creative in utilizing misdirection against the aggressive Clemson defense and they once again have the athletes who can take advantage of this attacking style of defense. Unlike last week, the Tide will not be able to just run between the tackles and play conservatively this week so Jalen Hurts is going to have to play more like the SEC offensive player of the year than the 18-year-old true freshman he was against the Huskies.

Defensively, this is the ultimate nightmare for Alabama. Clemson has multiple game breakers at wide receiver, a fleet footed tight end, an outstanding running back and the game’s best player at the quarterback position. Saban loves to take away what you do best but when you put on the tape of Clemson they have playmakers everywhere and do so many things well. There were a few signs of weakness across the offensive line but Watson’s fleet foot and surprising strength usually negated the pass rush when it arrived.

Clemson will score – probably in the high 20s. Early on, the Tide’s defense will more than hold their own but, as the game wears on, if they don’t get some help from the offense then things will get mighty dicey. There is little to no depth in the back seven and, over time, Clemson’s pace of play and vast array of athletes will take a toll on the Alabama defense. With special teams being negated, it will be up to the offense to win a sixth national championship for Nick Saban and lately I haven’t seen any indication that they can get it done.

Clemson does not fear Alabama – they are the one and only team that truly wants Alabama. They aren’t scared and they want revenge for last year. They believe they should have won the game last season and they will be the more motivated team. They are also the most cohesive team and they are playing much, much better offensively than Alabama is right now. I just think it’s Clemson’s year…


Final Score: Clemson 34 Alabama 27


Note: IF Clemson does win this football game, Alabama fans should take a ton of pride in what Dabo is doing at Clemson. Since 2011, Alabama has the highest winning percentage in the country, winning 91.6% of their games. Guess which team has the second highest winning percentage during that span. Ohio State? No. Oklahoma? No. Oregon or FSU? No. Clemson actually has the second highest winning percentage at 84.1%. Since 2012, Dabo has beaten Urban Meyer twice, Bob Stoops twice and Les Miles once. Each one of these coaches has been somewhat of a nemesis for Saban and yet Dabo has each of their pelts on his wall. When you look at the Clemson program, you can’t help but see a lot of Alabama in it and I, for one, think that’s pretty damn cool. No matter what the result is on Monday night, Alabama rules college football.


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.


  • 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.


  • 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.






W2W4 – Alabama vs Texas A&M

Pretender? Or contender? That is the question.  Is Texas A&M’s undefeated record and #6 ranking in the country warranted ? Are they actually that good?  Or, is this yet another Aggie season built on smoke & mirrors, soon to be wrecked once again in Nick Saban’s Bryant-Denny house of horrors?

Pretender? Or contender? That’s this week’s Nancy “Red” Drew’s mystery of the week.  Let’s get out our notepad, magnifying glass and tweezers and take an in depth look at the Texas A&M Aggies.  This week’s W2W4 features intel from A&M’s games against Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina so we’ve gathered a ton of clues for you this week…

Alabama on Offense

Texas A&M’s “much improved” defense comes into this game ranked 98th in total defense!  We aren’t sure how that constitutes “much improved” but that’s what you’ll hear during Saturday’s broadcast.  Yes, this Aggie defensive group is so good they allowed 684 yards to the same Tennessee team that the Tide held to just 163 yards last week. So, they have improved over what, exactly?  A speed bump?

Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis employs a high risk, high reward strategy as the play caller for the Aggies’ defense. A&M’s defense is small and fast. Chavis uses their speed to attack the passer and he uses run blitzes along with 7, 8 and 9 man fronts in order to outnumber the blockers and shut down the running game.

To the good, the Aggies’ blitz heavy defense ranks second in the country in forcing turnovers, generating 17 this season (seven of them came in one game against Tennessee). Additionally, the Aggies are ranked 16th in the country in sacks – averaging 3.3 per game (Bama is #1 with 3.86 per game). These Aggies want to disrupt the line of scrimmage and just last year they recorded 15 tackles for loss against Alabama.

When you blitz consistently, you put your defenders at risk of giving up the big play and that’s exactly what has happened to Chavis this season. Texas A&M’s aggressive defense has generated sacks, picks and tackles for loss, but they are extremely susceptible to giving up the big play.  The Aggies rank 13th in the SEC in giving up plays of 10 yards or longer. Chavis’ charges have given up a staggering 105 plays over 10 yards. Yowza.

We suspect you’ll see more tackles for loss than you want to see during this game but you should also see some long runs and huge plays in the passing game. Here’s what to watch for when Alabama has the ball…

Here Comes the Boom: Look out Jalen Hurts, the nation’s career leader in sacks will be coming through Cam Robinson’s neighborhood this week. Myles Garrett (#15) is a sure fire NFL first rounder at defensive end. He has size, speed and length, and the week off should have done wonders for his bum ankle. Garrett is a game changer and he’ll have to be neutralized in order for Bama to move the ball.  Garrett still relies primarily on his speed rush around the edges and doesn’t have quite the toolbox that Tim Williams has.

System Overload: So how does one neutralize Garrett and combat the numbers that Chavis will throw at the line of scrimmage? Look for Alabama to continue to use multiple tight ends this week in an effort to out-physical the smaller Aggies at the line of scrimmage. The beauty of guys like OJ Howard and Miller Forristall is that they both have the ability to split out wide as receivers, as well. We think tight ends will be a huge key to this game as they will have to help against Garrett and help against the blitzing safeties, corners, linebackers and team waterboys, as well.

Like Butter: Tennessee actually went the opposite way, using an empty backfield and spreading the Aggies out by using five wide receivers. With the defense spread across the field, the Aggies weren’t able to disguise any blitzes and they played way, way, way off in coverage. UT quarterback Josh Dobbs was able to hit a huge number of quick passes against the off coverage and this completely eliminated the fierce Aggie pass rush.  If Alabama does spread the Aggies out wide, they should be able to successfully play pitch and catch against the off coverage.

It’s Tricky: Throughout his tenure at Alabama, Lane Kiffin has done the complete opposite of what you’d think he’s going to do (on and off the field). When Alabama lines up with multiple tight ends, he’s looked to throw the ball down the field off of play action. When Alabama has spread the defense out, he’s tried to gash the opponent with an interior run. It’s going to be fun to see how Lane attacks the speed & quickness of this smaller Aggies defense.

Shot, Shot, Shot: Chavis will be asking his corners and safeties to lock up Bama’s receivers in man to man all game long. The Aggies will be hell bent on stopping the run since Alabama rushed for over 700 yards in the last two games. If I were Chavis, I’d make Jalen Hurts prove he can beat me thru the air so I would crowd the line of scrimmage with bodies.  This means there should be huge opportunities in the passing game for the Tide. Look for Kiffin to keep his tight ends and backs in to block on first down and challenge the Aggies down the field.

Slot, Slot, Slot: Kiffin will have to play a chess game with Chavis with his slot receivers. Chavis blitzes from the slot on nearly every play so it will be fun to see how Kiffin aligns his receivers to defeat this. Bunch formations could be called upon to confuse the coverages and allow the hot receivers an easy out route against the blitz. If you see an Aggie defender in the slot, more times than not he’s coming (and the safety jumps the hot route).

Play Action:  Against Tennessee and Arkansas, the Aggie linebackers and safeties were extremely aggressive on early downs as they tried to fill gaps and stuff the running game.  This really opens up the middle of the defense and all three opponents we watched took advantage.


  • Safeties – The Aggie safeties are uber aggressive. Alabama will take several shots at them via play action on first down. This will happen early and often.
  • Zone Read – Both South Carolina and Tennessee had success in running the zone read at A&M. When the Aggies do not stack the line of scrimmage and get their numbers into the running lanes, they tend to get pushed around. If you see A&M in a standard 4-2 look, think zone read. Both the USC and UT quarterbacks had huge gainers in the zone read as the Aggie ends were dazed and confused.
  • Cushion – We said it above but A&M is leery about getting beaten over the top so, therefore, their corners play way off of wide receivers. This opens up bubble screens and hitches (and should allow Hurts to get the ball out quickly).
  • Snap Count – Against USC, the Aggies jumped offsides several times. We’re not sure the young true freshman QB is ready to vary the snap count but we bet it’s been talked about this week.
  • Interior Runs – The speed of the A&M defense sure makes it hard to get to the edges. However, aside from Daylan Mack (#5), the middle of the Aggies defense can be brutalized. Tennessee ran for the majority of their 282 yards between their offensive tackles.
  • Backfield in Motion: The Aggies blew coverage after coverage on Alvin Kamara out of the backfield so there should be opportunities in the passing game for Bama’s backs. Slip screens were especially deadly against the Aggies.
  • Goal Line:  Against Arkansas, A&M put 11 men on the line of scrimmage and stuffed them on 10 plays inside the two yard line.  Alabama will have to spread the Aggies out around the goal line in order to get favorable numbers.  Attacking off the tackles would be the best option.
  • Pass Interference: Look for the Aggie corners and safeties to get called for multiple PIs this week.  They will be locked up in one on one situations and Bama’s receivers will have the upper hand in this matchup.
  • OJ Howard: Tennessee, Arkansas and USC found a ton of room with their 3-star tight ends. OJ should have a huge day in the passing game this week.  Arkansas’ tight end would chip on Garrett and then release late into the open middle of the field.
  • Key Defenders: Edge rushers Myles Garrett and Dashon Hall are disruptive and big Daylon Mack is a load at defensive tackle. However, their best playmaker is #6, Justin Evans. He’s asked to do everything for the Aggies and NFL.com actually named him as the defensive player of the midyear in college football.
  • Josh Dobbs:  Dobbs passed for 402 yards against the Aggies.  I mean…

Final Offensive Thoughts

John Chavis will be bringing the house this week but his blitzes will be designed to stuff the running lanes with Aggie jerseys. Lane Kiffin will be challenged to find a way to attack this but not in a way that puts the game squarely on Jalen Hurts’ shoulders. The Aggies force a ton of turnovers so Bama must attack the defense but try to limit the risk. Look for play action on first down and then zone reads whenever Bama can get Chavis into a regular 4-2 look on defense. Bama’s OL should consistently win at the point of attack when A&M’s numbers do not overwhelm them.

Alabama on Defense

Alabama’s defense is coming off a victory that saw them absolutely thrash the Tennessee Vol offense. The Vols had an exceptional running back, a running quarterback who could throw it just well enough to make some plays and they had a couple of playmakers on the outside and Alabama completed dominated each one of them.

Well, this week Alabama faces an exceptional running back, a running quarterback who can throw it just well enough to make some plays and numerous playmakers on the outside. The key difference between UT and Texas A&M is, of course, their offensive lines.

The Tennessee line was just a line drawn in the sand and the Tide easily swept it away. The Aggies’ line is much more stout and they’ve been able to move opposing defenders in such a way that’s allowed A&M to lead the conference in rushing.

Gone are the days of the “Chuck N Duck” Sumlin offenses. Today’s offense features a nice, balanced attack that emphasizes an outstanding running back in Trayveon Williams and a very good running quarterback in Trevor Knight. Williams and Knight are running the zone read offense about as well as it can be done and the Aggies are currently ranked 7th in the country in rushing offense.

However, a closer look at the Aggies’ opponents reveals that the top ranked rushing defense they have faced is South Carolina, who checks in as the 50th ranked rush defense in the country. Alabama, of course, has the #1 rushing defense in the country. Toto, we’re not playing Kansas anymore…

When Trevor Knight is asked to pass, that’s when things get a little wonky for the 5th year senior. He’s completing just 53.5% of his passes and is the 10th rated passer in the SEC. Comparatively, Jalen Hurts is completing 63.5% of his passes as a true freshman. All of this suggests that if the Tide can force Knight to throw, then Bama stands a good chance of winning on Saturday. Here’s how they can do it…

When I Move, You Move: I’m an avid watcher of ESPN Film Room and this week they did a great piece on Trevor Knight’s issues as a passer. When you come into the game completing only 53% of your passes, you have issues and Mr Knight certainly does. If Knight sets his feet and fires to his primary target on time and in rhythm, it’s a beautiful thing to see. However, as soon as Knight becomes antsy and starts patting the ball and nervously moving his feet, all bets (and passes) are off. Look for Jeremy Pruitt to blitz throughout the day with the intent to move Knight from his spot and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Pruitt will be adding a fifth and sixth rusher consistently this week.

Lefty, Lefty, Lefty: For a fifth year senior, Knight makes several true freshmen mistakes. For one, he stares down his primary receiver on every pass attempt and he refuses to work thru his progressions. This means he stares down the route until gives up on it and then tucks and runs. Knight is most comfortable staring (and throwing) to his left, as that’s where the vast majority of his successful throws go. Therefore, look for Alabama to load up numbers against the right tackle and blitz off of Knight’s left side. This should force him to his right and into some uncomfortable throws.

Land of Confusion:  Knight has difficulty throwing the ball between the hashmarks.  I don’t know if it’s just too much traffic or that he just can’t see very well but, either way, he isn’t good at throwing down the middle of the field.

Baby Got Back:  Boy, Trayveon Williams (#5) is outstanding.  He’s got a ton of speed and is waaay more physical than he looks.  I like him a lot and he’s the shifty kind of back that can get big yardage if he finds a crease.  Da’Ron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson will need to control the middle of the line and we think they should fare pretty well.  A&M’s left guard and center appeared to get pushed around a few times on film.

Captain Kirk:  Christian Kirk (#3) is the primary weapon in the passing game.  They typically throw him a ton of bubble screens and then work him out of the slot in an effort to get him lined up on a linebacker.  He’s a handful but most of his catches are within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Goal Line:  Look for A&M to stay in the shotgun and run the zone read in short yardage and goal line situations.  This should allow Alabama to get penetration into the backfield.  Alabama should bring some pressure off of Knight’s left as that’s where he usually goes around the goal line.

Edge Containment:  Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson will continue to be asked to contain the edge in a big, big way this week.  A&M loves to leave defensive ends unblocked and the Tide has countered this by sending their ends on heat seeking missions.  Look for Bama’s unblocked ends to disrupt a number of plays this week.

Shots, Shots, Shots:  Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett and others will have to do a much better this week in defending the one-on-one deep balls.  Arkansas and Ole Miss took advantage of the Tide in on-on-one situations and A&M will most certainly do the same.  The Tide will be bringing pressure so it will be up to the DBs to hold up in man coverage.


  • Knight throws mostly to his left and almost 100% of his throws are outside of either hash. He made big mistakes against UT and USC when he threw down the middle of the field.
  • When A&M lines up trips (three wide receivers) to one side, look for Knight to throw towards the other side to his single receiver. When he throws to the trips formations, he’s usually targeting Christian Kirk (#3) in the slot.
  • When they go deep, look for #11 – Josh Reynolds. They like to line him up as the single wide receiver and have him attack man coverage with a deep route.
  • At the goal line, look for Trevor Knight to fake a handoff up the middle and then run to his left. He’s much stronger than he looks and has crashed in for several touchdowns off of this play.
  • A&M’s backs are horrible at picking up a blitz. Yet another reason to, you know, blitz.
  • The Aggies throw an incredible amount of bubble screens out wide. Bama usually shuts these down easily but their tackling will be tested on Saturday.
  • The Aggies show a ton of fly sweep action.  Any time you see Reuben Foster or Shon Dion-Hamilton by himself as a single linebacker then look for the zone read.  A&M checks the numbers game and they love getting a 5-on-5 situation with their offensive line.  Of course, Pruitt will be reinforcing his numbers with his safeties so it should be a helluva chess match.
  • Delayed blitzes seemed to be effective against the Aggies.
  • Alabama’s defense has allowed 63.9 rushing yards, which leads the nation by more than 20 yards per game.

Final Defensive Thoughts

Unlike Alabama defenses of the past, Jeremy Pruitt is going to bring pressure against the Texas A&M offense.  The broadcast will talk about the day young Trevor Knight lit up the Alabama defense.  In that game, Knight was 32-of-44 for 348 yards and four touchdowns.  However, that was the most maddening defensive effort the Tide has put forth in a long time.  Instead of switching up coverages and blitz looks, Smart just blitzed CJ Mosley up the middle on every play.  Knight then just rolled away from the pressure and took advantage of man to man coverage down the field.  Rest assured that will most certainly not be the game plan this week.

Alabama on Special Teams

As usual, the Tide should own a considerable advantage in field position this week.  JK Scott is the second ranked punter in the conference while A&M checks in 7th in the SEC in average yards per punt.

Meanwhile, Christian Kirk is ranked second in the conference in punt return average but, unfortunately for him, he ranks behind Alabama’s Eddie Jackson and Xavian Marks.  Kirk is a dynamic weapon, though, so we’d be very happy to see him not get a chance to make a return.

The Aggies do hold a considerable advantage at place kicker.  The Aggies have hit 12 of 16 kicks, three of which were over 40 yards.  With his bad miss against Tennessee, Adam Griffith is now ranked 11th in the SEC by hitting just 66.7% of his kicks this year.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The statistical analysis we posted last night (thanks to the Notorious PAB) is proof positive that these two teams are very, very different.  While the Aggies struggled mightily against Arkansas and Tennessee, Alabama had no real issues dispatching them quickly.  A&M features a well balanced offense this time around but if their running game gets stuffed (as it should), then the game will fall squarely on the shoulders of a quarterback completing just over 50% of his passes.  Folks, that ain’t good enough to beat this Bama team.

Final Score:  Bama 42     Texas A&M 20