The Alabama offensive line over the past few years has been the most dominant in college football. It comes to no surprise that Alabama has been college football’s best team in the nation’s best conference.
There was no better example than their shredding of the Georgia defensive front when the Crimson Tide desperately needed it.
Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated tweeted that a 3-4 defense is tougher to block than a 4-3. In most cases, I would agree. It puts more pressure on a center who has to worry about getting the blocking calls right, making a clean snap and then blocking a 330 pound guy directly in front of him. In a 4-3, a center doesn’t have to worry about the last part.
But for Alabama center Barrett Jones, it is a little different. He is very versatile, starting at multiple positions across the line during his illustrious Alabama career. Also, Alabama runs a 3-4, so he practices versus 3-4 schematics often. But Jones is also a cerebral player. He puts his high GPA and metal capacity to use on the football field to outsmart his opponent and allow his talented teammates make plays.
"I may not be the biggest or fastest guy out there, but I like to think I have a good feel for angles and just figuring out ways to get the job done," said Jones to Sports Illustrated’s Lars Anderson. "It always boils down to pad level, technique and fundamentals."
As much hype as he has gotten, Jones is basically Alabama’s version of Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Both are versatile team leaders with average athleticism and flawless fundamentals, who plays with a plethora of NFL talent surrounding him. Jones is far from a mauler at center. I wrote in my SEC preview Jones would struggle getting push versus Georgia because of the Bulldogs explosive nose tackle play. This actually turned out to be true, but Jones made a slight adjustment in his blocking technique that might have won the game for the Crimson Tide, which will eventually be shown in Film Study.
Alabama’s most dynamic offensive player is not freshman receiver Amari Cooper or running back TJ Yeldon. It is left guard Chance Warmack. When Alabama faces a 3-4 defense, they trust center Jones to guide the nose-tackle one-on-one out of the play. What this does is allow Warmack a “free release” off the line of scrimmage to go attack a linebacker at the second level, which usually resulted in big runs for the Crimson Tide. Versus a 4-3 defense, Warmack doesn’t have that freedom because two defensive tackles lineup in front of or in between the two guards.
Notre Dame also runs a 3-4 defense. What we saw Alabama do offensively versus Georgia will probably be the same they do versus the Fighting Irish. I will discuss in this film study what the Irish will need to do to be successful in stopping the Tide.
So without further adieu, let’s hit some tape from the SEC Championship Game:
As we see in this first slide, Alabama lines up in a two tight end formation, with tight end Michael Williams (labeled MW) to the right. The Georgia defense lines up accordingly. TJ Yeldon is the running back in this set. Barrett Jones (labeled BJ) is the center.
The pink letters on the screen represent "gaps". The space between the center and guard is the "A-Gap", the space between the guard and center is the "B-Gap" and tackle and tight end is the "C-Gap". It is important to remember this when it comes to understanding the X's and O's of a rushing attack.
At the snap, we see Alabama is trying to run the ball to the left side "A-Gap" (labeled A). As previously mentioned, left guard Chance Warmack (labeled CW) gets a "free release" off the line of scrimmage because Alabama trusts center Jones (BJ) to block the nose tackle by himself. As we can see off the snap, Jones gets no push and gets jacked up from the snap despite being lower than the nose tackle.
One thing Alabama did on most of their big runs versus Georgia is utilize tight end Williams (MW) as a lead blocker. Before the snap, Williams was to the right of the right tackle as you can see on the previous slide. This gives linebackers headaches because they don't know where the blocks are coming from pre-snap. When the ball was snapped, Williams ran to the inside to essentially become a fullback for Yeldon to the weakside.
The last player labeled is right guard Anthony Steen (labeled Steen). Defensive tackle John Jenkins fires off high and soft, which Steen takes advantage. Notice how Steen blows Jenkins out of the right side "B-Gap", almost taking out right tackle DJ Fluker.
As the play develops, Jones (BJ) receives the rest of his butt-whipping. The nose tackle penetrates into the play-side gap, blowing up the play that was designed to go through that gap. But if you look closely on the slide, Jones is the only player who did not dominate his blocking assignment. The other four offensive lineman and two tight ends are mauling their counterpart.
Warmack (CW) is shredding his linebacker, partially because of his "free release" and speed. Williams (MW) has a great fit on the weakside inside linebacker and Steen continues to blow Jenkins out of the hole, literally big enough for a Mack Truck and three Charlie Weis' to fit through.
In this film study, one of the most interesting things to look for is Yeldon's head placement in vision. Notice how quickly he feels and sees the open hole. This is special from a freshman.
Yeldon avoids the contact and sidesteps the pressure. Jones (BJ) feels it out and washes the nose tackle out of the play. Warmack, Williams and Steen continue to block well down the field.
In this slide, we see linebacker Alec Ogletree do an excellent job of shedding the block of Williams. This looks bad on Williams part, but Ogletree is an elusive player and Williams is doing what he is coached. Alabama is exceptional at not committing dumb blocking penalties down field during huge positive gains. When they feel a defender slip from their original block, Alabama blockers let them go. This is true especially with Yeldon. They trust his ability to make a play down field. There was no better example than the infamous screen pass versus LSU earlier this year when Warmack and wide receiver Marvin Shinn made casual attempts to block LSU defenders to avoid a bad flag. But on this play, notice Warmack's (#65) athleticism. He still has clean block five yards from the original line of scrimmage.
On this slide, you see Yeldon make a very physical move through the tackle of Ogletree. Right above Yeldon, Warmack continues his impressive block down field.
(Side Note: A little rant here. There was much controversy surrounding Alabama defensive lineman Quinton Dial's vicious blindside block of Aaron Murray. He was not suspended for the BCS National Championship for the hit. People who argue that Dial should be suspended for head-to-head contact is justified. But an argument and/or suspension for Murray being "defenseless", like some members of the media are making, is senseless and a slippery slope because there are "defenseless hits" on many plays. They just aren't highlighted by the media unless it's a quarterback or a receiver getting hit over the middle.
This previous slide is a perfect example. Notice Georgia All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones at the bottom of the screen. Jones takes a big shot at Williams when his involvement in the play was clearly over. Yeldon is four yards away from Jones and Williams, but for some reason a frustrated Jones decides to blast Williams. Williams is just as defenseless, if not more, than Murray moving in the direction of a ball carrier. But because Jones' hit on Williams wasn't as vicious, didn't happen to a quarterback and wasn't replayed 45,693 times on national television, nobody talks about it.
Murray was running toward the ball carrier. I was on the sidelines when I saw Murray catch LSU's Morris Claiborne at the goal line in the previous SEC Championship. Past film shows Murray likes to chase the ball carrier after a thrown interception. If the Alabama interceptee Ha Ha Clinton-Dix breaks another tackle, Murray could have easily ran down the play. Sure, he didn't see the hit was coming, but plenty of hits blindside hits happen all the time and that alone doesn't warrant suspension.
If suspensions are going to be handed out for players being "defenseless", than there are going to be plenty of players missing games. I'm not defending Dial's hit. Head to head hits warrant suspension depending on severity. But people need to know defenseless hits happen all the time before they just use that as justification.)
In the final slide, we see Yeldon bull his way to extra yardage down field. He does a great job of finishing runs and falling forward.
On the very next play, Alabama gets in Shotgun yet stays in a two-tight end set. The player to focus on is center Barrett Jones (labeled BJ).
McCarron hands to ball of to Yeldon, who once again has to adjust his run because Jones (BJ) is getting blown back behind the line of scrimmage by the nose tackle.
Jones continues to get blown back. His back leg trips Yeldon behind the line of scrimmage.
Yeldon falls down, which turns out to be a loss of yardage for Alabama.
It is hard to find a piece on Alabama football that doesn't mention Nick Saban until the end. I wrote recently how Saban concerns me in big games. Last year's BCS National Championship was truly a masterpiece, but outside of that he has flaws just like every other coach. His teams often relax in third quarters and he continues to make an alarming amount of mistakes when it matters the most. He is average at defensive in-game adjustments.
It is hard to believe Alabama beats Georgia if it weren't for the Crimson Tide running game. Saban did plenty wrong in the SEC Championship and still won because of Jones and the offensive line. He would be fortunate to have that happen versus a disciplined Notre Dame defense, but his obscene amount of luck these past two years wouldn't bet against it.
Notre Dame runs a 3-4 like Georgia, so they better watch this tape closely. The biggest problem the Fighting Irish will have is how they plan on slowing down Warmack. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who recently won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant, must find ways to give Jones, Warmack and Steen different looks.
The Crimson Tide rushing attack is at its best when they run simple schemes down hill. Zone-blocking is not their strong suit. If Alabama wants to stamp their physical seal on the Irish, they need to keep things simple.
Te'o is one of the nation's best linebackers, yet his play is far from transcendent. He will stand no chance if Steen and Warmack consistently get free runs at him. RBR recently did a fantastic preview of the Notre Dame defensive line's productivity and rotation this season.
Fighting Irish nose tackle Louis Nix III must try his best to hold the point of attack and not get flushed out of plays by Jones. It is important for Nix to consistently over-penetrate and attempt to make plays in the backfield. This would open up even wider gaps for the Crimson Tide offensive line. It may work a few times, but Jones will always make the proper adjustment even if it means a few blown up runs like the last example.
What Jones tried to do in the last example was shield the nose tackle inside away from where the ball was heading. As Jones tried to seal off the nose tackle to the left as the play was going right, he was blown so far back the play was getting shredded. Yet in the second half, Jones did it successfully, allowing for big gains to happen.
Their is not a big athleticism gap between the defensive lines of Notre Dame and Georgia. The biggest difference is their technique. Notice on the first play Steen blew Jenkins out of the hole because Jenkins fired off sloppily and soft. Notre Dame's Stephen Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore are both technicians as the interior defensive ends of the 3-4. They use their hands well, fire off low, chop down elbows and attack half a man very well. All of those things combined allow them to squeeze down rushing lanes. Smaller rushing lanes make it not only more difficult for Yeldon and Lacy, but tight end Michael Williams when he comes inside as a lead blocker.