Bama vs Washington – a Peachy Game Review

This week’s schedule is all out of whack for the Bama Lighthouse so please excuse the lateness of the Washington game review. Like Bill Belichick, we’ve moved on to Clemson with studies of their games against NC State, Pittsburgh, Va Tech and Ohio State on the menu for our viewing pleasure. As a result, the W2W4 should come out on Sunday around 7PM.

However, there are quite a few notes that we need to get out there from the Washington game review and, if you’ve got the time then we’ve got the goods for you. This week’s review is in classic bullet point style – we’ve no time to waste since we’ve got so many games to study. And, like you, I’m anxious to read what I have to say about the upcoming national championship game…

But today’s topic is the Washington game. Of course, before we can get to the Washington game review, we are obligated to spend a good bit of time discussing the firing (spare me the “it was a mutual parting” BS) of Lane Kiffin and the official hiring of Steve Sarkisian.

The Lane Train Has Left the Station – Is that Good or Bad?

I’ve heard from so many of you guys regarding Kiffin’s departure. Many of you guys see the Kiffin firing and the Sarkisian hiring as a tremendous upgrade that should instantly breathe life into a lifeless offense. I honestly don’t see how that can be possible. Here’s why…

First, the offense is the offense…is the offense. Sark will run the same plays Kiffin did with the same personnel groupings. Folks, the Bama offense is the Bama offense. More importantly, Sark cannot block for Korren Kirven, who had an abysmal game against Washington. Sark cannot force Jalen Hurts to work his progressions and throw the ball to open receivers. Hurts has reverted into a one read and scramble quarterback and one edition of “Sark Week” isn’t going to cure that. We’ve been telling you in this space for quite some time that Hurts has been regressing as a passer. He’s completely stopped working his progressions and you are now seeing how bad that can be. Sark will need an entire offseason to coach this out of Hurts.

When is the last time Steve Sarkisian was even an offensive coordinator? If you answered 2008 then you would be correct. There’s a rhythm and a flow to calling plays. There’s a communication that is taking place with the guys in the booth that helps determine the next play and determine the plays after that. Then, once Sark has determined the play, there’s the communication from Sark to the guys holding the boards that has to take place. These things are the things that should not be taken for granted and these are things that could make it even more difficult to get to the line of scrimmage and run a play before the play clock expires.

Lastly, and most importantly, Kiffin and Hurts have been “married” for over a year and along the way they developed a non-verbal communication pattern that all married couples enjoy. You all know what your wife/husband is thinking with just a simple look or a glance from them. Kiffin knew when to push Hurts and when to back off. He knew when to cajole and he knew when to console his true freshman QB. For better or for worse, Kiffin was the “wubbie” or “blankey” for Hurts all season and now the comforting voice that has been there all season is gone. Everyone inexplicably assumes that Hurts can now just quickly remarry and get it on with Sark without missing a beat. Relationships just don’t work that way. Like it or not, Hurts will have a new voice in his ear and it’s not the voice that made him the SEC offensive player of the year.

To the good, whatever Kiffin’s tendencies were that Clemson discovered are now completely worthless and there is an advantage to be gained there. Clemson has no analytics to know what Sark will call on 3&4. And it sounds as though a formerly divided coaching staff will now be a united staff after Kiffin’s dismissal and there’s a tremendous benefit to having a cohesive staff. Players know when there is discord amongst the coaching staff and now with everyone pulling in the same direction (with no unnecessary distractions) then perhaps the Tide offense can roll onward.

Whatever the issues, at the end of the day Saban saw no other alternative but to fire Kiffin and promote Sark. It was not a decision Saban made lightly but a decision he had no other choice but to make. And now we’ll all hold our breath to see what impact this decision will have on the Bama offense.

Ok, enough of that. On to the Washington review…

Alabama on Offense 

Ugh. Fugly. That’s the word we use around the Lighthouse’s home office and that’s the word we use to describe the Tide’s offense against the Huskies. Fugly. We warned that UW had a top defense and that passing windows simply would not be available and, lo and behold, on the first pass of the game we were proven right. Thankfully, Bo Scarborough also proved us right. We told you he would be the weapon that would slayed the Washington Huskies and he most certainly was.

On the night, there were numerous fugly things that changing coordinators likely cannot solve. False starts. Delays of game. Holding. Formation penalties. Piss poor blocking. Piss poor passing attempts. These were the things that tried men’s souls and these are the things that Sark will be trying to clean up this week. Here’s what we saw…


  • Hurts was late on his throw to OJ Howard that was nearly picked. Buddah Baker baited (say that three times fast) Hurts into throwing the corner route to Howard and, had Hurts actually READ the coverage, he could have easily dumped the ball down to Stewart for a nice gainer. We’ve been telling you that Hurts has regressed as a passer and this was on clear display against UW.
  • Coming into the game, UW defenders said that Hurts would look at his first read and first read only and then would scamper if the read wasn’t there. On the Howard throw that was nearly picked, he stared Howard down which allowed Baker to flee his zone responsibility and nearly pick off the pass.
  • Several deep shots were dialed up for Hurts but, each time, he would drop back and stare at the receiver for a moment only to panic and run. This failing is NOT on Kiffin and is not something a new OC can fix with magic fairy dust.
  • On one play action pass attempt Dieter ran a slant out of the slot and was covered tightly. As Hurts stared in this direction, further out wide left Calvin Ridley was also running a slant and he was wide open. Hurts held the ball and took a bad sack.
  • Kiffin tried to out-think the room by calling for a play action pass off the same formation that has blasted out 27 yards on the previous two rushing plays. This resulted in the intentional grounding that took the Tide out of scoring position.
  • Washington started blitzing their safety with big success in the second quarter and Hurts was unable to identify it. If I noticed it, Clemson DC Brent Venables probably saw it, too.
  • On 3&6 and 3&7 Kiffin’s play sheet evidently called for anything other than Hurts throwing a pass. They did not trust Hurts to throw the ball.
  • With 8 mins to go in the game, Kiffin “smartly” dialed up two passes in three plays, running off a mere 52 seconds off the clock with a 24-7 lead. Inexcusable.

Offensive Line

  • Seven penalties on the Bama offense included false starts, delays of game, formation and holding penalties. There were actually two or three other false starts that should have been called but weren’t. Throughout much of Saturday’s contest it looked like Bama’s first game rather than their 14th . Plays were slow getting into the huddle. There was no urgency to get to the line or get the snap off. And the line looked discombobulated and out of sync on numerous occasions. Even the wide receivers were lost at times, not even knowing what the play was right before the snap.
  • Speaking of the line, Ross Pierschbacher and Korren Kirven likely had a miserable day in the film room following the game. UW’s 300 pounders absolutely worked these guys on numerous occasions. Kirven, in particular, was very bad. If you still have the game, watch what happened to him on the 4&1 on Bama’s last possession. Brutal.
  • Tempo was a huge plus for Alabama – particularly with repeated runs. While Washington’s line boasted three 300 pounders, they weren’t exactly in the kind of shape to withstand the Tide’s tempo. This was a critical piece of the limited success the Tide offense had.
  • Cam Robinson really played his ass off. Every big run was to Cam’s side.

Running Backs

  • Scarborough had been a bit player for the entire season but, as we predicted in the W2W4, big Bo was the #1 option in the running game and he was awesome sauce.
  • The number of missed tackles Bo forces is just insane. It’s not fair to be that big, that fast and that nimble.
  • The best thing to happen to the Tide was to get backed up on their own 2 yard line after Browning’s punt. This forced the Tide to hammer the ball off the goal line with the running game and resulted in Bo Scarborough taking over. The offensive play of the game occurred on 3&9 at the Bama 3 yard line. Kiffin called for a counter play that allowed Pierschbacher and Robinson to block down from the left side while Kirven and Howard pulled from the right as lead blockers. The initial push of Pierschbacher and Robinson pinned one side of the running lane leaving Kirven with a perfect angle to block out the defensive end. Howard’s lead block on the linebacker provided the final opening for big Bo to rumble 13 yards for a critical first down.
  • Three plays later, Bo completed perhaps the run of the season. Once again big Cam caved in the left side of the line but the hole closed quickly as two UW defenders hit Bo squarely, seemingly knocking him down. However, Scarborough righted himself with one arm and quickly burst past a completely unaware Ridley (who thought the play was over). Bo then deftly side stepped a safety and then the race was on. Bo raced to the UW 28 where he picked up a block by Ardarius Stewart who hustled his butt off to get there. Bo cut back inside and picked up one final hustling block by…Gehrig “Sprockets” Dieter scoring a pivotal and awesome touchdown for the Tide. In all, Bo showed speed, power, vision, balance, wiggle and heart on his way to a 68 yard run masterpiece that saw him avoid seven different tackles along the way.


  • Speaking of Howard, as we stated in the W2W4 (y’all still read those, right?) he was the #1 receiver for Hurts against the Huskies. I really liked the way they used him out of the backfield – nifty little design that allowed him to get wide open.
  • Gehrig Dieter is one bad ass blocking machine. Dieter enjoyed his best game for the Tide with several key blocks that led to huge gainers. When he first arrived on campus he was a pass catcher only so to watch him evolve as a blocker has been a beautiful thing to see. He had critical blocks on both Bama offensive TDs.
  • After a false start created a 3&6 from the UW 24, the Tide had to burn a timeout as they couldn’t get a play called and snapped before taking a delay of game. After having time to think about it, Kiffin called for a wide receiver (Stewart) to run a sweep from the shotgun position. Um? There was a lane there for Stewart and, if he were, you know, a running back, he would have likely seen it. But, not having ever read blocks from that angle/position, Stewart misread the blocks and gained one measly yard. That one is on Kiffin.

Alabama on Defense

What can you say about the Bama defense? Are they the best of all time? Well, save for one lone drive, the #4 offense in the country was completely and totally shut down by this amazing group of defenders. Coming into the game, Browning averaged a ridiculous 9.3 yards per ATTEMPT but Alabama’s defense limited him to just 3.95 yards per attempt Saturday. A team that averaged 200 yards rushing ended up with just 44 rushing yards. It was a dominating effort. Here are a few things we saw when we re-watched the game…


  • Interestingly, Alabama flanked Ronnie Harrison over the slot and moved Rueben Foster out to check the tight end who was flanked out wide. This vacated the entire middle of the defense and Browning took advantage by running for a big first down early in the game. Bama kept someone in the middle after this.
  • I’m surprised Peterson didn’t try to speed up the tempo of his offense.
  • I’m surprised Peterson didn’t dial up ANY trick plays.
  • In the second half, Pruitt dialed up a few fun blitzes using Anderson to drop into zone coverage. Pre-snap, Anderson showed blitz up the A gap but at the snap, he dropped into the zone that either Tony Brown or Averett had vacated when they blitzed. This was always to Tim Williams’ side, allowing him to work in one on one situations.
  • Wonder if the Championship Game refs will be looking for Anderson to clap his hands in an effort to cause an early snap again?
  • The Husky receivers did not run down the field on running plays so the Bama DBs could read run and come up to provide run support.

Defensive Line

  • Early on, what Dalvin Tomlinson was doing to the Huskies right guard was enough to call PETA onto the scene. Washington’s entire blocking scheme had to change in order to allow their center to help their right guard as much as possible. Credit Todd Blackledge for calling attention to this mismatch.
  • Washington tight ends simply could not block Allen or Anderson.
  • In the games I watched leading up to this game, Washington’s offensive line consistently blocked the second level of the defenses they faced. Alabama’s defensive line didn’t allow this. Their ability to stack the Husky OL at the line prohibited their ability to get to the Tide linebackers.
  • Jonathan Allen had a helluva play that flew under the radar a bit. On a stunt inside, Allen saw that the right guard chose to run downfield rather than pick him up on the pass rush. Allen instinctively looked into the backfield to see Browning throwing a screen to Gaskin, who was hiding behind the guard. Allen tackled him for a loss instantly. Savvy move and read by Allen. As if size, strength and speed isn’t enough – he has a tremendous football IQ, too.
  • Ryan Anderson’s interception was just so outstanding. First off, remember, he’s a defensive end, ok? Second, his job was to rush the passer but peel off if the back flared out for a pass. His ability on the play to rush the passer, re-route in mid stride and pick up the back, the route and the ball was amazing. And then the “get off me bitch” slap of the running back was Marcel Dareus-esque!


  • Reuben Foster blew a coverage on Gaskin, as did Rashaan Evans. Ryan Anderson blew a coverage on the H-back once. Look for Leggett and Gallman to be utilized in the passing game in an effort to take advantage of this.
  • Tim Williams is fast off the edge. Rashaan Evans is faster.
  • Rashaan Evans came up from his LB position and absolutely STONED a pulling guard. This completely disrupted the running play….and the guard’s equilibrium!

Defensive Backs

  • Anthony Averett played the game of his life. What you saw was him dominating in pass coverage but what you likely didn’t see is how hard Averett came up in run support on the edges. In a word, he was outstanding and was Alabama’s best corner once again on this night. Washington was confident and driving for the second possession in a row when Averett ripped the ball out to cause a fumble – a game changing moment. Later, he even recorded a sack!
  • Marlon Humphrey was bested with a double move for Washington’s lone touchdown. Look for Clemson to dial up about a dozen double moves Monday night. Watson will have the ability to extend the plays and allow his receivers to work on longer patterns.
  • Tony Brown probably played his best game in a crimson jersey. He blew up a bubble screen, played tight coverage throughout the game (giving up two passes) and he absolutey TRUCKED Gaskin when he tried to provide some pass protection, resulting in a huge sack. His physicality was shocking!
  • John Ross was not the same player after Ronnie Harrison ear-holed him with a vicious hit on a slant in the second quarter.

Special Teams

  • Ross is an exceptional kick off returner so tackling him inside the 20 yard line on three separate occasions showed extraordinary coverage by Alabama’s special teams.
  • Do not discount the field goal that Adam Griffith stroked in the 2nd After the Georgia Dome was such a house of horrors for him against Florida, it was great to see him drill that kick with confidence.
  • Perhaps the MVP of the game should have been JK Scott since he boomed 8 punts for a 45.9 yard average, including four punts that landed inside the 20. Bama dominated field position and it was no small reason that Washington’s offense was bottled up.
  • Can someone please explain to me why deploying TWO punt returners would have been a bad idea? And for the love of God, Trevon, catch the ball instead of running away from it! If he continues to give up 10, 20 and 30 yards of field position by letting the ball bounce then I don’t see how he retains his starting punt returner status.

Final Thoughts

The Tide coaching staff knew early on that the Washington offense did not have what it takes to score against Alabama’s vaunted defense. With that knowledge in hand, they also knew the only way Bama could lose the game would be to repeatedly hand the ball over to the Huskies.   So, the Tide brain trust invoked an offensive game plan that would make even Gene Stallings say, “Men, if I had my druthers, I might open it up a bit.”

So, take consolation in the fact that Alabama didn’t have to do anything more than run the ball and generate more than 7 points to win the game. But, take notice of the fact that the offensive line, quarterbacks and offensive coaching staff struggled in a way that we haven’t seen a Tide offense struggle since Mike Shula was at the helm. Perhaps Sark can pull just the right strings to tighten things up…and say the right things to get his true freshman QB to loosen up and play to his capabilities.

Time will tell. And time is something Sarkisian doesn’t happen have to make any significant changes to the Tide’s attack.


W2W4 in the 2016 Iron Bowl

The 2016 Iron Bowl is upon us and our good friends in Vegas are expecting it to be a beat down of epic proportions. The line opened at Alabama (-18.5) with the news that Kam Pettway, Sean White and Chandler Cox are all less than 100% for Saturday’s contest. Hell, even the Auburn eagle isn’t 100% healthy after smacking himself into the goal post last week. And, the betting line may increase to triple digits if Auburn announces that poor ole Jeremy Johnson will be trotted out onto the Bryant-Denny grass as Auburn’s sacrificial offering to the god of football (aka Nick Saban).

When we turned on the tape this week to watch Auburn take on Vandy, Georgia and Alabama A&M (yes, sigh, we watched this because we had to evaluate Jeremy Johnson), we saw an Auburn team that ran the ball very well but struggled mightily to throw that darned ole forward pass. However, the Tigers’ defense (particularly their front four) was absolutely legitimately nasty in all three games. In many, many ways these Tigers remind us of those cats down in Baton Rouge so honestly it’s no wonder that both sets of Tigers won and lost the game they played against one another in September.

Prior to Auburn’s loss to Georgia (here’s a gentle reminder to you all to put that Christmas card in the mail to Kirby Smart and Maurice Smith), Saturday’s Iron Bowl tilt was supposed to be for all the SEC West marbles. Now, with Alabama having clinched the West and a birth in the SEC Championship Game, instead of playing for all the marbles they’ll be playing for peanuts and pride. But, when these two hated instate rivals get together, peanuts and pride are more than enough to play for when you get statewide bragging rights to go with it.

Everyone knows that this game should be a blowout, right? Well, if you are an Alabama fan then the Lighthouse staff feels this game will be reminiscent to Bama’s 10-0 victory over LSU. Alabama completely dominated the LSU game and could have won the game by a score of 20-3 or something like that but they never could move the ball consistently.

If you are an Auburn fan, then we can see this game playing out much like the Georgia loss last week. Georgia completely dominated the Auburn game (yes, Auburn fans, UGA outgained Auburn 343 to 164, had a 21 to 10 edge in first downs and held a 39 to 21 minute edge in time of possession – that’s domination) and the score could have and should have been much worse than the 13-7 final.

So, we see this game being in the 20 to 6 range in favor of Alabama. But, how will they get there? Here’s what to watch for in the 81st rendition of the Iron Bowl…

Alabama on Offense

Recently, the Tide offense has ebbed and flowed with high water marks against Texas A&M and Mississippi State interspersed with draught like levels against LSU and Chattanooga. We’d rather be able to tell you the Tide offense is peaking at just the right time but uneven passing performances by Jalen Hurts and yet another offensive line shakeup at right guard leaves us chewing on our fingernails this week.

As we watched Auburn’s defense against Vandy, Georgia and Alabama A&M, it was very obvious that the Tigers’ front four is not overrated at all. We’ve heard a lot about Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams this season and, when you turn on the tape, they jump off the screen immediately. Either of these cats could start for Alabama.

Defensively, Auburn checks in at number 18 in the nation in total defense, giving up 334.5 yards per game. As a comparison, LSU is ranked 11th, giving up 308 yards per game. Our film work revealed that Auburn defends the run much, much better than they defend the pass and their rankings certainly bear that out. Auburn is 17th in the country against the run but they are ranked 54th against the pass. Part of their lack of success against the pass is due to this surprising stat – even though the Tigers have Lawson and Adams along their front line, they are ranked 50th in the country in generating sacks this season. But, more on this in a moment.

We envision an offensive game plan that will be eerily similar to the Ole Miss game plan from earlier this season. Look for bubble screens, fly sweeps, swing passes and any other play call that can attack the flanks of the Auburn defense. The gnarly teeth of this Tiger defense is between the tackles but, when you get outside, the purr like a kitten. Kiffin will stretch the field horizontally and will keep the pedal to the metal with a hurry up approach designed to tucker out Auburn’s big front four.

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

Flanking Movements: Vandy had a ton of success with a flanker reverse, fly sweeps and any many other outside runs they attempted. Vandy & Georgia also had success bouncing interior runs outside. Georgia’s bread and butter against Auburn was tossing the ball or swinging the ball to Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and letting them get outside of the Auburn interior. This was wildly successful and should be for Alabama, as well. FYI – Georgia also ran a successful reverse so this should be something Kiffin is carrying in his tool bag.

OJ Should Be a Killer: Sorry, couldn’t help myself with the title. OJ Howard should have a massive, massive game this week against the Tigers. Vandy and Georgia both found their tight ends wide open against the Auburn zone and against man coverage so OJ should be available in the passing game. Georgia, in particular, ran a crossing route with their slot receiver that occupied one of the Auburn linebackers. At the same time, they crossed their tight end from the opposite side and, with the LB vacating his spot to pick up the wide receiver, the crossing tight end was left all alone.

Twilight Zone: Auburn seems to play a bend but don’t break zone coverage between the 20’s and it’s designed to force a team to methodically drive the ball down the field. However, if the Bama offensive line can hold up against Auburn’s front four, look for Kiffin to manipulate the secondary in such a way that leaves some receivers wide, wide open. He’ll flood zones or will clear them out completely and this should leave the backs, tight ends and slots wide open.

The Key to the Game: Montravious Adams (#1) is one sick beast. His ability to get off the ball at the snap is second to none and he brings five stars worth of size and athleticism to the defensive tackle position. Carl Lawson (#55) is equally good off the edge so Alabama’s front will be severely tested this week. Look for Kiffin to roll the pocket in an effort to change the launch point so that Adams and Lawson spend much of their day chasing rather than hunting. With Cam Robinson and Korren Kirven’s injuries, Lawson and Adams could have a very disruptive day. In particular, pray for Kirven. I don’t think he matches up well against Adams at all.

Alignment: Many plays can succeed or fail even before the football is snapped and that’s simply due to how the defense lines up. Auburn heavily overplays the strong side (the side of the line where the
TE lines up) so look for Alabama to threaten a fly sweep to the strong side and then counter back to the weakside with pulling guards. Georgia did this and it was a beautiful thing.

Deep Shots: I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to watch Hurts execute a perfect play action fake and load up to throw the deep ball only to see him tuck and run. Georgia’s Riley Ridley (Calvin’s brother) blew by Auburn’s corners repeatedly, getting either a big gainer or a pass interference penalty. Carlton Davis (#6) & Javaris Davis (#31) were both beaten by Ridley multiple times. Deep shots down the sidelines will be available and Hurts is going to have to do a much, much better job in giving his receivers an opportunity to make a play down the field. He just needs to throw the damn ball.


  • Bubbles: Bubble screens appear to be effective against Auburn’s zone. Again, anything on the perimeter looks very tasty this week.
  • Fly Sweeps: See bubbles above. Ardarius Stewart could have a field day.
  • Motion: Look for Kiffin to use a lot of motion way out wide this week in an effort to identify if Auburn is playing zone or man. We think a back or TE will motion out wide (wider than the widest receiver) in an effort to see what the corner does. If the corner slides off of the wide receiver and picks up the TE/RB, then Auburn is in zone. If a linebacker or safety runs outside to match the formation, they’ll be in man.
  • Play Action: Another reason OJ Howard should be open is the aggressiveness of the Auburn linebackers. They’ll be hell bent to stop the run and they are overly aggressive anyway so look for some heavy play action on first down to draw the LBs up and open up passing lanes down the middle. Vandy had a lovely time doing this.
  • Zone Read: Vandy brought in a running back and executed the zone read to perfection a few times. Once again, Jalen Hurts’ legs should be successful in the zone read (especially if he bounces outside).
  • Push: Vandy and Georgia tired out the Auburn front and eventually began getting a solid push at the line of scrimmage. Even with the Tigers’ depth, they appeared to get winded in the second half.
  • Underneath: We can’t emphasize this enough – Alabama will have numerous opportunities throwing the football underneath the zone. Look for Jacobs to have room to maneuver out of the backfield and he’s shown he can be deadly in the open field. Vandy even ran their wide outs on in-routes and they were left wide open – usually because they had cleared a zone with their tight end.
  • Adams: Seriously, Montravious Adams is a beast. Here are some consecutive notes that I took on him: “Center was picked off by #57 and Adams came free and nearly killed the quarterback. Adams with a spin move and he blew by the guard. Adams stunts with Lawson – mercy, it’s an onslaught. Adams beats the guard again and forces the pass to be thrown away.” I think Kirven will struggle mightily and I think Josh Casher may be inserted into the lineup to see if he can do any better.

Final Thoughts

Last week’s lackluster performance by the offense shouldn’t give Tide fans too much pause. Cam Robinson and Korren Kirven will start but it will be interesting to see how healthy they are because they’ll have to be at their best against Lawson and Adams. Vanderbilt and Georgia were both able to gain yards on the ground when attacking the edges and they both found open receivers against the Auburn zone. Kiffin should be able to find a few ways to put up some points and just a few points is all Alabama will need this week.

Alabama on Defense

What can you say about this Alabama defense. I mean, they haven’t given up a touchdown since the Texas A&M game! And then there’s the woeful Auburn Tiger offense – it’s an offense where if you have a helmet and shoulder pads and are standing on the sidelines, they could ask you to take a snap from center. Sean White, John Franklin III, Jeremy Johnson, Chandler Cox and Kerryon Johnson have all taken snaps this season and we have no reason to believe that this will change on Saturday. Our “little birds” report that White is dealing with a torn labrum and, while we think he’ll play, he’ll struggle to perform against this Bama defense.

Kam Pettway is reportedly coming back but he’ll also be less than 100% and that will certainly impact the Auburn running game. Malzhan won’t ask Pettway to carry the ball 30 times and carry the burden for the Tiger offense so while we think Pettway will carry the football, he’ll be a supporting cast member and not the lead player. Even Kerryon Johnson and Chandler Cox are dealing with injuries so it’s a battered and bruised Tiger bunch that’s coming to Bryant-Denny.

But, does it matter who plays? This season, Alabama’s defense shut down the prolific zone read running of MSU’s Nick Fitzgerald. They stoned Leonard Fournette who surely is better than a less than healthy Kam Pettway. And, remember, Kirby Smart shut down this Auburn offense with a vastly inferior group of defenders. Even Pat Dye would be hard pressed to explain to the Tiger nation how the Gus Bus will find the end zone this week. Here’s what to watch for when Alabama stuffs the Auburn offense this week…

Bouncy House: For all of the love of Pettway’s interior running, his best runs come when he starts up the middle and then bounces outside to his left. The Auburn OL executes man on man drive blocking and this bunches the defenders between the tackles. With the linebackers slamming the interior gaps, Pettway then bounces outside and turns the corner. Kerryon Johnson also loves to bounce his wildcat runs to the left, as well. Ryan Anderson, Jonathan Allen and others will have to contain the edges this week but, if you’ve read this blog, you know no one in the country sets the edge better than Alabama.

Unblocked Defensive Ends: Auburn loves to leave opposing defensive ends unblocked so look for Alabama to attack the mesh point with reckless abandon. Tackles for loss, anyone?

Wildcat: We think the wildcat will be a prominent formation for Auburn this week. Look for Alabama’s safeties to crash down into the running lanes in an effort to cut this play off at the knees. Johnson loves to start up the middle and bounce outside so Fitzpatrick and Harrison will have to come up and make plays. We also suspect there will be a trick play off of this that will allow Scott Cochran to laugh and scream, “Run another trick play, b-tch!”

Pulling Guards: If you see the Auburn guards pull, know that is where the play is going. Every. Time.

Short, Short Man: Whether it’s Sean White or Jeremy Johnson or Donald Trump, you can expect everything they have to be short. Short passes, I mean. Short curls and stop routes seem 90% of the Auburn passing attack and they take place within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage. They’ll mix in a variety of swings and flares to the backs and fly sweep guys but when they throw the ball “down the field” beyond the line of scrimmage, look for a three step drop and a curl/hitch/stop route. Bama defenders will be squatting on this and it will allow Saban to commit his safeties to stopping the run.

The Jeremy Johnson Effect: So, I sat thru the Auburn vs Alabama A&M game so that I could bring you these few sentences. You are welcome, by the way! So, JJ looked pretty decent when he took a three step drop and threw the ball to the one guy he was looking at and this was most of what they asked him to do. He never “read” the defense and only threw the ball down the field a couple of times – once overthrowing and missing a wide open receiver for a touchdown. On both of his down the field throws, he lofted the ball up, kind of “wishing” the ball on its journey rather than firing it with confidence. But, he did run the zone read quite a bit and is certainly more equipped to run it than Sean White. If I’m Gus, I’m starting JJ – to ask White to go up against the #1 defense in the country and do so when White is clearly less than 50% healthy would just be cruel to ask that of the kid.

Sean White: This poor kid cannot throw the ball down the field. He hasn’t thrown in practice for weeks and when he has thrown the ball against Vandy and Georgia, the ball flutters and has nothing on it. If White starts or plays any significant time in the game, consider this to be good news for the Tide.

Eye Candy: The Malzahn/Lashlee offense uses a variety of motions and formations designed to get the defense to misalign and get outnumbered. Alabama will have to read their keys and be extremely sound in their coverages – this is where not having Eddie Jackson is a big deal. But, of course, by this time Minkah Fitzpatrick and the crew should have adjusted – it’s just that Auburn stresses alignments like no other. That being said, the linebackers will be stressed this week as Auburn tries to manipulate them into blowing a few coverages on their running backs.

The Pruitt Factor: Georgia and Vandy both scored hits in the backfield when they brought delayed blitzes from their linebackers so look for Alabama to be ultra-aggressive this week, which is Pruitt’s forte. We’ve long said that Pruitt’s defense has fared much better against Gus than Kirby Smart said and this week posted an article to prove it. The Gus Bus typically smacks into the guard rail against Pruitt’s defenses, averaging six fewer points and 23 fewer yards than against Kirby Smart. Gus has never beaten a Pruitt defense and we don’t think that will change this week.



  • If Auburn rushes up to the line of scrimmage and snaps the ball within 9 seconds, the play will be a zone read running play. Typically, their philosophy has changed to the point where now they just pick their spots to go fast – they don’t do it the whole game anymore.
  • Jalen Harris (#85) struggles much of the time he’s asked to block so look for Alabama to work him over as they make their way into the Auburn backfield.
  • Right tackle Robert Leff (#70) also looked like a turnstile at times during the Vandy and Georgia games. If he and Harris line up next to each other, it’s a good bet that penetration will be coming from Auburn’s right side.
  • That being said, Braden Smith (#71) and Alex Kozan (#63) are two of the best guards in the country. Alabama’s interior players like Da’Ron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson will have to anchor very well this week in the middle of the line. AU likes to double team the tackles so Payne and Tomlinson will be put to the test. Thankfully, they excel at holding their position and reestablishing the line of scrimmage – should be an epic battle.
  • Auburn had a bunch of dropped passes in the games I watched so, in the unlikely event that they get a catchable ball, it’s not a certainty that the ball will be caught.
  • Bubble screens, fake screens and more bubble screens are the majority of the Auburn throws. They also love to get their backs out on wheel routes so Bama’s backers will likely be challenged in the passing game.
  • When Auburn goes empty but still has a running back in the game (lined up out wide), look for the RB to get the ball on a jet sweep.
  • If the AU quarterback lines up under center, look for a speed sweep to a receiver. Regardless, Auburn really does stress the flanks of the defense. They love to give the ball to their speed guys around the end.
  • Alabama will have HUGE success when they blitz Rueben Foster up the A/B gap. Georgia’s blitzes were very effective, particularly up the middle.
  • Alabama leads the SEC in scoring defense (12.2), total defense (259.5) and, most importantly this week, rushing defense (68.8).

Final Thoughts

Jeremy Pruitt has pretty much owned the Gus Bus since he became a collegiate defensive coordinator. Much like Malzahn, Pruitt’s roots are in high school football where he had to concoct an aggressive defense to combat the speed and diversity of formations with these hurry up, no huddle offenses. As a result, Pruitt has been better prepared to stop the Auburn attack than Kirby Smart (and now I have the numbers to prove it). Smart’s squad limited Auburn to ZERO first downs in the second half and he did so with inferior talent…so, imagine what Pruitt’s wrecking crew will do to the Auburn Tigers on Saturday.

Alabama on Special Teams

The 2016 version of the Iron Bowl will feature two of the best players in the country on special teams. For Alabama, JK Scott continues to lead the conference in punting average with a silly 48.5 yard average. His ability to flip the field and force opponents to put together long drives in order to score has been instrumental in Alabama leading the country in total defense. Auburn punter Kevin Phillips is 9th in the conference in with a 41.6 yard punting average.

Forcing the Tigers to put together long drives will be a key to this game because any time Auburn gets to the Bama 35 yard line, you can pretty much chalk up a field goal for the Tigers. Daniel Carlson is the best field goal kicker in the country, hitting 22 of 25 field goals on the season and he’s 3 of 5 on field goals from 50+.

Oddly enough, Adam Griffith actually comes into this game riding a hot streak, making his last five kicks. Griffith’s last miss was a 42 yarder against LSU. For the season, Griffith is now 14 of 20 but he’s only hit 2 of 5 kicks beyond 40 yards.

In the return game, neither team really does much when they return kick offs or punts these days. Nationally, Auburn is ranked #83 in kick returns while Alabama is ranked #92. Of course, Carlson usually just bangs the thing thru the end zone so that, along with Auburn being challenged to score, means it’s unlikely the Tide will get many chances to return a kick.

In the punt return game, Alabama’s return game hasn’t nearly been as good since Eddie Jackson went down with an injury. Jackson averaged a mind blowing 23 yards per return while Trevon Diggs averages just 4.6. On the other side of the field, Auburn’s Marcus Davis is averaging 7.1 yards per return. It’s unlikely the return game will have much of an impact this week.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The game will come down to Alabama’s offense versus Auburn’s defense. Frankly, Alabama’s struggles against LSU will likely be revisited this week because Auburn has a very salty defense. Auburn is also the #2 ranked red zone defense so moving the ball as we outlined in the offensive section above should happen between the 20s but turning these drives into touchdowns will be incredibly important and difficult this week.

On the other side of the ball, we simply don’t see how Auburn is going to generate many points. Auburn is so incredibly run heavy this season and that’s just not the way to beat this Alabama D. Auburn ranks 5th nationally in rushing attempts with 573 but is ranked 119th in passing attempts. With Alabama ranking #1 in the country against the run, this doesn’t bode well for the Tigers. Auburn will have to throw the football to win and that’s clearly not something they want to do.

For those looking for an upset this week, don’t. For all of the mystique of this rivalry, I’ve said it for years that the better team almost always wins the Iron Bowl, and they do. The team with the better record wins 82% of the time and when the teams are separated by three or more wins, the team with the better record wins a staggering 92% of the time. That percentage will go up after this week…

Final Score: Alabama 23   Auburn 6



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.