Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» The Deep Ball Project

Guest columnist John Kinsley breaks down the tape of every deep pass in the NFL in 2017 and comes away with a shocking conclusion: even without Andrew Luck, the Colts had the best long-ball quarterback in the league.

12 Jan 2016

Audibles at the Line: College Football Championship

compiled by Andrew Potter

For this special College Football Championship edition of Audibles, as with our regular Audibles at the Line feature, the FO staff sends around email comments about the game. We share information, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed as we watch. We then compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of the game. That means we aren't going to cover every incident, or every important play. We watch as fans of college football, as well as analysts, so the discussion may be more colored then usual by our rooting interests, and aspects of the game may not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all.

Alabama Crimson Tide 45 vs. Clemson Tigers 40

Scott Kacsmar: I'm rooting for Clemson, so Alabama is going to win. I've rooted for the loser in 24 of the last 26 National Championship Games in college football and college basketball. Just know how to pick against a champ I guess. Only times I was satisfied were 2004 USC over Oklahoma (now vacated) and when Mario Chalmers saved the game with that 3-point shot against Memphis.

Ben Muth: Shaq Lawson was called for lining up in the neutral zone on the second play of the game. He might have been a yard offsides, but I've never seen that called so early in the game. Almost always get a warning before a flag comes.

Chad Peltier: Bama has run the toss sweep with Derrick Henry twice in the first drive, but the line is allowing a good deal of penetration from the Clemson front. Not sure running him to the outside maximizes Henry's best traits, but it seems Lane Kiffin wants to attack the edge early.

Aaron Schatz: Requisite praise for ESPN Megacast ESPN2 Film Room here.

Cian Fahey: The Spider Cam is the best option, in my opinion. You can see everything.

Sterling Xie: Quick addendum to the praise for the ESPN2 Film Room: I think it's really cool how instantaneously they can start reviewing the play on the clicker when it's finished. On Henry's 50-yard touchdown run just now, they were able to start rewinding the play and highlight the poor containment from the Clemson safety before the regular ESPN broadcast had even showed the instant replay. Only mild complaint is that I wish the volume of the coaches talking was much louder than the volume of the game. Anyone tuning into this wants to hear the coaches, not the crowd noise in the background.

Tom Gower: Biggest drawback of the ESPN2 Film Room broadcast is something I've already mentioned a couple times on Twitter: it's hard to actually watch the game. ESPN doesn't know whether to show the overhead or the live shot, so they show both, but they're slightly out of sync and the overhead shot has typically been on the small screen, which is distracting and difficult to see.

On Henry's long touchdown to make it 7-0, Alabama's tempo prevented Clemson from lining up properly. Misfit a gap, and that was that.

Vince Verhei: The coaches' film room has some problems with presentation -- I spend way too much time looking at the backs of men's heads in the big window, while the actual game is in the small window -- but for analysis it's so fantastic. On Henry's big run on the game's first touchdown, one of the coaches (Will Muschamp, I think) immediately spotted where Clemson had failed in gap control, and after commercial they showed how Oklahoma's tempo offense had forced Clemson to line up out of position, leaving them vulnerable to a big run on one mistake. On Clemson's next drive, Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi points out that you can tell whether the Tigers are running or passing based on where the running back is lining up. Not that it matters, as Clemson scores on a long pass to tie the game anyway, but it is so refreshing to hear commentary from people who I feel know more about football than I do for a change.

Ben Muth: Agree with Sterling on the instantaneous (with great angles) replays. On the long Henry run, they cut to the end zone cam so you could see Clemson's run fits were terrible, and both linebackers looked completely out of place. Then on the long Clemson touchdown, they went to the wide-angle all-22 and you could see Clemson pulling a guard, which drew the safety's eyes into the backfield just long enough to where he couldn't get over top of the slot wheel/fade.

Aaron Schatz: Well, that DeShaun Watson touchdown throw to Hunter Renfrow sure made me curious how his QBASE projection is going to come out. That was a big-time NFL throw. Honestly, good coverage by Alabama, but Watson just dropped it in a bucket over the defensive back and into the hands of his receiver in the corner of the end zone.

Chad Peltier: Watson has been on point for the past few series -- improvising and extending, which is exactly what he'll have to do. The issue is that it's hard to do that for four quarters against this defense. Especially when there has been nothing there in the middle of the line.

Tom Gower: 14-7 Tigers on another strike by Watson to end the first quarter. At least his third pretty good throw of the night, though perhaps the first in the pocket. I thought I'd see a lot more pressure from Alabama's defensive front than I've seen so far. Some of Watson's good work has come outside the pocket while improvising, but it really hasn't been because he has been fleeing the pass rush.

Chad Peltier: Dodd is taking over this next Alabama drive with two straight plays for a loss. The Tide have had two drives with a big loss on first down, and so far Jake Coker and the line haven't had enough to overcome those deficits.

Sterling Xie: Was eager to get my first extended look at Calvin Ridley, who I've heard hyped as the successor to Julio Jones and Amari Cooper among Bama receivers. With the caveat that I don't know how Lane Kiffin normally likes to use him, I've been disappointed to see him mostly limited to screens and crossing routes that appear to go 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage. I looked up his numbers and noticed his yards per catch is lower than what Julio and Amari posted in their day, but is that just a result of Jake Coker's limitations? It does look like Bama is trying to move him away from Mackensie Alexander, Clemson's first-round cornerback prospect.

Brian Fremeau: Under eight minutes left in the half. Huge series coming up for the Clemson defense after Alabama just forced its second consecutive three-and-out (well, first was a two-and-out interception). Clemson hasn't given up four consecutive successful possessions (two scores, two stops) since the Louisville game in Week 3.

Entertaining first half. Available yards through the first 30 minutes almost dead even: 41.8 percent for Clemson and 41.5 percent for Alabama.

Ben Muth: Fun first half. Watson is reminding me of when Johnny Manziel beat Bama a few years ago. He's moving around a ton, throwing accurately on the move, and taking a bunch of small gains on the ground to keep the offense on schedule. Made a bad decision on the pick, but he has been great so far.

Aaron Schatz: Great block by the fullback Garrett Williams on the goal-line rushing touchdown to make it Clemson 24, Alabama 21.

Brian Fremeau: My Twitter feed can't help making Vince Young and 2006 Rose Bowl comparisons. I can't either. Resistance is futile.

Aaron Schatz: One of the coaches on the ESPN2 feed just summed things up pretty well: "The difference between quarterbacks right now is the difference in the game." It seems like Alabama always has the top athletes and recruits so well at every position EXCEPT the most important one in the game. Am I wrong on this? Does Alabama have top quarterback recruits and they just don't develop into top players for some reason?

Brian Fremeau: If Nick Saban had his way, Alabama would win without a quarterback or a kicker. Too many opportunities for those two positions to screw up their jobs.

Scott Kacsmar: That really was the throw of the night with Coker on the mark under pressure for 38 yards. Didn't see anything that good this weekend either. Helped set up the tying field goal. Nice to see a competitive game after what happened on New Year's Eve.

Ben Muth: I don't follow recruiting rankings that close but I'm sure all the guys Alabama gets are high recruits.

Surprise onside kick by Alabama was perfectly executed. Gutsy call.

Aaron Schatz: That is the gutsy call of gutsy calls. To surprise onside in the first half of a game or even right after halftime is one thing, but in a tie game in the fourth quarter??? Wow.

Tom Gower: If you see something on film, and they keep showing it, it's a great time for it, especially if you don't really trust your defense to get a stop.

Clemson defensive bust = Alabama touchdowns. Three times tonight, with that O.J. Howard score to make it 31-24. This has been a really well-played game at times, like the deep corner route by Watson that was excellently broken up by the defensive back, but man, those three plays are going to leave Dabo Swinney, Brent Venables, and many other Clemson-related people tearing their hair out for a very very long time.

Scott Kacsmar: Special teams, man. Surprise onside and now a 95-yard return. Hard for Clemson to overcome that with half a quarter left. They'll be talking about that surprise onside for years. Very ballsy call because the criticism would have been huge if Clemson had recovered and gone on to score.

Tom Gower: Bust on the kickoff return. Right side of Clemson's kick return unit pressed the middle of the field too much and lost the edge. The kicker made the tackle on the earlier long return after Kenyan Drake bounced it, but he couldn't that time. 38-27, 7:31 to go, and time for DeShaun Watson to see if he can pull a couple rabbits out of his hat.

Andrew Healy: Love that call so much. If Clemson had been ahead, they probably would have lined up wider there. That was a surprise onside with way over a 50 percent chance of working (the execution was perfect, but it didn't really need to be for it to likely work out) because of the surprise. Hard for coaches to increase win percentage like Saban did there.

Brian Fremeau: O.J. Howard slipping past a tackle in the backfield and rumbling for 63 yards may have 1) sealed the victory and 2) prevented this game from matching/eclipsing the 2006 Rose Bowl. Nearly its equal.

Ben Muth: Just too many errors for Clemson. Inexcusable run fits on the long Henry touchdown. Two blown coverages lead to long touchdown passes. Gave up a surprise onside (that one was more about great execution from Bama) and a kick return touchdown. Watson was really good (and even he threw a terrible pick), but Clemson just shot themselves in the foot.

Aaron Schatz: There was an observation on the coaching telecast that there didn't seem to be a single officiating controversy in this entire game. Not sure that's quite right. There wasn't anything game-deciding at least, which was nice.

Tom Gower: End of the first half, Clemson got screwed out of three to five seconds and had to use a timeout and kick a field goal immediately instead of running another play. Probably not a 7-point mistake, but could've been a much easier field goal. Does Saban call the onside down 27-24 instead of tied at 24-all? I kind of doubt that one. But aside from that massive howler, yes, it hasn't been too bad.

Brian Fremeau: Yeah, the clock issues weren't the deciding factor, but pretty egregious. They got screwed at the end of the first half, and they inexplicably lost 15 seconds or so on the final Alabama touchdown as well. Again, weren't the ultimate factors.

Tom Gower: Final, 45-40. Congratulations to Alabama, the better team at most positions tonight and they got just enough plays from Coker to make the difference. Watson was great, as everybody said he had to be for Clemson to win given Alabama's edge up front, but he wasn't perfect and unfortunately had to be. At least we got a good game after a pretty blah bowl season.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 12 Jan 2016

6 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2016, 9:56pm by SuperGrover


by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/12/2016 - 12:15pm

I like Watson more than I ever did Jameis Winston, on either the college or pro level. What year is the Alabama tight end?

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 01/12/2016 - 2:47pm

Howard is a junior, but most experts project him coming out. Honestly, I like the Arkansas guy, Hunter Henry, better, because he's a better blocker. Howard has been uneven; Matt Waldman had a boiler room about him: http://mattwaldmanrsp.com/2015/11/14/rsp-boiler-room-no-6-te-o-j-howard-...

by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 01/12/2016 - 3:58pm

I wish Watson had thrown more deep balls. Would have liked to see how accurate he was. Looked pretty good as a runner and on the shorter passes.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/12/2016 - 4:05pm

It is said he is solid on the entire route tree. If he is, we're in for a "Get Waxed (Whacked?) for Watson!" campaign next year in the NFL.

by NJBammer :: Tue, 01/12/2016 - 3:37pm

Really hard to find QBs like Manzel, Newton, etc. If it were just that easy, TA&M, Auburn, Clemson, FSU, Oregon, etc. would do it every year. I think Saban would love to get a great QB like that, but they're just so hard to project. If getting one is your plan to win the NC, you'd better get a new one.

I think it's impressive what Saban's done, and the fact he hasn't had a great QB while doing it makes it even more impressive. Bryant had Namath and Stabler in the 60s. Saban hasn't had a starting quality QB once.

by SuperGrover :: Tue, 01/12/2016 - 9:56pm

McCarron was a damn good college QB. 58-10 TD-INT ratio last two seasons with completion percentages of 67 percent both times. That's pretty damn good.