Because the Ole Miss defense came out against Alabama with their safeties playing deep, early on, Lane Kiffin elected to keep things underneath and test the edges. A lot, in fact.
There was a heavy dose of screen passes and jet sweeps in the 48-43 Crimson Tide win. They drew more than a few groans as the short game yielded minimal returns.
So what were the results?
A total of 13 plays were either screen passes or jet sweeps to receivers. Those plays netted 30 yards. Two produced first downs.
Another, Calvin Ridley’s direct snap late in the first half, went for a touchdown. A screen to running back Damien Harris late in the first half was the longest of the group by covering eight yards. All 12 of the other plays involved either Ridley or ArDarius Stewart.
Five of the 13 were thrown for a loss or no gain. Nine of the 13 were run on the opening two possessions as Alabama ate up clock to attempt two field goals, making the first.
It doesn’t sound particularly productive, yet the Tide kept at it. Nick Saban explained why.
But Saban said the strategy used to attack the edges opened up the running lanes in the second half when Alabama gained 218 of its 334 rushing yards.
“I think that a lot of the stuff we did in the first half set up some of the things that we did later on,” Saban said. “But I also think that we were really trying to … We thought that we could execute these things. And if you look at them on the film, if we would have blocked them correctly – again, attention to detail and execution – they would have been better plays.
“I think that we were trying to run the ball on the perimeter to see if we could get them tired, which we did. Then we had a lot more direct runs later and played a lot more physical interior line play for us and had success running the ball inside. Sometimes one of these things build on the other. I think that was the plan in the game.”
Alabama played a freshman quarterback against an aggressive Rebel defense. So will Georgia. But that’s about where the similarity ends. Saban’s freshman QB is far more mobile than Jacob Eason. It may seem counter-intuitive why Alabama didn’t run the ball more in the first half, but, again, Saban claimed that was the deliberate plan.
“They’ve got pretty good speed on defense and they trapped us down pretty good on the edges,” Saban said. “We came back and ran the ball inside off of some of the same motions and the same formations. That’s what you folks don’t sometimes get the grasp of on the jet sweep. Now you’re handing the ball and running a counter the other way and they’re all running out there because you ran the play in the first half, [and]now you bust them on this play. But you all don’t see that. You just see, ‘We ran that play good so why don’t we run it more?’
So, how does that play out this week for Georgia? It’s hard to say. You’d think absent a mobile quarterback, Ole Miss would elect to play their safeties back, but there’s the conventional wisdom out there about crowding the line of scrimmage to shut down Nick Chubb that would suggest otherwise. (Not to mention the friendly invitation a three-tight end/fullback set is to do so.)
Either way, it sounds to me like Isaiah McKenzie and (maybe) Terry Godwin ought to see some involvement in Jim Chaney’s running game plan. If the Dawgs can open up the Mississippi defense to some inside running in the second half, you’d have to like what that would lead to. So would Nick Chubb.
On the other side of things, Bill Connelly has some good stuff about Chad Kelly’s Jekyll and Hyde effort against the Tide.
Fun with stats, part 1: Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly had a phenomenal game against Alabama in Oxford on Saturday; not including a period when the game briefly fell into garbage time, the senior completed 15 of 18 passes on standard downs for 297 yards, a lofty average of 15.7 yards per attempt.
Fun with stats, part 2: Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly suffered from severe glitches in Ole Miss’ tight loss to Alabama in Oxford on Saturday. The senior completed only four of 12 passes on passing downs for 58 yards and an interception. His average of 4.8 yards per pass attempt on passing downs meant the Rebels were doomed the moment they fell behind schedule.
This was a game that proved the value of splitting things into standard and passing downs. Against one of the best defenses in the country, Ole Miss was as good as anyone at staying on schedule, managing a 39 percent success rate on standard downs.
But the moment they fell behind, doom followed. They managed only a 15 percent passing-downs success rate, bad even considering the competition. And with the run game nonexistent (Akeem Judd and Eugene Brazley: 18 carries, 55 yards; percentage of carries that gained at least five yards: 11.1), Kelly bore too much pressure to succeed. Ole Miss scored 43 points on the Tide, but offensive struggles were a major reason why a huge lead turned into a huge deficit.
Obvious passing downs are obvious, in other words. Can Georgia’s defense win its share of first and second downs? That looks like a pretty big question from here.