Much apologies for this being so late and not timely at all. But being as big of a game as this was, I thought it was still important to do. It's been an extremely busy week, but I'm finally finished reviewing and writing. My notes are 7,000 words long, and I'll try to condense that some here. I'm going to do the whole game in one recap here, so I'm going to go section by section with some thoughts, then the player-by-player pieces.
When will Les Miles stop meddling!?!?!?! Seriously, this was a brilliant performance, and maybe even a better game plan. We kept a steady diet of the north/south running, but threw in a few new wrinkles to keep things fresh. Here's a couple things I saw that I can't recall us doing prior to this game:
1) A bit of a misdirection
We didn't run it a ton, but we ran a few plays where Copeland filled to one side and Hill purposefully ran to the other. I don't think this was merely Hill trying to get inventive. It looked designed, as there were backside holes for him to run through. There were no huge plays out of it, but it's the type of subtle wrinkle that can keep the defense off balance and from purely keying on the action of the fullback (since we run behind him so much).
2) Nic Jacobs split wide in Shotgun, Singleback, 4WR sets
It took the great Saban 3.5 entire quarters to adjust to this. It worked magnificently, all night. Each time, we'd line Jacobs all the way near the sideline and one of Bama's better cover corners would occupy him. It's clearly something we saw on tape. The Tide don't do a lot of pre-snap moving around, switching up who is covering who (they also run a ton of zone, so that's a factor), but the fact is, doing this allowed us to get our better wide receivers (Beckham and Landry) matched up on Sunseri and Linebackers. Those are winning matchups created, pre-snap. It's brilliant coaching. If you go back and look at a lot of our most successful passing plays on the night, they came in this formation.
3) Using Shep in the Backfield
Russell Shepard had the best run of his career this game. It wasn't his longest, but it was his best. It came early in the game, and we ran a "zone/read" (which is a dead give with Mett), and the hole wasn't even that substantial. What he did was a great job making himself "skinny" through the hole, then burst into the second level and delivered a powerful stiff-arm on Ha Ha Dix for a gain of 19. It's the type of stuff we thought we'd see from Shep when we recruited him. Hope we see it more.
4) Flooding the Three Levels
We ran this several times and it worked really well. One way to challenge a zone is to give them choices. We ran a lot of "3-levels" routes, where one guy would be deep, one guy intermediate and one guy short. Roll Mettenberger, or even keep him in the pocket, but the defenders have to choose how to defend this. Usually that meant pursuing the deep guy and taking the underneath so Mett had to make the intermediate (the toughest) throw. The big thing? Mett made this throw all night.
5) Throwing to the Backs
The backs in this game had 6 catches for 97 yards and two huge plays. Pre-game, I wrote how that could be one way to attack the Alabama defense. Thanks for listening, Les and Stud.
As for the controversial Warecat 4th down call. A couple things to remember. That play has worked brilliantly before. Further, if you really re-watch, the hole is actually blocked. The problem? Collins didn't get out of his stance quick enough and true freshman DJ Pettway makes an outstanding, athletic play shooting the gap and makes first contact. If Collins gets any sort of a block there, that's a likely first down. PJ and Trai absolutely destroyed Jesse Williams on the play. Further, if you look at the defense pre-snap, EVERYONE is tight in the middle. Why not run the option or just the pitch play as they did a couple weeks ago? That turns it into a race for the sidelines between Ford and Robert Lester. I'll take Ford in that race.
On the last real drive of the game (where we missed the field goal), we went with three straight runs, and that is one of those tough coaching calls. You are down in long FG territory. Alabama has three timeouts, so you want those gone. I get why you run it there. Conversely, there is enough time left that 3 TOs probably don't mean a ton (i.e. 1:38 is plenty long enough to drive and score). As hot as Mett was, I wish we had tried some sort of a controlled throw on 2nd down and 6 (which lead to a 3rd and long after the running play went backward). Why not a screen!? Why do we hate the screen game?
One thing that may have hurt us a little bit is that we spent the bulk of the game doing quicker snaps. Not a true "no huddle" or "hurry up," but we'd get lined up a bit quicker and snap the ball almost immediately, as a way to keep Alabama guessing. It worked really well, obviously, but late in the game, we still did it, and we maybe should have been a bit more judicious in clock management. The counter argument would be, if the offense is going so well, why change what we're doing?
Shotgun, Singleback: 24
Shotgun, 2RB: 2
90 plays! Any time you run 90 plays against Alabama, you are doing something right.
Mett: The light went on. Maybe just for one game, but the light was on. This was Mettenberger realized. This is who we were expecting out the gate. He stood in the pocket all night. He delivered tough throws. He read the field. He found open guys. He made smart decisions. He used his arm strength. In fact, he made a couple of risky throws that he could get away because of his arm. The fade to Landry on the TD was a thing of beauty. He even took a few hits due to poor protection and still stood up and made plays. His biggest mistake (outside of that last, horrendous "drive") was the play where he tried to escape the pocket to extend the play and got sacked for a big loss. He needs to throw that away. He threw deep outs from the opposite hash. Those are throws we haven't had a guy that can make since Russell.
I will say this now, and probably regret it, but if the Zach Mettenberger we saw Saturday is who we will get the rest of his career, LSU will be in line for one of the most prolific offenses in school history next season.
Hill: Ran tough. Wasn't his sexiest night, but he still runs with so much will and determination. Early on, he showed his dynamic abilities. Bama brought a corner blitz and Hill looked dead to rights. He ran through a Dee Milliner (a sound tackler) tackle attempt, then burst outside and turned it up field for a couple. Modest gain, but amazing it was a gain at all.
By that same token, this is what worries me somewhat about his running style (and it may continue to work in college). He has good speed and vision. But on more than a couple occasions, he would try to bounce a play outside when it was clearly blocked up the middle. I get that running into a pile isn't not the most fun thing to do, and for the most part, when he bounced it, it turned out okay, but sometimes you live to die another down. Sometimes you just have to take that modest gain. He's young and his patience is still coming along, but his vision, speed and power make him one helluva back.
Ford: Not on the field much. He's about as good as anyone I've seen at looking dead to rights and somehow still getting to the edge to gain a couple.
Copeland: Night of ups and downs for this guy. I will say, I admire his aggression, but he needs to keep it in check. This isn't the first time he's been overly aggressive to the point of stupid penalties. Watch yourself. Fortunately, both Miles and the players jumped all over him. I like seeing that. It's called leadership and accountability. Copeland threw his little fit, cooled off, then came back in and played a big role. But the play cost us points, maybe a touchdown.
His blocking was pretty strong. Most impressive block came on a fill against Jesse Williams, where he got under him and completely destroyed him. We continued to use him as a runner and pass catcher too. His big play, his redemption, was really all effort. It was going to be a first down, regardless, due to great design, but Copeland ran through a poor tackle attempt by Belue and then "turned on the jets" and broke it for 42 yards.
Beckham: Really proud of the game he played. He's a really emotional player, if you watch him. He played really, really hard. He rebounded from an early drop (wasn't an easy catch, but one he should make) and made some big plays. We liked the Belue on Beckham match-up a lot and went after him. Did some of his best blocking in this game, including a huge block where he threw himself into the much bigger Nico Johnson, fearlessly. Most of his routes really worked the sideline well, and his catch in the 4th, going up over Belue to pull out of the air and maintaining control on the way down, was a thing of beauty. Finished 4 for 73.
Landry: He became the safety valve in this game. He dropped an early, sure 1st down, which was frustrating. I liked how we used him. A lot of outs, but we played off that with hard jab steps and getting him back over the middle for big completions. Touchdown catch was a thing of beauty. It's a one man route. Everyone else in to block. Sluggo. He takes two steps in, plants on a dime and explodes back outside, which is the perfect way to keep Belue from getting the jam on him. He has a step on him and Mett lays it up high, right over the recovering Belue, who can't react fast enough as Landry plucks it from the sky for the TD. As Danielson said, "Perfect." Finished 8 for 76 and 1 TD.
Boone: He was the early target. Caught an early slant, that I think is a sight read by Mett and the WR. If the guy is playing off, line up, snap it and throw the slant. Worked perfectly. What I most liked seeing is that he does a really good job of walling off defenders with his body. This proved really effective on comeback routes. We missed a chance with him on a deep throw. It was a bit dangerous, but still catchable. Almost picked off and Boone went up for it, but couldn't come down with it. Missed him on another throw that would have been a first down. Danielson blamed it on Milliner spinning into Mett or some such, but it was just a bad throw. In many ways, the early completions to Boone set up Mett for a successful night. Finished 4 for 37.
Clement: He had a touchdown called back due to a procedure penalty. It was probably the right call, but unfortunate, because this was a beautiful play call. Otherwise, he was around. Saw him used a lead blocker on a dive play, which I found interesting. On one play, he manhandled Ed Dickson, which was fantastic blocking. Not much else of note.
Jacobs: As mentioned, I liked how we lined him up out wide. Never saw a ball in this set, but as a decoy, it was highly effective. We got him involved in the passing game for 2 catches for 15 yards. One was a really nice route by him. He doesn't have great speed, but he's big and strong. He ran right at CJ Moseley (Bama's best coverage LB) and gave him a little shove before kicking out for a nice big target for Mett and a good gain for a first down.On another play, he just settled into the middle of the field and Mett found him through the progression. Nice to have that safety valve. He had one drop that wound up being costly. It was a risky throw, but Mett fit it in just by the LB and the ball hit Jacobs in the chest and hit the ground. The result is that we tried the 55-yard FG and missed. Unfortunate.
Dwor: He's competent but not dynamic. Didn't really see too many things that stood out good or bad. Once he was beaten badly by Hubbard that ended in a sack. Hubbard beat him badly again later and made a TFL. On that late drive where we wound up missing the FG, he had a strong block initially but lost it and that wound up shortening the gain.
Collins: We still love running behind him. If only he could be paired with Faulk... sigh. Best block of the night was on CJ Moseley (who is really overhyped). Collins got on him about midfield and then deposited him over on the right hash. It was a thing of beauty. Got beat on the aforementioned Warecat play. Also had a false start, but we wound up converting anyhow.
PJ: I was proud of him for battling Jesse Williams all night. Williams still made his share of plays, but PJ dominated him at times. One play Danielson said, "We just haven't seen anyone do this to Jesse Williams," as PJ pushed him out of the hole and about 2 yards away from the play. He did a solid job on the 2nd level too.
Trai: I really, really like this guy and I was really, really happy we didn't opt for Williford. Turner is taking his game to the next level right now. No need to interrupt. He's not perfect, but there's some really nasty raw ability coming out. He gets to the 2nd level and picks off LBs a lot. But it's not just that athleticism, there is raw power too. On one play, he buried Dial. On another, after getting beat initially by Williams, he somehow re-established and pancaked him. That's just brute strength. He's gonna be a good one.
Vadal: He's still young, but all the potential is there. He got beat a couple of times, but he also made some HUGE blocks against much older, stronger competition. Biggest thing is that he's a battler and not losing confidence when losing battles. He keeps coming. Really like the future of our right side.
I'm not going to go player by player here because I don't have a ton of extensive notes about the guys. For the most part, it was really just a great team effort. Coverage remained strong all night. Tharold Simon, who has had some ups and downs this season, held Amari Cooper catchless. That's their best WR.
We really struggled in the screen game. They gashed us at least 4 times with screen plays, the last one being the most notable, of course. There was just zero discipline and recognition there. A bit frustrating.
I will say, on that last screen, we had two chances to sniff it out and stop it. Mills came on a blitz and over ran Yeldon. If he peels off, that's probably a ball getting thrown into the ground. Instead, he plays right into it. Even still, Yeldon gets into the open field and Loston has a one-on-one chance to tackle him. He needs to break down and get in position. Instead, he flies past him with a slight shimmy from Yeldon and he scores.
Our pass rush really struggled. Sam got a sack, but there really wasn't consistent pressure all night. Honestly, a lot of Alabama's struggles on offense were plain misses. AJ overthrowing and underthrowing guys all night. Bad, bad night for him.... mostly.
Jalen Mills, despite the screen pass flub, is coming along nicely. He had a series of three straight plays on the drive before that where he made the difference. On one, he batted a ball out of the hands of Kevin Norwood to prevent a completion. The second one, he diagnosed a WR screen and made the tackle behind the LOS. The third, he just locked into Norwood in coverage and AJ was forced to tuck and run. That's superb effort. He's had ups and downs this year, but he's steadily improving.
The defensive tackle play was really horrendous this game. Logan had his moments, but even on "good" plays, it seemed to burn him. He'd get penetration, but Lacy would dance by him into the hole vacated by his effort. He did make a couple of plays back to back in the 3rd that were huge. First, he batted down a pass. On the next play, he beat Barrett Jones across the face and tackled Lacy for a minor gain (I think this is where he got hurt too). He spent the night battling a future high NFL draft pick in Chance Warmack and used his quickness to win some battles.
The linebackers were mostly quiet. Lamar Louis looked a touch "lost" at times. The game is still coming to him. It's just slow. It's unfortunate there was no Kwon... as he was really coming into it. Minter had that pass break up early and made a couple of other plays, but he didn't have the "high impact" type of game like he did at Florida.
The safeties were okay. Loston made some really nice reads and aggressive tackling in the run game. He looked more decisive, like he was just playing football, rather than thinking.
As for the last drive, I really think it comes back to execution. It wasn't a true "prevent." We were in Nickel. We blitzed on every play. On every play but one, we played off. On one play we played man, press coverage, and it was the lone incomplete. But we played off all night, so it wasn't like some dramatic change in strategy here. The guys just didn't execute and Bama did. AJ suddenly made throws that he hadn't made all night. It happens.
Really though, that happened twice. If we can stop one of two time-expiring drives, we win this game. The defense failed at times we most needed them. That's frustrating and that has more to do with the loss than Les calling trick plays.
By the way, "AJ to TJ" is the absolute worst name for a game-winning play ever. The worst. "AJ to TJ" sounds like a show on Nickelodeon. Or a really bad Kings of Leon album. It's awful. Just awful. Have some inventiveness. Show some hyperbole for god's sake. We have "The Blue Grass Miracle" (ten years, baby!). C'mon.
Bit of a stinker here. Wing punted pretty well. We opted for sky high kickoffs rather than going deep, and I'm not sure why. Bama doesn't really have any super-dynamic return guys.
Alleman's misses proved costly. Throwing out the 55-yarder that he probably should have never been given the chance for, the 45 yard miss, which is right in his range and had the distance, proved damning. It's probably time we gave Hairston a shot on FGs.
Speaking of Hairston, I've never seen a kicker more fired up than him on his first sky kickoff, where he came off the field fist pumping and yelling. Then he laid down a near perfect onsider and had the best reaction ever. Pick up the ball, sprint to the sideline, hand it to Les and sit on the bench. Hilarious watching him.
It's really funny because as well as we played, if you really look at what cost us this game, it's the same type of stuff we've been doing all season. Penalties, mistakes, and bad special teams. Even still we were right in position, but the D let us down. It still hurts.
Also, A.J. McCarron is the worst. And not in the whole, "Tebow is the worst cause he's really awesome and annoying." Nope, just the worst, worst. He's just annoying. Nothing awesome. He was sobbing, sobbing, after he "lead" their drive. Sobbing. There were 53 seconds left. Gah, if only we had pulled it out just to see the rivers of tears coming down his face after that.
AJ, you are the worst.