Was there a blown coverage on the play likes Les Miles said? ATVS investigates...
It is a play that LSU fans will never forget and it will forever be etched in the minds of Tiger fans everywhere. TJ Yeldon's scamper into the end zone was a backbreaking experience for everybody.
The play call was perfect. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier ran a screen into the direction of the blitz. But there are plenty questioning if there was a blown assignment on the play.
Nobody is to blame for LSU’s loss. Sometimes in a battle between two great teams, no matter the sport, it comes down to a special player making special plays. But if the LSU defense wants to be viewed as elite, it needed to make the clutch stop when the team needed it the most.
Les Miles mentioned in his opening statement at his “Lunch with Les” press luncheon on Monday there was a “young player” who blew an assignment on the Yeldon touchdown.
“On the touchdown play, there was a guy that was out of position and dropped coverage. Again, as a young player, he had one of his better games,” said Miles.
I asked a follow up to Miles about where the blown assignment was on the play and who blew it. He wouldn’t specify the player, but most believe the player he is referencing is freshman cornerback Jalen Mills.
Before I go any further, I would like to point out that I don’t know specific play calls or assignments from LSU Football. They all know more about tackle football than I do. Only the players and coaches truly know what happens on every play. I make my judgments based on what the film shows me. After watching the play over and over again, I didn’t see where the dropped coverage was. That was why I asked Miles the follow up question.
With that said, the film shows that Miles is being a little harsh by calling it a blown assignment. But it’s complicated. I spoke with some players on Monday and they were able to clear some things up for me. Miles was partially correct. For a better description, let’s hit the tape.
As we see here on the first slide, LSU is in their “Mustang” 3-2-6 formation. This is the set they played their entire final drive and it has been LSU’s most productive defensive formation the past three seasons. I have labeled on this slide Jalen Mills (JM) who is the near side “Nickel” or “Dime” back (whichever you prefer).
Mills and the other “Nickel” or “Dime” back Micah Eugene are showing blitz. We see LSU showing a “Double A-Gap” blitz look pre-snap with their linebackers Lamin Barrow and Kevin Minter. All four of them could blitz or drop back in coverage. Alabama is in a clear passing situation with McCarron in shotgun and with “Twins Left” (two receivers to his left) and a receiver, Kevin Norwood, motioning inside to help protect a blitz heavy look from the defense.
Off the snap, we see Mills (JM) coming off the nearside edge. We will eventually see three of the four previously mentioned LSU players (Mills, Minter, and Eugene) blitz with Barrow dropping in coverage. We also see Alabama running back TJ Yeldon (labeled TJ) look as if he is staying in to help with pass protection.
On this next slide, Mills continues his blitz while Yeldon (TJ) slips his block on Mills for a screen. As we see, the blitzing Minter (KM) sees the play develop because the man blocking him on his blitz, Alabama guard Chance Warmack, leaves the line of scrimmage to go block down field.
Mills finally gets to quarterback McCarron, but the ball is released to Yeldon in plenty of space. Now Minter (KM) must make a quick decision. Warmack (CW) does a great job of choosing Minter to block on this play. Minter has to make a quick decision on which side of Warmack he wants to take to attempt to tackle Yeldon.
Minter (KM) trusts his speed and chooses to go inside of Warmack (CW) to try and chase Minter. Warmack doesn’t give the best of efforts to get a piece of Minter. This is because Warmack doesn’t want the official to call any kind of penalty on him to void the touchdown run. He trusts Yeldon’s speed to get away from Minter who took an inside angle to chase him down (later in this film study, you will see why Warmack did this).
Minter gives one Hell of an effort to catch Yeldon. We see Warmack at the top of the screen panic when he sees how close Minter got to Yeldon, hoping the freshman can get passed him. At the bottom of this shot, cornerback Tharold Simon (TS) gives his best effort to make a tackle. This is great blocking by Alabama receiver Christion Jones to get a good push on him to the sideline, while Simon makes the right decision to stay on the outside to keep contain on the play and force it to the inside. If Yeldon gets to the sideline, he walks into the end zone.
At the bottom right corner of this slide at the 25-yard line, we see that Minter dove and narrowly missed the opportunity to bring down Yeldon. Now Yeldon gets Craig Loston (CL) in the open field, who is a good tackler.
Yeldon put Loston on his butt with a nice move. But because Loston lost Yeldon to the inside, it still gives backside pursuit a chance to tackle Yeldon. The pursuit in this case is Barkevious Mingo (Mingo) who’s speed is well documented (ask LaMichael James). It is amazing Mingo even came close to catching Yeldon since his original assignment was to attack the quarterback to the inside of his blocker (which you will see later).
Mingo gives his best effort to tackle Yeldon as he dives at his ankles (much like Minter). As we know, Yeldon is able to avoid Mingo’s long arms and scores a touchdown all Tiger souls have yet to recover from.
Now the point of the film study was to not only show the beautiful play design, but to figure out if Mills (or some other defensive back Miles possibly could have been referencing), made a mistake on the play.
This angle will be the best indicator to see where everybody was supposed to go pre-snap. We see across the line of scrimmage LSU has seven players lined up along the line of scrimmage (three defensive lineman and four defensive backs/linebackers). Alabama theoretically has enough players to protect the blitz (five offensive lineman, Yeldon and No. 83 Norwood).
(Like I did with the Florida film study, I show on this back angle the gap names. “A-Gap” is the gap located on both sides of the center. The “B-Gap” is the space between the guard and tackle etc.)
The word “gap discipline” gets thrown around often. What it means is that every player is assigned a gap and must remain in his gap to not open up huge rushing lanes for the offense.
Mills (JM) is showing blitz pretty heavily, which should light up the eyes of McCarron. A screen pass lines up pretty nicely for Alabama because the screen will be thrown in the direction of a blitz.
From the start, we see Alabama dominate this blitz pickup across the board. Notice how each player in pass protection from the Crimson Tide is very low and displaying nice leverage. LSU’s defenders aren’t in a bad position either. All are low and Chavis would hope that one of his athletes could win a 1-on-1 matchup and make a play.
One key read to show that Mills was supposed to blitz is Mingo’s (Mingo) path to the quarterback. Notice how Mingo is attacking the tackle to the inside or the “B-Gap”. This means that pre-snap Mingo was told to shoot the B-Gap because Mills was coming from the outside, thus having the “C-Gap” and ultimately having contain responsibilities. Notice the same thing is happening on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Lavar Edwards initially lined up in the “C-Gap” on the outside shoulder of Alabama tackle #76 DJ Fluker. Because Micah Eugene is blitzing on his side, he is shooting the “B-Gap”.
The key on defensive snap is to always not have more than one player shoot the same gap. On this play, Mills has C-Gap responsibility, Mingo has B-Gap, Minter has A-Gap, nose-guard Bennie Logan (being blocked by #75 Barrett Jones) has A-Gap, Edwards has B-Gap, and Eugene has C or D Gap depending on if #83 Kevin Norwood goes out for a pass. If Norwood doesn’t go out for a pass, then Eugene must attack the D-Gap to keep contain responsibility (Eugene lost contain a few plays ago, which resulted in a big gain for Alabama).
The player currently being blocked by #61 Steen is linebacker Lamin Barrow. Eventually, he drops back into coverage. This is actually a creative play design by Chavis to free player up to go to attack the quarterback. In this case, the play is designed to give Edwards a free path to the quarterback if #83 Norwood went out for a pass (which makes sense since Norwood was the only receiver to catch a pass on the drive up to this point). This was the same exact play call that allowed Sam Montgomery to go unblocked for a 4th quarter sack versus South Carolina. Edwards, who just subbed in for Montgomery, would go unblocked if Norwood went out for a pass because Fluker would have to pick up the blitzing Eugene. Steen would still be left blocking Barrow, thus leaving nobody blocking Edwards. Chavis took a gamble on this snap. He brought the house, put in a fresh Edwards for star Mongomery, to try and get a sack in a clutch situation. Unfortunately for him, Norwood stayed in to block which wouldn’t have mattered either since Alabama ran a screen.
But the key is yet again Mills (JM). He continues his path to the quarterback. And this is where things can get a little confusing, so hold on tight.
I spoke with Barrow at length on Monday about the play. He broke down every little aspect of how the play developed from his perspective. I will mainly focus in on what he had to say about Mills’ responsibilities and if he actually blew an assignment.
“Jalen did was he was assigned to do, which was to blitz. Now at the same time at that position, you have two responsibilities. If somebody shows they are running a flat, you take him. He (Yeldon) didn’t ‘cross his face’, we have a rule, if somebody ‘cross your face’ you have to take them. Nobody crossed his face at that time so he went on and blitzed and the running back went right under him. It was unfortunate.”
The key words in that quote are “cross your face.” Here is what Barrow meant by that.
Here is the shot of the play pre-snap with some extra art for Yeldon (TJ) and Mills (JM). “Cross your face” basically means that if Yeldon were to go on a route outside of Mills outside shoulder (flat route/flare route), that means that Yeldon “crossed his face” to the outside for a route. The art shows if Yeldon were to run a flare route, Mills would have to not blitz and pick up Yeldon.
As you see here, Yeldon (TJ) doesn’t go out for a flare or flat route to the outside. Instead, he shows that he is just helping with pass protection. Notice Mills’ (JM) head and body placement. He doesn’t blitz McCarron out of control. He goes through his assignments and progressions Barrow previously stated. He takes a glimpse to see if Yeldon goes out for a route to the outside while also locating where McCarron is with the football. Yeldon does a great job of selling/acting that he is only job on the play is to help with pass protection on McCarron’s blind side. This is pretty impressive for a freshman to display so much patience and not give away the play in a crucial part of the game.
This photo shows Yeldon selling this screen perfectly. Mills read here is to continue his route to the quarterback. Yeldon is staying in to protect and never “crosses his face” or, in simpler terms, goes out for the route. In this case, Mills is doing his job and continuing his blitz to the quarterback.
Mills (JM) continued his blitz of McCarron after taking the outside route of Yeldon (TJ) to the quarterback, which is actually pretty good technique. Unfortunately for LSU, Yeldon “slipped” the block and gives McCarron a wide-open target for a “slip screen” and All-American Chance Warmack to block for him down field. We all know the rest is history.
“With Jalen being a young player, his opportunity was to blitz…Now if that player (Yeldon) had run a ‘flare’ out then Jalen probably would have taken him,” said Barrow.
Also, notice that I labeled Mingo (Mingo) for this play. We all know about his speed and hustle, but this is the perfect example. When the ball is thrown, he is submersed in traffic because his assignment was to take the “B-Gap”. At the end of the play, he is the last line of defense between Yeldon and the goal line.
After Yeldon catches the football, he has nothing but real estate in front of him. Warmack has back to the hole with Minter (KM) inside of him. But also I labeled Craig Loston (CL) because he does a great job of shedding a block by freshman receiver Marvin Shinn and at least attempting to bring down Yeldon. As previously shown, Yeldon makes a tremendous move in the open field and scores the game winning touchdown.
At the end of the play, speedy Mingo couldn’t quite catch Yeldon. Shinn, who didn’t make much of an attempt to block Loston, doesn’t do much to stop Mingo either. This was the same approach that guard Warmack took on linebacker Minter. I do believe they intentionally gave weak attempts at blocking to avoid having a tacky penalty being called on them in a crucial part of the game. This was smart football. Like Warmack, Shinn and the Alabama offense were lucky enough to have the elusive Yeldon score regardless.
After speaking with Barrow for about 10 minutes, here were his final thoughts on the play…
“It was just a good play. Nobody had a particular man on that play. It was a smart play, hats off to them,” said Barrow. “He (Yeldon) showed a blocking scheme all the way up until Jalen passed him. That is confusing to anybody. I had a play like that against Texas A&M that happened to me.”
And here is the tape of that play. LSU is in a “Nickel” package with linebacker Barrow #57 as the outside linebacker. His goal on this play is to blitz.
As the play starts, Barrow begins his blitz to quarterback Johnny Manziel. He begins being blocked by Texas A&M running back Ben Malena. Like Barrow said, his job is to stay with Malena if he crosses his face. Because the play is a roll out to the right, the last thing Barrow is thinking is that the play is designed to be thrown back to the player blocking him on the weak side.
It is clear now Malena “slips” Barrow and allows him to continue his route to the quarterback. Barrow tries to block the pass of Manziel to Malena. We also see one offensive lineman (as well as another off screen) downfield ready to block.
Malena, like Yeldon, catches the football in acres of space with two blockers.
The Aggies offensive lineman commit a bad penalty by “chop blocking” Reid when they didn’t have to. Malena cuts to the inside of these blocks and eventually scores a touchdown that is called back.
Notice practically the same thing happened on both screens. A slip screen that led to a touchdown run because a blitzer was fooled by a running back. Also, this play shows why Alabama didn’t try and do too much blocking down field. The Aggies committed a dumb penalty when they should have just trusted Malena to score with his speed and elusiveness.
But still, Barrow said he made the same mistake as Mills. I’m sure Nussmeier saw this exact play on film and trusted it work against a blitz.
“He (Mills) was kinda down after the game, but we rallied around him to pick him up. You can never put that one play on one player,” said Barrow.
Once again, I think Miles was a little harsh. This is if he is referring to Mills blowing the coverage in the above quote. Sure, it could be viewed that Mills was ultimately responsible for Yeldon on that play. But Mills, according to Barrow, is taught to only cover the man if he “crosses his face”. Chavis could have easily told Mills and other defensive backs and linebackers to stay with Yeldon to prevent screens, but that to me seems unlikely.
From my eyes, I wouldn’t say Mills dropped coverage. I would chalk this one up for just a brilliant play call against the play LSU was running on defense. Any time a screen is thrown into the face of a blitz, it is usually ends with a fight song for the offensive team. I believe any player in Mills position would have done the same thing.
I honestly liked the play call by Chavis. He took a chance to win the game. He called a blitz that could have allowed Lavar Edwards to get a massive sack. Alabama had no timeouts and it would have left them in a tough position to kick a field goal.
It is time for Miles to say it like it is, Alabama outcoached LSU on that final drive. It’s as simple as that. Their play calls were perfect and caught LSU off balanced.
Miles said that he and Chavis would not have changed one call on the final Alabama drive. Yet the LSU defense played very soft coverage. Alabama completed four of five passes on that drive. The one incompletion came when both LSU cornerbacks, Jalen Collins and Tharold Simon, were within two yards of the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. All other plays, Simon and/or Collins were at least five yards off the line of scrimmage.