W2W4 Alabama vs Washington

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

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

And then there’s Washington.

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

Is Washington ready?

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

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

Alabama on Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidebits

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

Final Thoughts on Offense

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

Alabama on Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidebits

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

Final Thoughts on Defense

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

Special Teams

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts and Prediction

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

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

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

 

Final Score:   Alabama 24   Washington 20

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

W2W4 Alabama vs Mississippi State

The Mississippi State Bulldogs are coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium on quite a high after defeating the #4 ranked Texas A&M Aggies.  Ordinarily that might give the Bama Lighthouse staff a bit of a scare but, after reviewing the game, we are forecasting a big, big Bama win for breakfast Saturday morning.

Aggie QB Trevor Knight appeared to be injured going into the game and, when he was on the field, he missed a multitude of wide open receivers during the game.  Once Knight was officially knocked out of the game (he should have been removed long before he was taken off by the medical staff – he went 5 of 14 for goodness sakes), backup QB Jake Hubenak torched the Bulldogs, going 11 of 17 for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

Throughout the game, Aggie receivers were left wide, wide open to the point where we wondered if this was an anomaly or if this was business as usual for the MSU secondary.  Turns out, the Bulldogs are ranked #104 in pass defense, giving up 264 yards per game thru the air.  So, the kinda suck at the whole pass defense thing.  Disagree?  Well, Samford threw for 468.  Kentucky’s awful QB threw for 292.  Even UMass threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns.

Now MSU did shut down a pretty good A&M rushing attack but, to be honest, the Aggies were playing left handed with Trevor Knight being banged up and eventually having to leave the game.  So, as any good crack analytical staff would do, the Lighthouse researchers decided to check out how MSU has fared at stopping the run this season.  UMass rushed for 138.  LSU rushed for 177.  Auburn rushed for 228 and Kentucky even bludgeoned the Bulldogs for 262 yards on the ground.  All told, MSU’s rushing defense ranks 47th in the country, giving up 151 yards on the ground per game.

So, there you have it.  Mississippi State’s defense appears to be the perfect cure for a Bama offense that has been struggling to throw the ball effectively.  And, if all else fails, Bama should be able to pound the rock down the Dawgs’ throat.  Here’s what else to watch for this week…

Alabama on Offense

Honestly, A&M had wide open receivers running free in the MSU secondary from the opening snaps of the game.  Double moves were particularly deadly to the Dawgs as they always seemed to bite on the outs and then were beaten on the ups.  Slants, curls, digs, corners, bubbles and swings were all open.  MSU’s front four looks to be decent but their back seven appears to be very slow and relatively unathletic.  They look like me trying to chase my dog down in the backyard – not pretty.

This week we think the Bama offense can name their score. Kiffin will come out throwing because he roughly has two games left to get Jalen Hurts untracked as a downfield passer.  The Tide should be able to work on this throughout the game because we don’t anticipate MSU being able to score many points.  Therefore, Kiffin and Co can take as many chances as their Hurts desires.  Again, if all else fails, MSU can’t stop the run either so Alabama has a safety net if needed.

Here are a few other things to watch for…

Double Vision:  We think MSU will follow LSU’s defensive game plan and will play the Tide’s receivers straight up with their corners and concentrate on defending the run.  This will leave these little Doggies on an island where Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart should be able to operate much more freely this week.  Look for Hurts to pump fake on an out and then fire the ball down the field just as one of Bama’s receivers is completing a double move.

Abracadabra:  We anticipate a ton of drop backs for Hurts this week which means eventually he’ll be able to break the pocket and get MASSIVE yardage with his legs.  MSU doesn’t have the athleticism to catch him in the open field so look for a few more big gainers as Hurts escapes the pocket.  State used a spy on Knight but the spy was way too slow and was essentially stuck in no-man’s land as he neither rushed nor played pass defense.  It was like they played 10 on 11.  Also, when A&M used an empty set, State countered with a four man defensive front and one linebacker, essentially playing the Aggies five-on-six with Knight playing the role of a running back.

Right Round:  Look for Bama’s backs to spin right round the corner nearly every time they run wide Saturday morning.  Did we mention MSU’s linebackers seem slow?  A&M backs turned the corner a few times last week.

Cheap Thrills:  A cheap way to get Jalen in rhythm will be to isolate any of the Tide receivers on State’s linebackers – in particular, Calvin Ridley.  When A&M went to an empty set they were somehow able to line up Christian Kirk against linebacker Richie Brown (#39).  This was easy, easy pickins.  For the game, Kirk caught 7 passes for 144 yards and we think Ridley should have similar numbers this week.

I’m Still Standin:  MSU will sometimes have all but two of their defensive linemen standing up at the snap.  Bama should automatically check to a run if they see this because, as we all know, leverage is king.  The low man wins 99% of the battles and State often invites their opponents to get up underneath their defensive line and put them on roller skates.

Tidebits

  • Look for State to blitz their slot defenders repeatedly in an effort to attack the mesh point of the zone read.
  • State also showed a four man front but would walk up a defender late to form more of a five man front.  Again, this is geared to stuff the running lanes.
  • AJ Jefferson (#47) is an outstanding defensive end.  This Jefferson is moving on up the tackles for loss list as he ranks #4 in the SEC in TFLs.
  • Look for Alabama to take multiple deep shots.  The Aggies beat MSU deep badly on five different occasions (though not all of them were caught).
  • State was hell bent on stopping the Aggies’ running game and the Bulldogs chose to leave their DBs in one-on-ones outside.  This meant MSU played 3-over-3 on the outside which should lend to numerous effective bubble screens for the Tide.
  • On more than one occasion, MSU misaligned their defense to the tight end side of the formation and failed to put enough bodies on that side of the field.  Each time they do this, Bama should attack this via the ground and will have a field day attacking the outmanned Dawgs.
  • At the goal line, State again plays straight man to man and they switch off the crossing routes inside the five yard line.  This effectively stops any slants but it gives up room for some out routes.  Look for Alabama to hit a couple of out routes near the goal line this week.

Alabama on Defense

What can you say about this unit?  Any fears about them being undersized or having a lack of depth were put to rest last week against LSU as the completely and totally dominated the one dimensional Tigers.

This week, Mississippi State comes in sporting a very similar offense to Alabama.  The Bulldogs struggle throwing the ball and are tied with Alabama, ranking 80th in the country in passing offense.  And, like Alabama, the Bulldogs’ bread and butter is their 26th ranked running game led by QB Nick Fitzgerald and his 839 yards rushing, good for 5th in the conference.

But, guess what Alabama does pretty dang well?  They stop the run like no one else in college football.  Alabama is ranked #1 in rushing defense, giving up just 66 yards on the ground per game.  The next closest team is San Diego State who gives up 86 yards on the ground.  That’s an obscene stat – Alabama’s defense is 20 yards better than the next closest team in rushing defense.  If you want to challenge this Bama defense, you’d better be bringing a gunslinger like Chad Kelly or Austin Allen to the party.  Nick Fitzgerald is ranked 9th in the conference in QBR and is 8th in the conference in completion percentage (56%) – not exactly the right recipe to defeat this Bama bunch.

Dan Mullen has never, ever had any semblence of success on the ground against a Nick Saban defense and it won’t start Saturday.  Nick Fitzgerald isn’t the type of QB who can carry a team with on his right shoulder so we look for the Tide D to rule the day once again.  Here are a few little nuggets to keep an eye on…

Short, Short Man:  Fitzgerald throws virtually everything outside and short.  Look for Alabama’s corners to squat on the short throws and we anticipate the Tide D getting a NOT (non-offensive touchdown) in the way of a pick six this week.

Land of Confusion:  Fitzgerald also doesn’t appear to have a ton of pocket presence so look for a few sacks, including maybe a strip sack.  He just holds the ball too long…

Is that Tough Enough:  Ok, so the MSU quarterback stares down receivers, throws nothing but short passes and lacks pocket awareness.  So what does he do well?  Well, while Fitzgerald looks gangly he’s actually a very strong and smooth runner.  We won’t be surprised if he makes a few plays with his legs – he isn’t ranked 5th in the conference in rushing for no reason.  But, most of his damage was made by him running off the edge and, as we’ve said since we started this blog, nobody in college football contains the edge like Alabama does.

Dak Attack:  On third downs, just like last year with Dak Prescott, look for Dan Mullen to call on his QB to get a first down with his legs.  MSU will empty the backfield showing pass but everyone on the planet will know that a QB draw is imminent.

Tidebits

  • Fred Ross (#8) is the Bulldogs’ go-to receiver.  Ross has 54 catches this season, twice as many as anyone else on the roster.  Stop Ross and you stop the passing attack.
  • Stop Fitzgerald and you stop MSU’s rushing attack.  There is very little diversity with this Dan Mullen offense.
  • Fitzgerald is 6’5 but he still had at least three passes batted down by the Aggies.  The A&M defensive line anticipated the short, quick throws and were able to get their hands up to knock down a few throws.
  • The Bulldogs throw a ton of bubble screens which Alabama typically eats for breakfast.  Good thing it’s an 11AM kick…
  • The MSU line seemed relatively effective but it was hard to tell since Myles Garrett was injured and held out of most of the game.
  • Zone read, zone read, zone read – that’s what you can expect from State’s game plan.  Alabama’s defense was built to defend this style offense.

Alabama on Special Teams

JK Scott is now the #1 ranked punter in the league with a 48.12 yard average per punt.  Alabama should dominate field position all morning and afternoon long since State’s punter is ranked 11th in the conference with a 39.75 yard punting average.  Additionally, Bama’s punt return team still ranks 6th in the country while MSU checks in ranked 114th in average punt returns.

Lastly, Mississippi State actually has a kicker who is struggling worse than Adam Griffith.  Westin Graves is 9 of 15 on the year, missing three times from inside of 30 yards (including once last week against Texas A&M).  Griffith, meanwhile, is 11 of 17 on the season, missing three times from over 40 yards out and two times from over 30 yards out.  Thankfully, this game should not come down to a kicking contest.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

Mississippi State simply isn’t the type of team that can challenge the Alabama Crimson Tide this season.  On offense, the Bulldogs are only good at running the football and defensively they excel at nothing.  Look for Alabama to be able to name their score Saturday morning unless they somehow fall prey to the dreaded 11AM kickoff curse.  Will there be a letdown after the LSU game?  Maybe.  Can MSU capitalize on this?  Absolutely not.  Saturday should be filled with mimosas, kegs and eggs….and Mississippi State team that gets scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced and topped…

Final Score:  Alabama 38   Mississippi State 7

 

On this Veteran’s Day, the Bama Lighthouse would like to extend our heartfelt love and gratitude to every man and woman who has served this great country of ours.

 

 

 

W2W4 Alabama versus LSU

What can you make of this LSU football team? Early embarrassing losses to Wisconsin and Auburn have turned out to be not so embarrassing losses after all. After LSU finally cut the cord (a year too late) with Les Miles, they’ve been giving their fans the Big O for three straight weeks in victories over Southern Miss, Missouri, and Ole Miss. It appears that ole crazy Cajun Ed Orgeron has infused life into a lifeless offense and suddenly Leonard Fournette looks very healthy and looks like the Heisman candidate everyone thought he would be. Bobby Boucher and his momma are very proud.

But…

Has LSU’s offense looked good simply because they played middle school defenses? Missouri (117) and Ole Miss (115) rank among the worst teams in the nation in total defense so LSU’s offensive output against them must be appropriately weighed and measured. However, surprisingly, Southern Miss (16) checks in with a very respectable total defense ranking so LSU’s 42-7 victory over them may have more meaning than we originally thought.

Hmm.

This week’s W2W4 is the most difficult one the Lighthouse has ever written. Had LSU played Florida a couple weeks ago as planned, we would have a MUCH better indication of how their offense has/hasn’t improved because the Gators have the kind of defense that would truly test the Tigers. Instead, all we have to go on this week is our film study of the Ole Miss game – a game in which Leonard Fournette wasn’t touched by an Ole Miss defender on touchdown runs of 59, 76 and 78 yards. Road kill would have been more effective in stopping Fournette in this game so extrapolating how Alabama’s defense will fare against this group is incredibly difficult. And we suck at math.

So, here we go. Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Alabama on Offense

LSU plays a pretty vanilla 4-2-5 defense that is predicated on simply doing your job. You won’t see fancy blitzes or exotic schemes. Instead, LSU plays a tight man-to-man defense that dares receivers to break free of their sticky coverage and typically the opposing receivers are unsuccessful in getting open.

If there is a weakness in the defense it’s when the opposing offense spreads them out. When Ole Miss lined up in four wide receiver sets and empty sets, LSU countered by leaving just one linebacker in the box. Any and all running plays featuring the quarterback look to be extremely successful this week.

First year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda came to LSU from Wisconsin, where Aranda had a tremendous amount of success running the Badger defenses. Aranda’s 4-2-5 arrangement keeps his safeties back in order to eliminate big plays and with his corners locking down receivers in their man to man matchups, the safeties can play over the top and prevent downfield attempts. This is great against the pass but the safeties are virtually no help against the run. Alabama should be able to enjoy effective runs between the 20’s Saturday night.

Inside the LSU 20, things change significantly with Dave Aranda’s group. LSU’s corners continue to play bump and run but, with no over the top responsibilities due to the short field, the safeties will come down into the box, creating a nine man front that is hell against the run. Ole Miss chose to pass against this look but the Rebs could not find a way to get their receivers free against LSU’s straight man defense.  The game may be won/lost inside the LSU red zone – Alabama must find a way to get touchdowns here.

Here are some other notes from film study:

Tidebits

  • OJ Howard: When Alabama drops to pass, their receivers will have to win their one on one matchups and this will prove to be incredibly difficult. Bama’s biggest mismatch will be OJ Howard against anyone who covers him so OJ will need to show up big Saturday night.
  • Jalen Hurts: We expect the passing game to be a nightmare for Hurts this week but we also think that he should be able to rush for well over 100 yards. LSU’s 4-2 front isn’t aggressive so Alabama should be able to create some space for Hurts to run free.
  • Red Zone: LSU’s defense is outstanding inside the 10 yard line so any opportunities down there will need to result in a touchdown. Look for pick routes and rub routes to be mixed with wide receivers in motion as Kiffin tries to find a way to spring a receiver free. In the red zone running game, Ole Miss finally found some modicum of success by running the zone read between the tackles – Bama should look to do this, as well.
  • No Screens: Screens will not be effective in this game. Also, any “design” plays intent on getting LSU to blow a coverage will not work. The Tigers are assignment sound and have a man assigned to every single eligible receiver. This is the beauty of the Aranda defense – it’s the KISS principle to the Nth degree. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
  • Living on the Edge: Look for Bama backs to get to the edge pretty easily in the running game.

Final Thoughts 

The one constant with LSU this season has been an outstanding defense. Lane Kiffin’s pass happy offense is going to have one helluva task this week in unlocking the handcuffs on his fleet of receivers. LSU will employ a simple defense designed to allow their players to win one on one matchups. Against Ole Miss, LSU was able to own these individual battles and we think they’ll lock down the Bama passing game this week. If so, the question becomes whether or not Kiffin will be patient enough to run the zone read all night long.

Alabama on Defense

LSU’s offense truly has changed since Ed O has taken over the reigns. Instead of maddeningly running Fournette into the middle of an 11 man front, the Tigers’ QB now looks to the sidelines to get a new play call. LSU is throwing more on first down than I have ever seen them do since Les Miles showed up on campus. Additionally, if their first down pass is incomplete, the Tigers will drop back and throw it again on second down. This is not your father’s LSU game plan…

The Tigers’ offensive line is big and physical and against Ole Miss they dominated the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, it’s tough to understand what dominating a weak line means this week so we have absolutely no idea how the LSU offensive line will deal with Alabama’s defensive line.

What we do know about Alabama’s defensive front seven is that they are much smaller and quicker this year and while that’s been highly effective against the spread offenses, it will be put to the test this week against LSU’s downhill running attack. Gone is Reggie Ragland who had the physicality to stack and shed LSU’s fullbacks and pulling guards and hog tie Fournette all by himself. Gone, too, are defensive beasties like DJ Pettway, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarren Reed. Da’Ron Payne is an excellent replacement for one of them and Dalvin Tomlinson should hold his own up front as well. But, beyond those two there are question marks about how Josh Frazier, Jonathan Allen (he’s better suited as an end than a true defensive tackle) and others will fare up front.

In the secondary, this is the first week that Minkah Fitzpatrick will be taking over the safety position from Eddie Jackson. The run fits are totally different. The angles are totally different. And when he fills, he’ll be taking on Fournette in the hole. Not exactly the way you want to pop Fitz’s cherry as a safety.

Here are some other notes:

Tidebits

  • Size Matters: Honestly, beyond Payne and Tomlinson, Alabama has an alarming lack of experienced depth on the interior. As the game wears on, keep an eye on how many snaps guys like Frazier, Ball, and Davis play on the interior. If you haven’t seen them much, Payne and Tomlinson will wear down.
  • Linebackers: Foster and Dion-Hamilton will have to have a huge day and will be called upon to make solo tackles against Fournette. If big Leonard gets to the second level Saturday night, other than the defensive backs lying on the ground, things will not be looking up for the Tide. They must contain #7 at the line of scrimmage.
  • Etling: LSU QB Danny Etling has been around for a while and appears to be unfazed whenever he’s facing critical moments. While he has a noodle for an arm, he’s accurate on short to intermediate throws and LSU does a good job in calling routes that maximize Etling’s abilities to throw the short passes. If Etling tries to throw the ball down the field, there’s a high likelihood that Bama’s secondary will be able to make a play on the ball because everything he throws has a hump in it (it hangs in the air for a while).
  • Audibles: With LSU audibling at the line of scrimmage, this is where a fascinating chess match will take place. Alabama will show one front that crowds the line of scrimmage in the hopes that LSU will check out of a run. Any time the Tide can force LSU to get the ball to someone other than #7 will be a win so if they can get LSU to check out of a run then it’s advantage Tide.
  • Backs and Tight Ends: LSU does a nice job of getting their backs and tight ends involved in the passing game. These short routes are perfect for Etling’s arm.

Final Thoughts

Nick Saban has emphasized creating a smaller, quicker defense in an effort to deal with the spread offenses of today’s game. Therefore, defending a downhill rushing attack becomes pretty problematic. Gone are the big thumpers that eliminated the LSU running game last year. In their place, Bama has some excellent athletes who don’t quite have the same physicality as their 2015 brothers. Early on, Alabama will be able to withstand the brute force of the LSU attack but, as the game progresses, it will be imperative for Alabama to find a way to get some other guys along the defensive line into the game. The other concern is having a brand new safety playing the position for the very first time in his career. Being sound in the run fits will be crucial this week and everything will look very, very different for Fitzpatrick when he comes down from his new safety position.

Conclusion and Prediction

Listen, when you only have the Ole Miss game to go off of, it’s a problem for the Bama Lighthouse staff. The Rebs defense isn’t anything like the Alabama defense so it’s impossible to look at individual matchups and make any determinations of how the line of scrimmage will be won or lost. This week, we don’t have a clue how the battle between LSU’s offense and Alabama’s defense will play out.

What we do know is that LSU’s defense is legit. We loved what Aranda did at Wisconsin and now that he’s at LSU, he’s got even better athletes to defend with. The Tigers did a great job of shutting down the Ole Miss passing attack and they did so by playing straight man to man and locking up the Rebel receivers. Given Lane Kiffin’s penchant for calling passing plays, this could very well be an issue for the Tide. If Kiffin is patient and takes advantage of the numerical advantages he has up front with a running quarterback, Alabama should visit the Rouge Zone often Saturday night. The question then becomes whether or not they can dial up a play to get the Tide seven points instead of three.

We think the game comes down to a field goal kicking contest and we all know how that will play out if we are right. In the end, Bama’s lack of depth on the defensive line and lack of size in the front seven will be a problem as the night, and Fournette, wears on. But, then again, we don’t have a clue what to make of LSU as they haven’t played the sort of competition they’ll face Saturday night.

Death Valley.  At night.  Frenzied crowd.  Invigorated Tigers.  A true freshman QB who has been struggling to throw the football down the field.  Schizophrenic kicker.  We just don’t like the way this game is setting up.

Final Score: LSU 20   Alabama 17