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Play Analysis: 2006 LSU Game

In the latest installment of our play analysis, we are going to take a look at an excerpt from the 2006 Alabama v. LSU game.

The situation is this: We have the ball at our own 32-yard line with 7:20 remaining in the fourth quarter. It's 3rd and 14, and we need to reach the Alabama 46 to pick up a first down. Otherwise, we'll have to punt it away, and that will effectively end our chances of mounting a comeback.

In the following analysis, we're going to break this play down into three seperate sections, complete with diagrams and explanations. To begin with, we're going to look at the pre-snap formations by both squads, and then we're going to move onto the play itself. Finally, we're going to close with an up-close look at the play as it developed in terms in terms of pass blocking and rushing the passer.

So... strap yourself in and hang on for the ride.

The following is the diagram of the pre-snap formations. Click on the picture itself for the full-size version:

click to enlarge

The Crimson Tide comes out in a three wide receiver set with split backs. The three wide receivers are D.J. Hall, Nikita Stover, and Matt Caddell. Hall is lined up to the offensive right, Stover to the far offensive left, and Caddell is in the slot to the offensive left. The split backs are Tim Castille and Ken Darby; Castille is lined up the offensive left, and Darby is lined up to the offensive right. John Parker Wilson is lined up under center.

LSU responds in about the most vanilla formation possible. To counter our three-wide set, Bo Pelini and company respond a generic nickel package. There's nothing particularly special about the LSU response. From the looks of thing, you would probably expect the Bayou Bengals to just rush the down four, and then drop the other seven into coverage. After all, LSU has a very good defensive line, and they generally get a good pass rush on their own. Moreover, the wide splits between the defensive linemen -- particularly with number 93, Tyson Jackson, lined up about two yards outside of right tackle, number 58, Kyle Tatum -- indicate that the Tigers will be pinning their ears back and rushing hard off the edge.

LaRon Landry (30) is lined up in the safety position to the defensive left. If you look at the game-film, he's up to something. The way he is standing is almost a sprinter's stance; like he's about to take off charging to the line of scrimmage. That gives the secondary a look that is seemingly man coverage on the receivers, and cover one over the top, with Craig Steltz (16) being the lone LSU safety covering the deep middle zone.

It's time to get this show on the road. Antoine Caldwell snaps the ball to John parker Wilson, and away we go. The following is the play diagram, and as before, click on the picture itself for the full-size version.

click to enlarge

The LSU defense, despite posturing to the contrary, is far from vanilla. Of the front four defenders, only one defender -- left defensive tackle Marlon Favorite, #99 -- actually rushes the passer. Tyson Jackson (93) drops into zone coverage, Glenn Dorsey doesn't rush the passer or drop into coverage (he mainly justs sits there, distracting left guard Justin Britt (50)), and Ryan Willis (52) follows Tim Castille out into the flat on the offensive left.

Landry, indeed, does blitz, and so do the linebackers. Luke Sanders (35), and Ali Highsmith (7), both rush the quarterback on criss-crossing blitzes. Highsmith, aligned to the defensive left, goes right, and Sanders, aligned to the defensive right, goes left.

The corners play as expected, i.e. man coverage. All three play relatively close to the line, but don't play bump and run coverage. Craig Steltz (19), too, does as expected, quickly retreating to the middle of the field where he covers the deep middle zone.

The Alabama offensive play-call is, shall we say, suspect at best, to say the least.

D.J. Hall (22) runs about a fifteen yard in-route, Nikita Stover (9) runs upfield (though due to the oddball route he takes, I really don't know exactly what it is, though probably just a go route), and Matt Caddell (11) apparently runs about a seven-yard out route. Tim Castille (19), aligned to the offensive left, goes out of the backfield on a little swing route.

Obviously, this play-call doesn't make any sense. We need a little over 14 yards to pick up a first down, and LSU is bringing a very heavy blitz right at the middle of our defensive line. The deep routes by Hall (22) and Stover (9) are fine if Wilson has a good deal of time to throw, which allows those routes time to develop, but with the heavy blitz, Wilson must work quickly. Time is of the essence, and there simply isn't enough of it to allow those deep routes to develop.

The routes by Caddell (9) and Castille (19) are essentially worthless. Even if there is a completion to Caddell, he would quickly be shoved out of bounds by the LSU cornerback (37), and we'd still have a fourth and long situation. Moreover, Castille is effectively in the same boat, and to be brutally honest, he doesn't have anywhere near the speed needed to turn a dump-off pass into a fourteen yard gain. We'd be lucky to get five yards off of a completed pass to him, much less fourteen.

Moreover, why send Castille out on a passing route? Why Castille and not Darby? After all, Darby is the much more dangerous receiving threat, and Castille is the much better pass blocker. Why in the world do you send Castille out on a passing route and keep Darby into block? Or, considering that LSU rushes the passer so well, why not keep them both in to block? At bottom, there's no justification whatsoever for what we're doing here.

Also, why are we not attacking the middle of the field? There is nobody there, literally. The only defender in the area is Tyson Jackson (93), and while Jackson is a fine defensive end (I've said before he could probably go to the NFL early in the 2008 Draft), he's nevertheless a defensive end, and there is effectively no chance he can tackle an elusive wide receiver in open space. More to the point, even if you don't think LSU is going to respond with a package like this, why would you ever not attack the middle of the field as a whole, particularly against a defense this good? As mentioned earlier, the only route over the middle is Hall (22), and there is nowhere near enough time for that route to develop.

You must keep in mind, this is still very much a competitive game, and this is a risky call on Pelini's part. A successful slant route or a shallow crossing route from either Stover (9) or Caddell (22) could potentially be a huge play. Yet, nevertheless, though Pelini throws us a huge bone, we do not take advantage of it in any way. At some point, we either have to attack the middle of the field, or one of the receivers has to see the blitz and break off his route.

Of course, neither happens. The offensive line actually does a pretty decent job of pass protection (Wilson has roughly 2.5 seconds to throw, by my calculations), but eventually it breaks down. Right before being drilled by LaRon Landry (30) on the safety blitz, Wilson throws the ball somewhere -- mainly just getting rid of it. In reality, there was just nothing there. The two deep routes had no time to develop, the LSU cornerback was reading out route all the way with Caddell, and the defensive end, as expected, covered Castille with ease. Wilson's pass falls to the ground incomplete, and we have to punt it away.

Now, let's look at what happens up front on the offensive line and the LSU pass rush.

The following is the diagram of the line play, and as before, click on the picture itself for the full-size version.

click to enlarge

As mentioned earlier, Tyson Jackson (93) and Ryan Willis (52) drop into coverage, while Glenn Dorsey (72) just sits there. Considering left tackle Andre Smith (71), and right tackle Kyle Tatum (58) are expecting hard rushes off the edge, they first move to the outside in anticipation of the outside rush. But it doesn't come, so they do what they should, and move inside to help out the guards.

All told, it's a good call by LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. Though Glenn Dorsey (72) does not rush the passer per se, he nevertheless occupies left guard Justin Britt. Marlon Favorite (99) does rush the passer, and he occupies right guard Marlon Davis (76). The tackles don't have a lot to do, honestly, but they don't have the time needed to move inside and hold off the LSU blitz.

Luke Sanders (35) is the first to come crashing in, and Antoine Caldwell makes a great play on him. He has to lay out in order to shove him away, but he does so, and it gives Wilson some time. Next comes Ali Highsmith (7), and Ken Darby (34) has to step up to block him. Unfortunately, Darby moves to far to the outside, and then gets lazy when it comes time to move his feet and get in the correct position to block the talented LSU linebacker. He holds him, drawing a penalty flag, but at least he keeps Highsmith off of Wilson (again, why not keep in Castille instead of Darby?).

From there, there is just no one left to block LaRon Landry. He comes flying in untouched, and lowers the boom on Wilson. The thing is, though, despite all that you hear about it being such a "great" play by Landry, he doesn't do anything special here. He just runs straight ahead, untouched, and hits a quarterback. Though he's the one the talking heads will drool over on this play, this isn't anything that any other safety couldn't do. The real story is the poor play design by Shula and company, and the fine play of the LSU linebackers.

At bottom, the potential is here for a big play for the Tide. If both Castille and Darby are left in to block, we can probably pick up the blitz quite well, and Wilson will have time to throw. A well-placed crossing route will result in big yardage for the Tide, and maybe we get back in the game.

As is though, it's a disaster. Wilson is hammered, and his pass falls to the ground incomplete. Punting time for Alabama, and that's the last time we see the ball.

Final score: LSU 28, Alabama 14.