Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
10 Jan 2012
by Robert Weintraub
At the conclusion of LSU’s November 5 overtime victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Tigers head coach Les Miles was interviewed on the field. He was asked by CBS field reporter Tracy Wolfson if he would be interested in a rematch with Alabama down the road. "It would be an honor to play that team again," was The Lester’s reply.
If he had it do again, I think he’d say "Oklahoma State is the best team in the nation, and we look forward to the challenge of playing them."
Alabama’s defense used the endless time between the Iron Bowl and this game to foster a game plan that totally stuffed the Tigers. LSU’s offense couldn’t handle Alabama’s SEC speed, I guess. The Tide defense and special teams out LSU-ed LSU, hammering the boys from Baton Rouge 21-0, the first shutout in BCS championship history, to win its second BCS title in three years. Nick Saban becomes the first head coach to win three BCS titles -- one of those, of course, came while he was in Baton Rouge.
Coincidentally, I watched the game from the same hotel in upstate New York that I did in 2009 when Bama beat Texas. Silly me, I went out and purchased a bag of Tostitos to enjoy with the BCS Championship game between LSU and Alabama last night. Then I remembered that this year’s game was title-sponsored by Allstate.
Jordan Jefferson, LSU’s quarterback, needed casualty insurance after being folded and spindled by Bama’s defense all night. There isn’t much to analyze, other than exactly why Miles didn’t turn to Jarrett Lee, even if it likely would have been change for change’s sake. Jefferson and his offensive line were jumpy and out of sorts from the first series, flubbing snaps and committing a couple of pre-snap penalties. LSU’s offense is based around running between the tackles, and Kirby Smart’s defense simply didn’t permit any of it, holding the Tigers’ multi-back attack to 1.4 yards per carry. LSU managed just 92 total yards, five first downs, and zero impact plays.
Jefferson’s worst sequence came midway through the third quarter. On the initial play, and not for the first or last time, Jefferson ran an option that didn’t pull in the edge defender. The Bama linebacker, Jerrell Harris, forced JJ to pitch, but was far enough from the quarterback that he was able to peel off and stuff the pitchman too. That’s option football 101 -- the quarterback has to make the defender commit to one or the other before pitching. Quarterbacks who don’t do that either can’t handle the speed of the game or are afraid of getting hit. Jefferson fell into both categories.
On the next play, Jefferson stepped up in the pocket under a rush, apparently about to run it. Safety valve Spencer Ware certainly thought so, as he turned to block. Unfortunately, Jefferson flipped it to the spot he'd just vacated, and the result was an easy pick for C.J. Mosley. Though Bama’s embattled kicker, Jeremy Shelley, missed a field goal off the turnover, he made up for the flub by making five others in a resounding redemption for his misses in Tuscaloosa.
Jefferson’s opposite number, A.J. McCarron, had the game placed on his shoulders by Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain. He responded well, showing poise, touch, and a pocket presence he didn’t have the first time these teams met. The tight ends, as expected, were his main targets. First Brad Smelley, whose catches in the flat brought LSU up, then Chris Underwood, who got behind and over Tyrann Mathieu for a couple of long gainers.
LSU’s run defense actually played superbly in context, holding Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy in check until finally collapsing under the weight of their offense’s ineptitude. Bama was just too good -- efficient, smart, jacked up beyond belief to outhit LSU. The Tide didn’t commit a turnover, were penalty-free until three minutes remained in the game, and didn’t miss an assignment in coverage or stray from a lane on kick returns. The offensive line completely outplayed LSU’s unit.
And the defense put on a performance that was a combination of the Tide’s destruction of Miami in the 1992 Sugar Bowl and the 1985 Bears hammering Danny White’s Cowboys. All the usual suspects -- Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, Courtney Upshaw -- were fantastic. Defensive lineman Nick Gentry, a senior from venerable state power Prattville High, anticipated snap counts and got his pads low enough to knife past blockers all night. LSU crossed midfield just once, midway through the fourth quarter -- and were promptly repelled backwards, with Gentry recovering a fumble that set up the game’s lone six-pointer (my sincere sympathies to all who bet on a touchdown-free game at 20:1). The Tide turned the Bayou Bengals’ offense into a high school-esque grab bag, and deserve to be mentioned with the sport’s all-time great units.
So congrats to Alabama and Roll Tide Nation, even the nut who poisoned Auburn’s trees in Toomer’s Corner. The Yellowhammer State has now won three consecutive BCS titles, and, of course, the SEC has six straight. Will they make it lucky seven next year? A small tear is rolling down my cheek at the realization that college football is going away for nine long months.
But Bama visits LSU on November 3, 2012. Something tells me that one will be big too, and the Tigers will be out for revenge. Hopefully, they will get some better quarterback play, perhaps from star recruit Gunner Kiel. More importantly, hopefully the folks meeting in New Orleans to discuss the future of the BCS this week alter the system enough to make the end of the college season as great as the rest of it.
97 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2012, 5:16pm by Authentic Sellout