Where Smart Picks Go to Die
Last week’s post was more of a disappointment than it was an article about Alabama’s dominance. Alabama was supposed to have faced its “first real test” and we were supposed to know who Alabama was. Unfortunately, Mississippi State was not a worthy opponent and we were left without a clear idea about how good Alabama was.
This week gave us what we were looking for.
LSU stretched Alabama as far as you can stretch a team…and still lose. LSU missed a 38 yard field goal and gave the Alabama offense one more chance. To this point, the Tide’s offense had been miserable in the second half. A.J. McCarron was inaccurate and Alabama seemed insistent on giving Eddie Lacy the ball up the middle.
But then came the prevent. LSU fell into the fatal trap of running too forgiving of a prevent defense too early (I promise to write an article in the coming weeks on the prevent defense). A.J. McCarron completed 3 straight passes to wide open receivers who easily ran out of bounds. LSU defenders were giving 20 yard cushions and Alabama took what they gave them.
By the time LSU decided to play defense again and bring some pressure, Alabama dialed up the perfect play. A screen directly into the blitzing defense left LSU with no one to defend T.J. Yeldon. With one man to beat Yeldon jukes his way to the end zone and an Alabama victory.
I’m not going to get into the statistics of the game. Instead, I’d like to try to break down the game to see if we can use any of the information we learned about Alabama to predict what might happen in the upcoming games. We’ll break it down by examining all three phases of the game.
Special teams has been Alabama’s weakness all year. However, this area of the game was probably the most solid and reliable against LSU. The kickoff coverage was good, the punting game changed the field position several times, and none of the kickers had to attempt field goals (thank God). The only hiccup was Cyrus Jones’ fumbled punt return that gave LSU great field position.
On offense, the Tide struggled at the beginning and middle of the games. A.J. started the game 1 of 7 and struggled to find receivers again after half time. I believe this is a direct result of McCarron feeling real pressure for the first time all season. I wondered last week how he would deliver under pressure and the answer was not well. McCarron did find his stride towards the end of the first half and during the last drive of the game. The running game struggled at times to open holes for Eddie Lacy. Alabama appears to be much more fluid when T.J. Yeldon is in the game, but Yeldon didn’t see many touches in the second half until the last possession. Unless he gets injured, T.J. Yeldon is going to be an amazing back for Alabama and someone to be feared by the rest of the conference for at least two more years.
The formula that seemed to throw Alabama’s offense off was get pressure on the quarterback and knock down his passes. These knockdowns at the line seemed to frustrate McCarron and force him to throw at odd angles. I don’t think any other defensive front 7 can match up against Alabama’s offensive line the way LSU did, but many defenses can knock down passes and get pressure on the quarterback.
Defensively, Alabama had one of the worst games I’ve watched them play since Georgia Southern. The Tide could not get off the field and gave up 435 yards while being on the field for almost 40 minutes. Run defense has always been a source of pride for Alabama but LSU didn’t appear to get the memo. Jeremy Hill used his speed, strength, and vision to rush for 107 yards and 1 touchdown (another freshman who will be a handful for defenses for years to come). For the first time all season, Alabama was consistently beaten to the edge by a faster runner. The running game combined with Zach Mettenberger’s career night spelled disaster for the Bama defense. Mettenberger, who has been terrible all year, had his best game as a D1 college athlete.
As good as Mettenberger’s night was, Alabama’s defense is still to blame for the majority of his success. While there were several throws that could not have been defended any better, most of the completions were due to bad coverage or bad matchups. Alabama blitzes A LOT. This creates one-on-one matchups with safeties and linebackers. It was these matchups where Alabama couldn’t keep up. Vinnie Sunseri and several of the linebackers for Alabama got burned on short easy routes. This could spell real trouble against the fast-tempo gun-slinging style of Texas A&M.
With all of the defects in Alabama’s game, the one thing you must return to is that they won. Even with defensive holes, offensive struggles, and an elite team who was up with less than 2 minutes to go, Alabama found a way to win.
Champions find ways to win.
(Writers Note: I know that the Alabama vs. LSU game was an exciting game that everyone has very strong oppinions about. Let me know what you thought about the game and how you think Alabama will do in the coming weeks. Just leave a comment below.)