In modern football, the teams that win are the teams that can throw the ball and pressure opposing quarterbacks. It's not quite that simple in a micro-level, but averages suggest the teams that can do those things well will win. In fact, NFL analyst Bucky Brooks has quarterback and pass rusher as his two most important positions to NFL teams. This isn't really an arguable premise, at least at that level. It's the reason those positions are paid so much money. They, along with left tackle and cornerback (also involved) are vital to team success, though cornerback is arguable.
So when you look at what's happening when a play goes wrong for an offense, it's important to figure out why that happened. Was it excellent coverage? A poorly run route? Dominant pass rushing?
Well, in the case of the last two interceptions in Saturday night's mild upset of Alabama, the Rebels have the pass rush to thank, and more specifically they can thank Robert Nkemdiche and Marquis Haynes. Sure, the entire defensive line helped create pressure, but Haynes and Nkemdiche are the ones who worked together to get past the Alabama offensive line on the fourth quarter interceptions.
Let's take a look at the film so that you can see what I'm talking about.
C.J. Johnson's interception
Johnson's pick was the first of the two fourth quarter interceptions that helped the Rebels hold onto their lead in the game's final frame.
Now let's take a look at how and why that went down.
The Rebels are lined up in their based 4-2-5 with the defense playing a little bit off of the line, given the down. Marquis Haynes is on the field as the defensive end at the top of the line and has his hand on the ground. Next to him is Robert Nkemdiche, who has been terrorizing the Alabama offensive line all night.
At the snap, Nkemdiche and Marquis Haynes run a stunt. Nkemdiche ends up being completely uninvolved, but Haynes bursts through the line and nearly gets to Alabama quarterback Jacob Coker, causing Coker to release the ball quickly.
Coker has been staring at O.J. Howard, who is running a quick out. He feels the pressure and knows he has to get rid of the ball. Howard isn't blanketed, so Coker throws the ball in his direction.
Johnson, who has been baiting Coker much like he did to Fresno State's quarterback last week, jumps in front of the pass (which Coker has thrown behind Howard a bit likely due to pressure from Haynes), and plucks it out of the air.
Tony Bridges' interception
The final interception of the game, and one that ultimately ended Alabama's hopes (despite them getting the ball back with 30 seconds on the clock) came at the hands of junior cornerback Tony Bridges on a badly underthrown pass from Coker. This is one of the plays that had some casual viewers and national pundits saying Alabama "gave the game away." In fact, Marquis Haynes took the game away.
Let's see how it happened.
Tony Bridges is #1 at the bottom of your screen. That doesn't really matter though. Marquis Haynes is the bottom-most defensive lineman. Next to him is Robert Nkemdiche. The rest of the defense, and even offense, won't matter.
Haynes and Nkemdiche run a stunt again, but this time Nkemdiche is incredibly effective, eating up two blockers and causing the center to move out of position early as he tries to help block Nkemdiche. Marquis Haynes comes around and is only half blocked. That's a recipe for disaster for the Crimson Tide's hopes.
Haynes pounds Coker as he releases the ball, causing him to throw high as he falls back. This means the ball will be in the air for longer than normal and will not go as far as he was hoping.
Tony Bridges, who was covering wide receiver Ardarius Stewart well, sees the underthrow before Stewart does. He lags off and makes the grab. He goes down at the encouragement of Mike Hilton so as to ensure he will not fumble. Alabama later gets the ball back but doesn't have enough time to move down the field successfully.