This week in the film room I want to do a bit of a blurb piece, looking specifically at several of the bigger plays in the Alabama v. LSU game. Unlike in past weeks in which we have focused specifically on individual players with a specific point of evaluation in mind, this week we're going to bounce around a bit and just take a bit more casual look at some of the biggest plays in the game this past Saturday, looking for anything we can find.
First off, let's look at the first snap that we took out of the Wildcat. You will recall that in the Initial Impressions piece I said that, with Earl Alexander (a former high school quarterback) going in motion, we were almost certainly looking to throw the football. Let's look at the play again:
Notice the LSU cover package here. They have clearly manned up the three receivers, with safety Chad Jones over the top. I still think that this play was intended to be a pass, but given LSU's defensive response, it's hard to see how we would have successfully thrown the football. The only way it could have been done is if Alexander had thrown the football to the left and hit either Ingram or tight end Michael Williams slipping out of the backfield in the opposite direction.To be sure, the fumble was certainly disappointing because even with the recovery we were still faced with a third and long, but it's hard to see this one being a success through the air. We may have called a pass option on this one, but I imagine that it would have likely ended up being a run had the fumble not occurred.
Next, let's actually go back a play to the snap immediately before that. It's a first and ten near midfield and we decide to take a shot downfield to Maze early in the game. You'll probably remember this play well, but nevertheless you can get the jist of what happens with the following .gif (note, you need to click the .gif to make it work):
Disappointing, eh? I don't know exactly what route Jai Eugene was looking for, but he was clearly expecting that route to be broken off at the intermediate level somehow. He certainly wasn't expecting Maze to try to beat him deep, and as a result he ended up getting turned around and Maze blew right by him. This one just makes you want to throw the remote through the TV, plain and simple. Even with a semi-decent throw this is a touchdown, and not only does McElroy overthrow him he throws it out of bounds to boot. Double negative. This one hurts.
I guess we'll go ahead and knock out all of the negative McElroy stuff now, so let's take a look at the second Wildcat snap that we ran, this one coming late in the third quarter with 'Bama trailing 15-10.
I loved this play design from the outset. When Julio Jones comes down on the jet sweet and McElroy steps back, you know that every single LSU defender is looking for something on the frontside to Julio Jones. So what we do? We slip Brad Smelley out on the backside and we get them with it. The LSU defense isn't expecting it at all, and Smelley gets behind the secondary. A good throw and this is a touchdown, and even with a decent throw we probably have a first and goal. Unfortunately, this one sails long too, incomplete pass. We eventually settle for the field goal to cut the lead to 15-13.
Do, however, pay close attention up front on this one, particularly with regard to LSU defensive tackle Drake Nevis. The junior from Marrero whips William Vlachos at the point of attack, and he hurries the throw. It's still clearly a throw that McElroy should make, mind you, but nevertheless Nevis does a great job of getting into the backfield and making it a more difficult throw. The more you watch of the film, you see that Nevis played a whale of a game. I bet he graded out really high when Miles and company reviewed the film.
At any rate, let's close up the negative McElroy stuff here by taking a closer look at the safety:
First off, notice how we come out here guns a blazing, to paraphrase Saban. Not only are we throwing the football out of our own end zone on a third and long with a narrow lead in a low scoring game, notice that we are doing so with only five men in to protect the quarterback. Both Mark Ingram and Colin Peek go out on pass routes, and we are left with only the five linemen to get the job done. This one is as gutsy as it gets.
Unfortunately, Mike Johnson whiffs on the block of... guess who? Drake Nevis. Once again Nevis gets into the backfield and forces the safety, a fine play on his part. Again, though, McElroy shoulders a lot of the blame here. Even with the whiff by Johnson, McElroy still has approximately three seconds to get rid of the football, but for some reason -- even though everyone is covered -- he keeps holding onto the football for dear life. Predictably, the pressure eventually gets to him and the safety is the end result. He should have just thrown this one away. Thankfully, we lucked out that it was only a safety.
Now in all fairness to McElroy, while he did make a lot of bad plays, he also made his fair share of good plays too, and that is what we'll look at next. The following is McElroy's touchdown pass to Darius Hanks:
For all of the criticism of the passing game the past few weeks (and rightly so), here is a textbook example of where everything is executed perfectly and the play is performed exactly like you draw it up on paper. And this is also a textbook example of the type of things that you must do when an opposing defense loads the box to stop the run. Notice that after Ingram's previous success on the ground that LSU practically commits eight defenders to stopping the run this time around. That forces man to man coverage on the outside against all three receivers.
For McElroy, this is a simple read. We roll the pocket to the right to avoid the pressure, and it's obvious that he has a man-to-man match-up of Hanks on a safety. For McElroy, he either throws it downfield to Hanks if he is open, or checks it down to Earl Alexander. Fortunately, Hanks runs a fine route and gets good separation on the defender, and McElroy delivers an absolute strike. Just how you draw it up... touchdown 'Bama.
Next, let's look at a couple of defensive plays, specifically focusing on the two big runs that LSU had after the safety in the end zone. First, let's take a look at Charles Scott final run where he rips off a big gain to put his Bayou Bengals deep in 'Bama territory:
Notice that we come out and defend this effectively in our base 3-4 set. Eryk Anders has his hand on the ground, but even so this is pretty typical base 3-4 stuff, and also notice that we've got Mark Barron creeping up into the box. We've effectively got the back-up defensive line in the game for this snap -- Marcel Dareus, Luther Davis, and Josh Chapman -- but even so we have eight men ready to stop the run.
And in all fairness both Scott and the LSU offensive line does a solid job, but what really kills us here is poor tackling. Mark Barron is really playing the outside here and isn't in position to stop an interior run, but the real disaster is in the middle with Cory Reamer and Justin Woodall. Those two may be seniors, but they looked like freshmen with this effort. Instead of crashing down hard and making the tackle, the best Reamer can muster is a weak arm tackle attempt, which of course the powerful Scott blows right through, and then after that Woodall completely whiffs in the open field on a tackle. With a good play by Reamer this is a two-yard gain, and with a good play by Woodall it's an eight-yard gain, but unfortunately those two whiff and Scott is off to the races.
With LSU driving, Stevan Ridley comes off the bench and gives the Tigers a lead with his touchdown run. Let's take a closer look, particularly keeping a very close eye on the match-up of LSU center T-Bob Hebert on Terrence Cody:
Well, now that is certainly one for those conspiracy nuts, now isn't it? This is a run right into the heart of the line on second and short, and we have it snuffed out pretty well. Cody is in position to make the tackle, and looks to do so with Ridley trying to cut it to the outside. He ultimately misses the tackle, of course, simply because Hebert flat out tackles Cody in the open field. This should have been a holding penalty setting up a 2nd and 13, but alas no such flag came about.
Of course I'm not going to complain too much about the officiating because you do also need to focus on your own effort, and that certainly falls short here. Keep your eye on Eryk Anders, he has outside contain to the offensive right, and he basically just blows it. He gets sucked too far inside, and Ridley beats him to the outside. Touchdown LSU.
Finally, let's wrap this piece up by taking a closer look at the gamechanging touchdown on the screen pass to Julio Jones:
Notice how odd it is that LSU is actually in really good position, before the snap, to stop this play. They've got a base 4-3 look, and the linebackers are playing a bit soft. A safety is manned up against Julio Jones, to be sure, but this is the short side of the field and there is also another safety over there for help, plus a linebacker. I don't care who you are covering, someone between Brandon Taylor, Danny McCray, and Kelvin Sheppard should stop this play.
At any rate, we feign something of a pass to the right, and then McElroy wheels back around to throw to Julio. The entire left side of the Alabama offensive line, plus the center, all move out to the second level to block. Now, Brandon Taylor, knowing that he is a safety in man coverage against Julio Jones, plays it very safe, and leaves a massive cushion between him and the 'Bama wideout. And that, in many ways, costs him here. He sees the screen and runs in very hard, right by James Carpenter, who was supposed to block him -- and for what it's worth, the Auburn fans complained of a block in the back on this play by Carpenter on Taylor because there is a photo showing him blocking the LSU defensive back from behind, but if you watch the film, naturally the Auburn fans are wrong as Carpenter whiffs so badly that he barely touches the back of Taylor so lightly that Taylor himself probably never even noticed.
Unfortunately for Taylor, with him racing in, he loses body control, and Julio makes a quick, nifty cut to the outside to sidestep the LSU safety. Kelvin Sheppard effectively takes himself out of the play by biting on the fake to the right, and when Danny McCray tries to come in to make the tackle, he takes a poor angle and there William Vlachos gets just enough of him to knock him out of the play. And with the LSU defense firmly in the review mirror, Julio is off to the races. Touchdown 'Bama.