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…

Quarterback

  • 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.

Receivers

  • 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…

Strategy

  • 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!

Linebackers

  • 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.

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