Guest Post | Notre Dame's Defense Versus Alabama's Ground And Pound Part 2

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

This is Part II  from Mr. Carter Bryant, a part-time radio host and producer for 910 am WUBR Fox Sports Radio and columnist for DIG Baton Rouge. He also contributes "Film Study" pieces to SB Nation's LSU affiliate And The Valley Shook. Follow him on Twitter @CarterthePower. Read Part I of this study by clicking here



As we see in this first slide, Saban had, yet again, his team not prepared for a third quarter. Before we all go into a frenzy, it is historically his worst quarter in big games. Georgia scores 14 points to start the third quarter, putting Alabama in a 11 point hole. Keeping that in mind, it is even more impressive that Barrett Jones and the offensive line took over this game.

The first thing I would like to point out is the Georgia defense pre-snap and an adjustment Notre Dame needs to make on gameday. Alabama's offensive line is practically in their stance, ready to run their play while the Georgia defense is still getting properly aligned. This is not because Georgia doesn't have a play called. It's because they diagnosed a "strength call" late.

On defense, a "strength call" lets defenders know where to line up. This is where the terms "strong side" and "weak side" comes from aka "strong-side linebacker" etc. So for you Remember the Titans diehards, this is for you. The "strong side" indicates where the play is more likely to go. If the call is given late, then players have to scurry quickly to line up. Usually the tight end indicates which side of the line of scrimmage is the strong side. As you can see, Alabama is lined up in a two tight-end formation, one on each side. This is why it took longer for the defense to diagnose which side is the strength because Georgia had to go to their second read, which is usually per-determined by the defensive coordinator.

As you can tell, Georgia has all the extra motion of lining up, with one player being in a sprint. While this isn't necessarily a crazy amount of physical exertion, it is asking extra work out of players. They must rethink their responsibilities if they are to rotate in a split second. You will see on this play the Georgia linebackers diagnose a simple run play slowly, particularly the playside inside linebacker.

I believe more talented defenses should take away this motion and just have the players play the left side or right for a drive or right when they break the huddle. If a tight end is to go in motion, the defense can shift accordingly. This makes everything simpler and players have to think less.

Perfect example was actually Alabama last year. On November 5th versus LSU, Alabama did the extra pre-snap movement according to strength call. They ended up not being able to defend simple option plays versus a non-option team. LSU won. This made it more difficult to defend the option, particularly linebackers Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw, who had to sprint to get to the other side to be on time for the snap. For the BCS National Championship, Saban simplified his defense and just allowed his defenders to shift to the strength if need be. The results were a shutout and Upshaw as the game's defensive MVP. (Florida in the Sugar Bowl flipped personnel, even though it was only their inside linebackers. Louisville dominated the Gators' pass defense over the middle on third and long despite constant pressure from the Florida defensive line)

It would be wise for both Notre Dame and Alabama to not do this. Both teams have talented enough defenders to not force extra exertion. The Fighting Irish should watch this slide to see why.


As we see off the snap, Georgia is yet again getting blown off the line of scrimmage. The defensive line, on 2nd & 5, took what seems to be a pass rushing technique to the quarterback. Alabama is running somewhat of a delayed draw, because quarterback AJ McCarron paused a little at the beginning of the play, run through the right-side "A-Gap".

As we saw in the last film study, Alabama uses tight end Michael Williams (labeled MW) as a lead blocker, this time to the opposite side Yeldon is running to confuse the linebackers. The left guard, Chance Warmack (labeled "CW"), gets great push on the backside as he flushes his defensive end out of the play. Anthony Steen and DJ Fluker (labeled Steen) gets a fantastic double team on the playside as they blow their defensive end out of the hole. This gives even more room for running back TJ Yeldon.

But the critical block at the start of this play was by Barrett Jones. Nose tackle Kwame Geathers battered Jones in the two plays of my previous study. This time, the play allows Jones to work his guiding magic. Jones doesn't even fire off the ball, as he catches Geathers. But what Jones is trying to do is basically get Geathers out of the play. By allowing Geathers to over penetrate, it opens an even wider hole for Yeldon to work with.


We see in this slide Alabama is crushing this play to pieces. It is only the beginning of the play and the holes are already gaping. It is important to note that holes like this won't be this wide versus Notre Dame, even if one thinks they have inferior athletes up front (which they don't). Georgia's technique in this game got really sloppy across the defensive line. Still, the same concepts will be attempted versus the Fighting Irish.

In the last study, the Crimson Tide ran a similar play but did so to the left side "A-Gap". Everybody dominated their block except for Jones. This time, Jones joins the block party and everybody is opening up lanes. Warmack (CW) continues to flush his guy out of the play on the backside. Williams (MW) begins to set up a weird but effective cut-back option for Yeldon. Jones (BJ) allows Geathers out of the play in the middle.

The interesting decision comes from Steen (Steen). His assignment was, more than likely, to move to the second level linebacker to his side (LB). Notice Steen locates the (LB) and can feel the defensive tackle he is blocking, John Jenkins, being taken out by a falling down Fluker. But this goes back to a statement made in my last film study and one I did months ago. The Crimson Tide trusts Yeldon to beat tacklers in the open field, especially when the team sees a big, positive gain is about to happen.


As you see, Steen decides to stay with his block of Jenkins as Fluker falls down. He trusts Yeldon to beat the linebacker (LB). Jones (BJ) pushes Geathers as far out of the way as possible. Warmack (CW) has taken his side completely off the screen.

The shows why Jones' blocking technique is critical. By letting Geathers over penetrate on the play, it takes away the possibility of him tackling Yeldon on his winding cutback. If Geathers is blocked to where he is still at the line of scrimmage with no penetration, he turns around and possibly makes this tackle. Instead, Jones out-smarts him.

This slide shows the schematic genius of first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. There is a reason why Alabama has set school records for offensive touchdowns and points scored. Notice Williams (MW) path on the play. He first starts as the tight end, then turns into a weakside lead blocker through the "A-Gap". Instead of blocking linebacker Alec Ogletree away from the playside gap, Nussmeier has Williams block and seal Ogletree toward the playside gap, which is unusual. But the reason why he does this is to open up a backside running lane for Yeldon, which he takes advantage of.


Because the linebacker didn't attack Yeldon, the freshman running back burns him to the backside gap Williams (MW) perfectly sealed.

Notre Dame linebackers, including Manti Te'o, need to be aggressive if they want to stop the Alabama running game. Sure, an effective play-action passing game could negate that, but stop the run first then the pass. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit says Alabama is 50-0 all-time under Saban when they rush for over 140 yards. Make McCarron win it.


Yeldon turns on the jets and immediately puts Alabama into scoring position.


On the very next play, Alabama tries to catch Georgia tired. Instead, a great tackle is made by Alec Ogletree (Alec).


As this play develops, we see a hole open up to the left slide. But notice how Ogletree (Alec) attacks Yeldon at the line of scrimmage, not allowing the freshman to make a play in the open field.


Ogletree (Alec) makes an excellent tackle. It is very important for Notre Dame's back seven, which are fantastic tacklers and playmakers, to attack the Alabama ball carriers. The Fighting Irish shouldn't be timid of the size and speed of Alabama.


This next play is the Alabama touchdown that made the score 21-16. And it is play that truly defines the brilliance Jones has as a center, as he made one of the two crucial blocks on this touchdown. Alabama lines up with two tight ends to the left, one of which is H-Back Kelly Johnson. The play is a zone-read to the left, with very interesting blocking schemes. The play is designed to go through the left side "C-Gap". I even decided to draw up how the play was designed on a crappy piece of paper and colored pencils.


In the (horrible) drawing, we see the key block that needs to be made is by left tackle Cyrus Kouandijo. Cyrus must make a quick first step to the left and seal his defensive end to the inside. Tight end Michael Williams has an easier one, since the linebacker he is blocking must stay outside to keep contain. Guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen have difficult blocks to make as well, but the play is essentially dead if Cyrus doesn't make the crucial block.


We see off the snap all the of the Alabama offensive lineman fire off low and hard. Cyrus (Kun) takes a pretty good first step. Remember, Yeldon is trying to run through the "C-Gap" (Labeled C). Warmack (War) is beginning his run at the playside inside linebacker (labeled LB1). Yet the issue for him is that linebacker (LB1) has diagnosed the play early and begins to sprint in the direction of the run. Luckily, this actually turns out to be for the better for Alabama.


Notice how quickly this play turns for the worse for Alabama. Cyrus (Kun) begins to get whipped at the line of scrimmage. Notice how he begins to give ground and his outside shoulder, which is the to the playside, begins to get turned thanks to the defensive lineman's adjustment. This be trouble for Alabama come Jan. 7th, as Notre Dame defensive ends Stephen Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore are both sensational at using their leverage and "counter-moves" when they get beat right off the snap. We do begin to see where Jones will eventually save the play. Notice how he begins to turn the nose tackle to weakside "A-Gap".

The most ironic part of this touchdown run for Alabama is the offensive lineman who had the easiest and least important roles for the designed play actually delivered to the two crucial blocks that sprung Yeldon. An important player to look at is right tackle DJ Fluker (labeled DJF).


We see in this slide that the "C-Gap" has been overtaken by the Georgia defensive lineman as Cyrus (Kun) tries to salvage his butt whipping. The play couldn't have been blown up better. But also notice Warmack (War) on the second level. Even if Yeldon had a clean run through the "C-Gap", the playside linebacker (LB1) would have made the tackle as Warmack couldn't seal him to the inside.

Yet the best part about the Alabama offensive line is their uncanny ability to block the backside of the play as well as the front side. In the first play of the film study, Warmack and Williams made crucial seal blocks to open up massive holes for big Yeldon run. This time it is Jones (Jones) and Fluker (DJF).

Jones blocking wizardy is shown to perfect, as he guided the nose tackle's over-agressiveness to his stomach. We also see Fluker do a "rip-move" to the inside of John Jenkins, who, yet again, had enough lazy and bad fire-off the line of scrimmage. What is interesting about Fluker is that a rip-move is used by a defensive lineman to beat an offensive lineman. Here is a demonstration. Instead, it is the opposite for this play. The slide before the last showed Fluker getting his right arm under Jenkins. The previous slide shows Fluker ripping his right arm through even more, in rather immaculate form. Fluker has such long and powerful arms, so Tuitt and Lewis-Moore for Notre Dame needs to be aware.

While all of this is going on, the playside "A-Gap" begins to open near Jones. Yeldon's head placement shows he is still looking to see anything is going to develop in the "C-Gap".


We now see Yeldon feel out the play and notice the backside of the play begin to crease even wider. Cyrus (Kun), Warmack (War) and Steen all failed their original assignment, but see and feel Yeldon beginning to cut to the inside. Knowing that, Cyrus, Warmack and Steen now begin to block their player to the sideline.

Jones (basically on one good ankle) in about as dominant of a position as possible, with the man he was blocking on the ground. Fluker (DJF) completes his rip move and then practically, like a good basketball rebounder, "boxes out" Jenkins to the outside.


Yeldon then squares his shoulders and hits the hole as Fluker (DJF) continues his Tim Duncan impersonation.

We see Fluker then guide Yeldon into the end zone with the back of his hand as Alabama retakes the lead.


Now we will break down the two-point conversion try. Saban smartly sticks with a simple Yeldon run through the right side "A-Gap". As see on the play, all Alabama offensive lineman are dominating their blocks except for Barret Jones (Jones). John Jenkins moved back to the interior "zero technique" nose-tackle and gets a sensational get-off the snap. He is low with his hips snapped in a driving position.


Jones is basically in the play-side gap. But one thing he did fundamentally well was that he kept his back to the playside hole. Jones hardly every allows a defender to beat him to the playside gap. Even if it's rough, such as this block, he will seal you off in the direction he is supposed to. Yeldon does phenomenal job of avoiding him.

Jones continues to get drilled, but he did just enough to get the job done as Yeldon runs into the end zone to what proved to be the difference in the game. Georgia kicks a field goal and wins on their final drive if this play isn't scored.

At a different angle, we see how close Jenkins made the most phenomenal play of the game. But Jones did just enough by keeping his back to the hole. But also notice on this angle, Jones gets away with a holding penalty with his right hand. Yet holding is always tough to call on critical plays. Even with the hold, notice Jones' right foot and Yeldon's left foot. They nearly trip each other.

Conclusion

Tom Rinaldi of ESPN brought up an impressive stat. This season, 35 percent of Alabama rushers aren't touched in the first five yards of their run. This number is remarkable, especially since their offense isn't based on misdirection. This is because the Alabama offensive line gets such remarkable push up front.

Te'o told reporters that he was impressed with how Alabama shields their blocks while in the process opening holes as widely as possible. The film has shown that. One thing Notre Dame needs to do across the defensive line is not over-penetrate. It is fine to jump the backfield every once in a while, but not every play. Versus Michigan State and Stanford, the Fighting Irish did a great job as a team holding the point of attack.

A couple of things defensive coordinator Bob Diaco needs to consider:

1) Have his defensive lineman "stem" pre-snap right before the play. A "stem" is when a defensive lineman moves from one gap to either side to force blocking assignments to change for the offensive line. This would force Jones and the offensive line to make late calls.

2) How much 4-3 will Diaco run? I'm guessing he will do it a lot more in this game because of Alabama's dynamic guards and Jones ability to outsmart and finesse a nose tackle. Because Tuitt and Lewis-Moore are so versatile, the Irish will be able to rotate different looks very easily. 5th Down Blog, who followed Notre Dame all year, says the Fighting Irish has run plenty of 4-3 this year. I would love to see Notre Dame "stem" and rotate from 3-4 to a 4-3 during this game. But if this happens, Te'o would need to certainly play all world.

3) Let Te'o win the game and take away Warmack. If Te'o truly is a Heisman caliber player, he will play the best he ever has in the biggest game. If Diaco tells his defensive lineman to not overpenetrate running plays and hold up blockers, it will be up to Te'o to make the tackles, especially if he is unblocked. In his last four games, Te'o didn't record more than seven tackles in any game.

4)No matter the defense, Diaco's defensive lineman must not get turned, flushed and sealed away form the playside gap. Alabama's offensive lineman can be maulers, but against elite competition they are better with their technique and finesse. On Eddie Lacy's early touchdown run in the first half, all of the Georgia defenders were turned to the inside and lost the edge/contain. Lacy ran into the end zone untouched. Diaco needs to hammer home this message.

A question I was recently asked was if Yeldon or Lacy was the better matchup versus Notre Dame. I would first say I think Yeldon is the better running back. In fact, his tape versus Georgia was more impressive than Lacy. I think both are important, especially with Lacy's ability to hammer the hole hard and wear down linebackers. Both are fantastic goal-line, short yardage backs. But Yeldon makes great runs even when plays break down. I would give the slight edge to Yeldon.

Another player who always seems to be in the middle of big plays for Alabama is versatile tight end Michael Williams. Sometimes he can make the big ones, such as his impressive inside lead blocks we have shown in this film study or the pass interference he drew on a crucial drive in the third quarter. But he can also be a pain, as LSU safety Eric Reid ripped the ball from his grasp on Nov. 5th or the allowed block field goal he allowed in the third quarter. He will need to have his head on a swivel for whatever Nussmeier has assigned to him.

Right now, I do give the edge to Alabama winning this game. One key factor I have yet to mention is AJ McCarron, who has transformed into a money a quarterback since the BCS National Championship last year. Amari Cooper is no slouch himself. The Notre Dame secondary usually lives with the comfort of Notre Dame stopping the run with only seven men in the box. If an eight man has to come, then Cooper would likely draw safety help over the top. Then it would open up room for slot weapons, like Kevin Norwood, to have a big game. This all depends on pass protection as well, where Alabama's star offensive line, at times, have struggled.

Of the offensive line, Cyrus must play better. He earned the lowest grade versus Georgia in my formulations. The above play was a reason why. Tuitt and Lewis-Moore are both really good, with Tuitt being their most talented player instead of Te'o.
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