My thoughts are a little too lengthy for a comment on OTS' impressions post. So here they are.
Hey Guys - Anybody Notice That Alabama Is Pretty Good?
I'm more than a little butt-hurt about the press reaction to our game. Yes, yes, yes, it was not a down-to-the-wire thriller. And yes, LSU was sloppy even when we weren't making them be sloppy. But Muhammad-on-a-popsicle-stick, guys, those are not the only things that went down Monday night, are they?
Did any member of the media notice that possibly the greatest defensive game in the history of college football was played by the guys in crimson? Did anybody care to comment that a defense like that coupled with a nearly flawless offense constituted truly great college football? How 'bout that human interest story of bringing the crystal ball back to a town that had been devastated by unspeakable and horrifying tragedy just a few months before? Anybody remember that?
Or try this one: LSU, in 2011, put together the greatest regular season in college football history. Now in saying that, I will acknowledge that I am ignoring college football history prior to when I started watching it in 1962. Even so, I think I'm in pretty strong ground, because for that 1962-2011 stretch, it's not close and there can be no argument. LSU totally demolished teams that finished 4th, 5th, 9th and 17th in the final poll despite undergoing utter destruction at LSU's hands, beat the hell out of everybody they played not named Alabama, and even managed to eke out a win on the road against this great Alabama team.
All that, but even they couldn't even make a game of it against Alabama on the championship stage. There is a really good argument that Alabama put together the best 60 minutes of football in the history of this sport on Monday night, yet it is barely even being mentioned by the press. But who can blame them: they're 100% tied up in the important business of whining about how a passing team should've been in the game, or maybe an inferior team from another conference.
OK, let me dab my eyes one more time. Time to put away the box of tissues and pull out a trumpet to blow my own horn, because I made some pretty good points in my article on the first game.
Passing On First Downs A Lot
First off, let me remind you of the general hue and cry that was going around Tuscaloosa and through the press. Alabama threw too much. They needed more Trent Richardson. More downhill running against the smaller LSU front. Every time Trent got a head of steam up, we would throw an incomplete pass and stall out. We needed to dance with the girl that brung us. Keep on going and wear 'em down. Etc. Etc. More etc.
As I pointed out, that's not what the numbers said:
We ran on first down 15 times for 30 yards, 2.0 yards per carry. We passed on first down 9 times for 74 yards, 8.2 yards per attempt. That means we ran 62.5% of the time. On the season we run on 54% of downs, and considering that a fair number of our plays this year have been mostly runs when we sit on a big lead, I'd say that means we usually do run/pass 50-50 when the game is competitive. The conclusion is that we ran on first down more than usual, and it was not successful.
Only 3 of those 15 run first-downs results in a gain of 4 or more.
All three of our first three possessions--when we missed field goal attempts--we stopped only after a big loss on an early-down running play. Each of the first three missed field goals came at the end of a series featuring a five- or six-yard loss on a running play, twice on first down and once on second down.
LSU was running successful run blitzes on first down the whole game. We had another huge six-yard loss on a first-down running play with about 6 minutes left in the 4th, leading to a punt that gave LSU the chance to win. Overall, out of our 4 field goal attempts and 2 punts in regulation, 4 of the stops were caused directly by big losses on run plays. Compare that to the two turnovers caused by interceptions and it's not so clear which type of play-calling is "safe" or "dependable."
Jim McElwain must've crunched those numbers, too, because we came out with a game plan that could've come straight out of that block of text: first-down passing. And it worked.
And we had the QB for it, too, which is yet another way I disagreed in my LSU article with the media consensus, which was that McCarron was awful on November. I was really a little miffed at all the undeserved crap that was piled on AJ's head in the media in the run-up to this game. Here's what I said in November, right after the game:
He was awful in OT, but I thought he played well in regulation. Yes, the pick hurt, but that was more an All-American cornerback making a fantastic break on a ball in the air than a terrible play by McCarron. Sure, McCarron gets the blame there, but that's the kind of stuff LSU does against everybody.
Doing that once against LSU is not egregious. Otherwise, his only mistakes in regulation were the two times he threw deep into double coverage. He was calm and composed under pressure, took only one two-yard sack, and threw a lot of accurate passes.
Even factoring the sack lost yardage in, he averaged 7.3 yards per attempt in regulation and had 1 of 26 picked. The average against LSU coming in (factoring in lost yardage from sacks) was 5.1 per attempt and 1 of 21.6 picked, so McCarron was much better than average in moving the ball through the air against them, and better than average in ball security.
If you didn't notice it before this game, I hope you notice it now: AJ plays fast. He gets the ball, finds his man, and gets it out of his hands. That's exactly what neutralized the LSU rush--our pass blocking was good, but guys came free several times, guys who would've gotten to a lesser QB. AJ is already the best QB Alabama has had in quite a while.
We have him one more year, I'm thinking. Hopefully we will give him better receivers to work with than we did this year.
Speaking Of Greatest Blah Blah Blah In College Football History
In a very readable article on Team Speed Kills, the point was made that the difference between #1 Alabama's yards-per-game allowed, and #2 in that category, LSU, is the largest gap ever. Really, all you need to do is look at the numbers and the amount by which this D stuck out is just amazing.
- Alabama gave up 183.62 yards per game.
- LSU gave up 261.5 yards per game, 77.38 yards per game more than Alabama gave up.
- Cal gave up 332.92 yards per game, 71.42 yards per game more than LSU gave up. Cal was 25th in the nation in total D.
- That's right, folks. The difference between #1 and #2 was 77.38. The difference between #2 and #25 is 71.42.
Speaking of McElwain
He had an excellent game plan for this game, but it wasn't rocket science. As you can see above, I called for pretty much the same thing and I'm not going to be in the Hall of Fame any time soon.
As I've said, I have always like McElwain's play-calling; it's his schemes that I question. And folks, as great as this game was, our ineptitude inside the 30 is all about the scheme. I know it's tougher against LSU than against lesser teams, but we had 13 field goal attempts against this team before we finally scored a TD, and then only after they were totally beaten down. I don't care if we're going against the '85 Bears, that's bad scheming.
I'm glad Coach M is reaping some media praise here as he moves on, but I'm ready to move on, too.
One More Thing And I'll Stop Beating My Own Drum
I also said this about the first game:
FIELD-GOAL KICKING . . .
is greatly overrated as a cause of our loss. The problem was that we kept making our guys try 50-yarders against the wind (the first one was with the wind, and long enough). Yeah, if we had a star field-goal kicker those could be a good option, but we would've needed a star, not an average guy.
LSU hasn't kicked a 50-yarder this year, either. Much more problematic was our inability to move the ball inside the 40.
This, too, has been proven true. Our field-goal kickers caught a ton of grief after that game, but the problem was not the kickers, it was the 50-yard field goals in the wind we kept trying. Give 'em 40-yarders in the Super Dome and they're serviceable.
New Entrants To The Stage
When you have the kind of depth we had at DB and LB this year, there is always a silver lining to the injury. Trey DePriest was the silver lining to the Mosley injury. This guy would've been starting on any other team, and would probably have been all-conference if not in the SEC.
We kind of knew this already, but it was comforting to our 2012 prospects to see him performing at such a high level on the big stage. He looked good.
And why exactly have we not seen more Kevin Norwood the last two years? Every time I have seen him on the field, he has looked good. His performance was another thing to make me feel better about 2012, although we will really need contributions from guys not on the roster this year. I'm looking at you, Duron Carter, Chris Black, and Amari Cooper.
Parallels to 1992
Obviously, you have two great defenses shutting down consensus #1 teams in bowl games to bring the Tide national crowns. But there were two very early moments that really brought that game back to me.
I'm not usually a guy who believes in reading too much into players' facial expression and gestures and so forth, but there were telling ones from the opposing quarterbacks early in each game. In '92, I remember clearly seeing fear and uncertainty in Gino Toretta's eyes as he looked over Alabama's line on the very second play of that game. Since I didn't believe much in reading those things in, I didn't take it seriously--but in retrospect, Toretta clearly was afraid and uncertain, and that factored heavily into the outcome.
Here, it was LSU's third play from scrimmage, when Jefferson and Lonergan misconnected on the snap, resulting in a loss and the Tigers' first of many punts. Blame was clearly sharable, as the snap was a little low but off Jefferson's hands, but Jefferson was having no shared blame, and went after Lonergan with a snarl. Bad form, and a really bad idea to get a little dissension going at the very beginning of the game. Reminded me of another quarterback who had come out battling his own mind in a national championship bowl game against Alabama, and the same result ensued.
The second parallel was the 49-yard Maze punt return midway through the first quarter. Man, did that ring some bells. For you young'uns, David Palmer ran one back 38 yards to the Miami 24 midway through the first quarter of a 0-0 game in that one. Just like here, it led to a field goal, and just like here the rout was on.
Speaking of Jefferson
Did the difference between McCarron's play and Jefferson's play amount to 21 points worth of difference? While it probably did, you also have to remember that quarterback play, at least results-wise, is a culmination of everything that everybody else on the offense--and defense--is doing. Jefferson was probably in a tougher situation overall than McCarron was, but not so much tougher as to explain the entire difference in their play. Fact is, AJ outplayed him by a country mile and that accounts for most of the reason we won that game.
Why didn't Lee play? I have to chalk it up to Les Miles having watched Lee in practice the last two months, while I didn't, because I can't think of any other explanation. Jefferson stunk.
One reason Alabama was a good bet in this game is that it was so obvious the psychological factors from the media and the fanbases were setting up so well for the Tide.
Alabama was told over and over it wasn't good enough to be there. Other teams were more deserving. The only way Alabama could justify its existence would be if it really opened up a can of asswhup on LSU, and everybody knew that wasn't going to happen.
I just can't think of a better way to fire up a team.
On the other side of the coin, one of the biggest media themes going into the game was whether LSU would still be champs even if they lost. LSU had already earned its national championship during the season. They had already beaten this team on the road, and had nothing else to prove. Even if they lost, they would probably still be champs.
So go ahead, boys, have your champagne before the game. . . .
I think we had a better team anyway, but as big as motivation usually is in college football, the pre-game atmosphere gave us a massive advantage. We were probably going to win even without it, but the attitude permeating the media is probably what turned the game into the ritual of destruction that it became.