The key to Alabama ending its skid against Ole Miss will be slowing down Chad Kelly, who last season tossed three touchdowns and racked up 346 yards while averaging 13.8 yards per attempt. To get a better idea of how Nick Saban plans to do that, we’re making a return to the bottle service life behind the velvet ropes of the swankiest film room around. You may recall that in Club SWAG, we spend our time attempting to learn more about how to attack defenses and what defenses did to beat Ole Miss.
The best parts about Club SWAG are that it’s the place be seen and the cover charge is about $40 less than it will be at The Library this Friday and Saturday night. Now that the bouncer is waiving us in, let’s settle in on the white leather couches and look at what Alabama’s defense has done during its first two games of this season and what that tells us about what Ole Miss will see on Saturday.
Note: We’re only looking at the competitive portions of these games, which was really only the two first halves.
Bama dominated USC with a four-man rush
The thing that JUMPS OUT AT YOU, BOB, WHEN YOU TURN ON THE TAPE, is how awful USC’s offensive line was. Busted protections, whiffed blocks, and zero ability to handle only four rushers - they showcased it all!
Because they were so bad, Alabama rushed four nearly every play. What we’re about to see is a lesson in how devastating the Tide’s defense can be when they can control an entire offense with four guys, who are very (VERY) good at what they do (screenshots via here).
This is the second play of the game. Alabama brings in an eighth defender with the safety, meaning there’s solo coverage on the outside.
In what will be a recurring theme here today, you can see how aggressive the safety and linebackers are on the play-action. They recognize it is a pass, slam on the brakes, and start dropping.
The USC protection, in a rare moment, holds up and gives the quarterback time to throw it up and see if the wide receiver can make a play.
Toward the end of the first quarter, the Alabama defensive line took over. Here is one of the aforementioned blown protections and terrible blocks, but look at what Alabama is doing behind that rush. Knowing USC has no time to throw, six guys sit across the field on short to intermediate routes and a deep safety protects them over the top.
Even with adequate protection, no one would be open. And when USC went to a 4-wide set, Alabama didn’t back off an inch. Observe the defensive back and linebacker.
For the briefest of seconds, the USC running back who caught the checkdown appears to have space, but no.
What about when USC tried to run? How did that go? Spoiler: NOT WELL.
In order to create a favorable blocking matchup, they motion the wide receiver to give the illusion things could be afoot on the left side of their formation. For a few half steps, the Alabama linebacker almost believes them.
The Alabama safety arrives in support, which frees up the linebacker and gives the defense a numbers advantage.
Remarkably, Alabama had a numbers advantage on the other side as well. USC had three receivers on the left side of their formation, while Alabama had four defensive backs. NOT FAIR.
Mercifully, USC did do at least one positive thing, which Ole Miss has used before and Western Kentucky would use in the second game. Alabama lines up with five guys across the field playing those short and intermediate routes.
But USC smartly matches up a wide receiver on a safety and makes an attempt to give him room to operate.
Thanks to the wide receiver having room to maneuver, and breaking a tackle, the Trojans turned this play into a first down.
And that does it for the USC game. The thing you should take away from this portion of the Club SWAG experience is that if you can’t protect when Alabama rushes four, you are dead. Also, as you’re about to see, Western Kentucky has a better offensive line than USC and looks more competent. BRING BACK COACH O.
Western Kentucky had moderate success making Bama pay for over-aggression
While certainly not perfect, the Hilltoppers showed that good scheming, combined with sometimes adequate blocking, gives you a chance to make plays against Alabama. Unfortunately for them, their talent deficiencies, particularly at quarterback, kept them from making said positive plays. It’s also of note that, once again, Alabama spent most of the game rushing only four.
Much like the USC game, we pick up the action on the second play of the game. Western Kentucky has apparently watched a little film here and there, and sees a matchup they like (screenshots from here).
Instead of using the outside receivers to clear out the defensive backs by going vertical, they make them block, which turns out fine.
They picked up six yards on that and created a third down that isn’t an impossible situation (PAY ATTENTION, OLE MISS).
On the very next play, we see Alabama’s opinion about whether or not Western Kentucky’s receivers can quickly win individual matchups. And I say quickly because the Hilltoppers had issues with the four Alabama rushed.
On this play, protection holds up fairly well as Western Kentucky tries to clear out for its running back on a linebacker. While the clear out portion of the play achieved success, the separation portion did not.
Because there are children who could be viewing this, I did not opt to show the terrible sack WKU’s quarterback took.
On the first play of the following series, Western Kentucky shows a 5-wide set. Alabama, once again not believing they can hurt them, crowds the line, taking away space the Hilltoppers need.
With the last possession and sack on his mind, the WKU quarterback dumps it short to the first receiver he sees, which Alabama is happy to allow.
On the next play, Western Kentucky goes right back to 5-wide, but Alabama finally decides to GET FANCY WITH THE DEFENSE.
Whose gonna rush? NO IDEA. BUT THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT SO EXCI- awww they’re just gonna rush four right? YEP.
Despite blocking issues, the good news for Western Kentucky is that they get the slot receiver on a linebacker, which is ideal against Alabama.
Despite being open and getting a good throw from a quarterback who didn’t make many, the wide receiver dropped the pass.
When Ole MIss is presented with such a matchup on Saturday, Evan Engram or any other slot person cannot drop that opportunity.
On the very next play, Alabama shows another aggressive look from its safeties and linebackers.
And for the first time in two games, they go NUTS AND SEND FIVE RUSHERS.
Western Kentucky, clearly rattled by such a violation of Alabama defensive policy, melts down.
However, it’s important to note that such a tactic is now on film and the CHEATIN REBEL BEARS CAN FIND A WAY TO CHEAT IT.
If you recall when you first walked through the doors of Club SWAG, I mentioned how aggressive Alabama’s safeties and linebackers are toward the run. On almost every play, they’re leaning forward, looking into the backfield, and readying themselves to fly forward against a run play.
Western Kentucky likely picked up on this as well. Follow the two defensive backs on this trick-ish play, as the running back takes the handoff, but doesn’t run it.
Again, it doesn’t really matter which play you watch, this theme runs throughout the Alabama film. Keep an eye on these two safeties.
The slot receiver takes a tumble, but the two safeties never look anywhere but the backfield.
If the quarterback knows those safeties and linebackers can’t stop looking at him, perhaps looking away, then looking back in behind them is a good call.
One play later, I’m not sure what the Alabama safety is doing here (maybe sniffing out a possible pass on the bubble), but he leaves the middle of the field wide open. That means once the slot receiver breaks inside, a good throw is a touchdown.
And as I mentioned earlier, Western Kentucky’s quarterback can’t take advantage.
Finally (HALLELUJAH), an example of third and short against Alabama and their addiction to eyes in the backfield. In this situation, you would normally hand it to Jeremy Liggins for a loss of one, or call the best designed short yardage play in Ole Miss history.
Since Western Kentucky doesn’t have those options, they take advantage of Alabama’s aggressive nature.
Yet another defensive back keeps his eyes where the quarterback operates, while his responsibility gets away from him.
By the time he recognizes he doesn’t need to charge in against the run, it’s too late.
While USC was mostly piping hot garbage, Western Kentucky showed that there are plays to be made against an aggressive Alabama defense that is TURNT and a half in destroying running plays. For Ole Miss to make plays, the offensive line has to recreate the protection magic they had in the first half against Florida State, receivers must win individual battles (most notably against safeties and linebackers), and SWAG has to drop passes into very tiny windows.