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The Saturday Afternoon Film Review: LSU @ Alabama

They finally did it.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

I couldn’t tell you exactly when LSU beat Alabama to snap the eight-game losing streak but I don’t think it actually happened when the clock struck zero at Bryant-Denny on Saturday evening. It wasn’t the dagger touchdown, it wasn’t the onside kick recovery, it wasn’t the Tua fumble or anything that happened during the actual game. This win was made many months ago. This win was forged after long practices where iron sharpened iron in the hot Baton Rouge summer mornings. It was forged during the recruiting battles when LSU and Coach O restocked the trenches. It was forged when Joe Brady came through and changed how offense was played at LSU.

This whole operation, from the time Coach O took over this program, was built to beat Alabama. From game one against Georgia Southern this year to game eight against Auburn, LSU put on tape exactly what they were going to do to the Crimson Tide. Alabama knew the plays, the formations and they knew the tempo. For the first time in a long time, they just couldn’t stop us. The switch verts concept to free up Ja’Marr Chase down the boundary? LSU already showed it a couple weeks ago, Bama just couldn’t stop it. The deep over play action concept to Justin Jefferson that LSU has run successfully against everyone else? Bama couldn’t stop it. The physical Duo runs that make up a huge chunk of LSU’s run offens? Bama couldn’t stop those either. LSU gave Alabama the blueprint to stop them and then kicked the shit out of them with it.

This was the most fun part of the whole game. Whatever LSU ran worked. Whatever Bama tried to do to stop it, did not. Bama blitzed, no problem, hot throw to Clyde. Bama spun to single high, no problem, Chase one on one down the sideline. Bama stayed in two high, no problem, Clyde on the corner route.

The reason LSU was actually able to execute the called plays was because the LSU interior offensive line didn’t crumble in the face of whichever Alabama defensive tackle du jour lined up ahead of them. O said he was going to fix the offensive line and this was the litmus test. To say they passed with flying colors would be an understatement. LSU only runs one dang running play but because LSU was able to generate push against the Bama front, the Tide could not stop it. For the first time in ages, an LSU running back had some holes to work with in this game.

The strength of the interior allowed Joe Burrow time in the pocket. Where former LSU quarterbacks would have immediate pressure up the middle, Joe did not. And you can’t let Joe have time. In years prior, when Alabama would only rush four men, it felt like they were blitzing twenty guys and dropping another fifty into coverage. This year, LSU had time to work their routes and Burrow had time to go through progressions. Amazing how that works.

Of course, none of this is possible without Burrow. He is truly having one of the best seasons in college football history. Joe Brady and Steve Ensminger have put together some great plans and schemes, Edwards-Helaire has turned into the most slippery of running backs, the receiving corps is talented with strong hands and the aforementioned offensive line has been great but Burrow makes the whole thing spin, and boy does it spin.

I wanted to start by breaking down two plays that I thought were the most important plays before the fourth quarter began. The first was LSU’s opening passing play that set the one for the rest of the game: we’re not afraid and we can execute better than you. The second was the end-of-half touchdown that gave LSU what turned out to be an insurmountable lead on a concept that LSU, to my knowledge, hadn’t shown previously.

Switch Verts

This was the same concept that LSU hit Florida with to seal the game late in the fourth game. Clyde goes out wide and because a linebacker follows him, LSU knows it’s man coverage so they get into this “pick” play where Chase and Clyde switch release. Clyde is trying to hit the upfield shoulder of Chase’s defender to force him to go under and trail Chase. It’s a good pick and it frees up Chase. However, Alabama is staying deep with two safeties. This erases a lot of the margin for error with the safety to that side already being close to the sideline. If Alabama spun to one-high, he would be in the middle of the field and too far from the sideline. Burrow has no time to waste. During his dropback, he makes sure the safety doesn’t cheat too much and then without any extra steps, he finishes his three-step drop, hitches and throws a beautiful ball to where only Chase can get it.

HB Corner

Brady brought with him a very en-vogue NFL play and unleashed Clyde to the corner of the endzone on one of the most important plays of the game. This play was after the Patrick Queen interception that set LSU up in the redzone. In this situation, you can bet Alabama would be playing coverage and keeping the two safeties deep to force LSU underneath and then into a field goal try. You can also assume that whatever coverage Alabama would call from their two-high look, they will either keep the cornerbacks deep to protect the endzone or in straight man coverage to essentially double the deepest running receivers. Either way, this would allow LSU to get Clyde matched up with a linebacker down the field. Alabama looks to be playing what they might call “box” from their Cover-7 series. For all intents and purposes for LSU, this is Cover 4. The cornerback and the safety bracket Chase on the post route. The Will linebacker widens with Thad Moss on the flat route. In a normal scenario where there is a post and a corner route by the 2 receivers to that side, the cornerback would pass the post to the safety and fall off for the corner route. With the tight end running a flat route covered by the flat defender, the cornerback is not assuming any other deep threats are coming so really he’s looking inside for any crossing routes from the other side. By the time he sees Clyde running the corner route, it’s too late. That linebacker covering Clyde is way too far inside because he thinks the cornerback will come off and help him over top. Touchdown Tigers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are so many more plays to look at from earlier in the game, however, the LSU offensive drives in the fourth quarter proved to be of utmost importance. As Alabama mounted their third quarter comeback, any stumble by the offense in the final stanza meant what felt like an almost assured Alabama victory.

Alabama forced LSU into four must-have third downs in the fourth quarter and LSU responded each and every time.

The first showed off Burrow’s poise and ability to go through a progression:

Burrow starts by looking at the bottom of the screen to the smash combination between Clyde and Moss. The outside Alabama defender switches off and stays low on Clyde so the ball could go to Moss but you can see before the snap that the inside Bama defender did not give a lot of cushion to Moss on his corner route. This means it would be tough for Moss to just beat him clean to the outside. Burrow must reset his feet and move his eyes to the backside. First, Chase is covered by the underneath linebacker and No. 7, so Burrow resets again, this time for Jefferson who is coming free for the first down. All this is happening while the pocket collapses around him.

The second one was the biggest play of the game and it showed LSU’s continued evolution in allowing their skill position players to move in space. LSU free releases their running back a lot and Alabama had found some ways to pressure LSU when they did. Burrow, like he always has, made some fantastic plays to avoid pressure and create positive plays throughout the game. On this play, LSU lines up in Empty and Alabama counters with a nice five-man pressure. Burrow is looking hot to Chase first but the Alabama defenders switch off their receivers. It’s too late to go anywhere else but to Clyde who works his magic down the sideline. Just a good job by Burrow to get the ball out of his hand instead of taking a sack and putting the offense out of field goal range. There really are no words to describe what Clyde did on this play.

This third and five on the same drive was really about the play calling. With Alabama showing two-man coverage and the middle of the field being open, it’s a great time for a QB draw (they also might have an RPO on should Bama rotate into something else). There’s no one left in the middle of the field to stop Burrow. The LSU offensive line also catches the Bama defensive line in a stunt giving a huge lane for Burrow when Lloyd Cushenberry is able to stone his man from penetrating back inside.

On the last drive, LSU faced with a third and two turned to an old favorite. This isn’t quite the same thing but, Tiger fans will recall Joe Burrow’s long run to end the Georgia game last year on a zone read play. This is more Duo Read, I believe, and because of the tempo LSU played it, the Bama D was a little out of sorts as the ball is snapped. The edge player on the top of the screen crashed hard because it’s third and two and Burrow had yet to keep the ball on an option play the whole game. So good.

Bonus Plays

All LSU did was put up 46 points on Alabama. No big deal. More points in one game against the Elephants than in the last five games combined. This was as dominant a performance as LSU has ever had on offense given the circumstances and opposition. Breathe it in, embrace it and get ready to put 85 on Ole Miss.