Friday, January 3, 2014

Alabama’s exasperating game plans for the last two games

Not once. But twice. Two times in the two most important games of the 2013 season, the Alabama Crimson Tide decided that they could outscore teams that are quite comfortable in high scoring games that are still close late in the second half.

It is inexplicable, and it is exasperating.

Here you have a football program that has developed the best downhill running game in the history of downhill running games. A program that throws the ball when it’s convenient and will simply out-physical, out-hustle and out-muscle you. They use their superior talent and depth to wear you down and make your ass quit. You are literally beaten into submission and you are forced to like it.

Until the Iron Bowl.

Not satisfied with that dismally failed game plan, Alabama’s brain trust decided to double down and play basketball on grass with a team  that is designed to play basketball on grass, from a conference of nothing but teams that play… basketball on grass.


You can point to several other aspects of last night’s Sugar Bowl puzzler that contributed to Alabama’s loss. The offensive line performance in pass protection was atrocious. The linebackers’ performance in short and medium range pass plays by Oklahoma was just as ugly. AJ McCarron’s sudden affinity for turning the ball over was bad too, but the point is that he never should have been put in a position where the game’s outcome relies on the quarterback’s play. That’s not Alabama football.

Maybe this goes back to Coach Nick Saban’s promise during the run-up to the 2013 season that he wanted the offense to be more explosive. Maybe it comes from a head-strong, fifth-year senior quarterback that thinks he might be the second coming of Brett Favre, or something. Maybe it stems from an offensive coordinator who, seeing all of the talent he has on the field, thinks he has the guns to beat anybody, anywhere, even at their own game.

Maybe part of the issue is the shuffling of the depth charts on both sides of the ball and what Jess Nicholas adeptly points out:

Keeping up with the weekly depth chart meant scouring for information on who was suspended, who was in the doghouse or who simply didn’t want to be there. On most good teams, depth chart maneuverings are the result of hungry players moving up and challenging veterans. For Alabama in 2013, it was about talented players underachieving, sulking or running afoul of coaches’ policies. The primary movement was not forward, up the depth chart … it was backward, with names falling off hither and yon.

Again, that’s not Alabama football.

I still think it all goes back to game planning, and doing what it is that you do best.

The best way to beat high-powered, up-tempo offenses is to keep the damned things off of the field. You run the football early and often, and you throw it to your tight ends and receivers when you’re damned good and ready, not when you need to and when the other team knows you need to. You chew up the clock and dominate time of possession as you dominate the line of scrimmage. Alabama’s offensive line did pretty well when the Tide ran the football, did they not? Play field position football. Give the other guys few opportunities to touch the ball and when you have to do so, make them drive a country mile through the teeth of a hungry, well rested defense in order to score.

That is Alabama football, and until the final regular season game of 2013, nobody did it better than Alabama.

What we saw last night was an absolute abomination. It was ugly, it was exasperating, and I pray that I never see it again.

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