Category Archives: Alabama

TFW you discover Darth Vader is played by Steve Sarkisian

This is some stat of the day ($$):

Alabama’s 42-13 win against Auburn is its largest ever against a ranked Auburn team.

The previous bests were 31-7 wins in 1971 and 2001.

Bigger than the Bear and Saban ever managed?  Yeah, that might stir a few boosters up, Gus.

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Filed under Alabama, Auburn's Cast of Thousands

Separation

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s Observations post was that Georgia broke tendencies Saturday night, in that it was the first game of the season the team in the first half outplayed the team in the second half.

Bill Connelly thinks that’s mainly a tale of the two quarterbacks.

At the moment Burton came down with the ball, Georgia led, and Bennett’s stat line was quite comparable to that of Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Passing stats, first 29:37 of the game:

  • Bennett: 12-for-20 for 165 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one sack
  • Jones: 13-for-17 for 184 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and two sacks
  • Adjusted net yards per pass (ANY/A, which includes sacks, plus a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns and a 45-yard penalty for interceptions): Bennett 7.0, Jones 7.0

Then came the rest of the game.

Passing stats, last 30:23:

  • Bennett: 6-for-20 for 104 yards, two interceptions and a sack
  • Jones: 9-for-13 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and a sack
  • ANY/A: Jones 17.1, Bennett 0.6

Jones was spooked and harried by Georgia’s pass rush early in the game. Anytime the pocket began to crumble a bit around him, he lost his footwork and rushed throws. He was still able to complete passes because he’s got a very good arm and even better receivers, but he wasn’t stepping confidently into passes, especially on third down. But he completed a couple of passes to get Alabama into field goal range at the end of the first half, then ignited in the second, just as Bennett was falling out of sorts on the other side of the ball. You could say that after a bit of a delay, Jones met the moment, while the moment met Bennett.

The staff we’ve praised for making great halftime adjustments got out-adjusted.  Needless to say, that can’t happen in the rematch.

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

‘Can anybody cover them dudes?’

Perhaps I overreacted a tad in my Observations post about Lanning’s game plan.  Perhaps not.  Either way, there’s been a fair amount of post-game chatter from folks that he called a decent game, only to find it rendered moot because Alabama’s receivers are so freaking good.

“I think the first big-picture thing, for me, is Alabama’s receivers. They’re different. They’re so deep, first-rounders, and on a field full of NFL guys, they’re elite. That ultimately is what made the difference, because they were able to get out front of Georgia and play how Georgia didn’t want to play.

“At the end of the second quarter, it looked like Georgia was getting into two-tight stuff and running it. I don’t know if they’ve got enough dudes at wideout to be a three-wideout team. They need to help Bennett by running the ball with him a young quarterback.

“Teams used to always spread out to run the ball, makes protections easy to run the ball and you displace people in such a way that you can cover down all the receivers. Only so many guys can be in the box. It’s a little bit more on the QB, but you can run the ball. Fifteen years ago that was true, hell 5 years ago that was true. But all these defensive guys have started going to this three-down Odd look, both Georgia and Bama base out of it, they match personnel, create line movements, false reads, Georgia gives lots of problems to other teams with its shifts. Tennessee still hasn’t figured that out.

“Now you’re aligned in that spread formation because you have chaos in coverage, but you’re also getting chaos in the box, stunting and moving and blitzing guys, so you get no help. It’s defeating the purpose of why you’re spread out. It’s happening late, changing and moving and it’s not easy on the OL. So you’re better off getting into two tight ends, and Georgia started doing it and ‘Bama has done it, they played a lot more two tight. Such a big deal that (tight end Miller) Forristal came back into the game because without him they were going to have to spread out more. The Metchie kid (Bama wideout John Metchie III) is going to be a freak, but he is still learning. Bama got into more two tight. They may take their other tight end and flex him out, motion him in, but what it does is that makes it simpler on the quarterback. When you align with big people, it’s the inverse of the reason you spread out. It forces accounting for people in the box and then there’s only so many ways they can align the coverages.

“Look, the NFL is THE ONLY league where you line up with two tights and they line up in 4-3 cover-2. That doesn’t happen in college ball. That’s when Georgia was on a run and scoring, because they were able to run the ball. They were able to get yards running it and play-action was easier. And that helps the young QB throw it on time, because he can look out and know they’re in man-to-man or Cover-3. They had to get away from that because they got behind. Then they had to spread out and it was chaos. We dealt with that last year, our team did. We weren’t good enough out wide to have multiple threats go the distance at receiver, and we were better off getting into two-tight and dictating coverage structures for the young QB.

Another interesting observation is that Georgia’s problem in the passing game is that the receivers aren’t good enough to elevate Bennett’s game.

The Bennett kid is a nice story, good player. He’s better than other teams’ quarterbacks in the SEC. But they’re not good enough at WR to overcome his limitations and play at a national championship level.

Not sure I agree with everything there, but it does make me wonder if there’s a fixed ceiling.  Or, is it more an issue that Georgia’s passing game needs more time to jell?

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Game day post, battle of the Titans edition

I think Saban’s coaching tonight.  I don’t think it makes any difference.

My head says that if Georgia can concoct an effective passing attack, it wins the game.  My heart says it doesn’t matter; it’s in Georgia’s DNA to lose to Saban’s Alabama.

Speaking of intangibles, what’s the effect of nothing really being on the line, ultimately speaking, in this game?  It’s not the SECCG.  The national title isn’t at stake.  The loser, unless there’s some sort of a stunning blowout, will still be favored to win its division.  These two should play each other again.  Does that affect the way Kirby coaches the game?

It sure would be fun to hear the pundits’ take in the aftermath be “hey, maybe you can still win a title with great defense”.

My heart says Alabama 35 Georgia 31.  My head is telling my heart to shut up.  What say you?

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football

The part of the game nobody’s talking about

For all the chatter about Georgia’s defense versus Alabama’s offense and Georgia’s offense versus Alabama’s defense, there’s been little discussion about special teams.  To me, that’s a little shortsighted and even a little strange, given Georgia’s special teams coach.

Anyway, to rectify that a little, I thought I’d do a quick statistical check on the two’s conference rankings (stats, as always, from cfbstats.com).

  • Punt returns:  Alabama 5th; Georgia 10th.  (Note that ‘Bama has only returned one punt in its first three games.)
  • Kickoff returns:  Georgia 1st; Alabama 12th.
  • Opponent punt returns:  Alabama 3rd; Georgia unranked.  (Georgia has yet to allow a returned punt in its first three games.)
  • Opponent kickoff returns:  Alabama 2nd; Georgia 6th.
  • Punting:  Georgia 1st; Alabama 14th.
  • Kickoffs:  Georgia 7th; Alabama 14th.  (Alabama’s touchback percentage is 30.77%.)

Neither team has missed an extra point.  Alabama is 2-2 in field goals; Georgia is 7-8.

Alabama’s coverage teams look to be doing excellent work.  Georgia has one huge advantage at punter — that could have an impact on field position — and another decent one at kickoff returns.  The main thing I see there is that Alabama’s opponents have done an excellent job keeping the ball away from Jalen Waddle.  I would suggest that Scott Cochran instruct his charges to do the same.

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

“The ultimate Alabama vs. Georgia preview”

I give Bill Connelly credit — he’s not overselling his preview of Saturday night’s game with that header.

If you’re grasping for straws on how Georgia’s defense can slow down Alabama’s offense…

Basically, you need Georgia’s help to score, either via good field position or penalty. And if or when the Dawgs are benevolent enough to allow you to convert a third down, you absolutely, positively must turn that into points. They aren’t going to be that generous very often…

The Tide have gone three-and-out on 19% of their drives so far — not bad by any means, but 14th in FBS (as opposed to all those categories for which they’re in the top five), and 45% of their third downs have involved seven or more yards to go (23rd). This is what constitutes a weakness for such a great offense, but it’s one that Georgia could theoretically take advantage of.

That’s not much to hang your red and black hat on, I’m afraid.

Strangely enough, the largest ground for optimism on this front comes from Bill’s take on last year’s SECCG.  He states that Georgia’s defense played better than most of us thought it did.

Against Georgia’s top-ranked defense last year, LSU scored 37 points and averaged 6.5 yards per play. Those are excellent totals, but LSU averaged 48.4 points per game and 7.9 yards per play for the season — the Dawgs held the Tigers far below their otherworldly season averages, and they might have fared even better had the game state not gotten away from them.

Georgia had forced three-and-outs on two of LSU’s first four possessions, but the Bulldogs’ offense drove more than 21 yards only once in its first five drives, and the score was 14-0 LSU after the first quarter. Things snowballed in the second half as the Georgia defense was forced to take more risks, but it still performed better than almost anyone else against that devastating Tigers attack.

I don’t think this year’s Alabama offense is better than last year’s LSU offense and I do think Georgia’s 2020 defense has surpassed the 2019 version, so there’s that.

On the other side, like so many, Bill wonders what Ole Miss’ performance last week says about the Tide defense.

Having to survive at least one crazy track meet is becoming part of a national champion’s journey at this point, but while Alabama’s defense was first in defensive SP+ six times in nine years between 2009 and ’17, it’s an awfully mortal 22nd right now. The Tide were occasionally vulnerable against both Texas A&M and Missouri, but the defense was so definitively beaten last week that it’s worth exploring what Ole Miss did that was so devastating … and how much of it Georgia can imitate.

And the answer is… not that much.  Maybe.

The Dawgs do not tend to spread defenses out formationally like Kiffin and Lebby do, UGA quarterback Stetson Bennett doesn’t have Corral’s rocket-powered arm and Smart definitely doesn’t endorse Lebby-level tempo. You still see plenty of Smart’s defense-first tendencies when it comes to run rates (Georgia runs about 3 percentage points more than the national average on standard downs, five on passing downs) and the occasional third-and-long draw play. One figures the main thing Smart likes about Bennett — a former walk-on who has taken control of the job over former blue-chippers JT Daniels and D’Wan Mathis — is not his play-making ability so much as his ability to avoid screwups. Smart is infinitely more risk-averse than Kiffin, and when you’ve got the defense he has, that makes sense. Bama should be able to crowd the box more than it could against Ole Miss.

If that space over the middle of the field becomes available, however, Georgia will try to take advantage.

“Smart is infinitely more risk-averse than Kiffin” is the understatement of the year.  That only pays off if Georgia doesn’t screw up Saturday.

Bill’s model projects a 28-24 Alabama victory and I can’t say that’s unreasonable.  But as he goes on to note, there are a lot of possible scenarios for this game.

There’s a lot more there, so take some time to read it.

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!

Outsiders, looking in

If you’re looking for some non-interested parties’ takes on the Georgia-Alabama game, I can steer you to a couple of places.

First, here’s 247Sports’ Barton & Bud.  I do think Bud Elliott is right about this:

I do think it is important that Georgia starts fast. I know Georgia has had comebacks, but I don’t like UGA playing from behind. And Alabama safety Jordan Battle is out for the first half for the carryover for the targeting ejection in the second half of the Ole Miss game. Georgia needs to take some shots down the field and connect with them. It is hard to see Georgia winning this game without George Pickens and Kearis Jackson winning down the field.

Especially his starting fast point.  The Dawgs won’t survive another slow first half start by the offense against a team as good and explosive on offense as Alabama is.

Meanwhile, Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel spoke with some NFL scouts and assistant coaches to get their takes on the two teams’ personnel.  A few observations to whet your appetite:

  • On Alabama’s defense:  “They’ve downgraded at defensive back and their pass rush has taken a hit,” said an NFL scout. “They aren’t generating as much pressure as they usually are.”
  • More, on same:  “He runs a 4-2-5 and normally plays two [safeties] on the roof,” said a coach. “That’s because his defensive line is so good, they can play a six-man box. That isn’t the case anymore. He has to cheat some sort of coverage, which exposes the nickel.”
  • On Georgia’s defense:  “It’s as good of as defense as you’ll see in the country,” said an opposing assistant coach. “In the neighborhood of a defense like Clemson back in 2018.”
  • More on Georgia’s defense:  “They are strong, they play fast,” an NFL scout said. “Lanning has killed it. They have a good rotation, they are deep, they don’t have any holes.”
  • Jordan Davis:  “He’s a beast,” the coach said. “He looks like [former Bama star] Quinnen Williams playing nose guard.”
  • On Alabama’s offense:  “Steve Sarkisian is really just toying with you, obviously,” said an opposing assistant. “If he wants to line up and hand [the ball off] 40 times, they are going to win. Throw it 45 times, they’re going to win the game. It’s a matter of what he chooses to do.”
  • On Stetson Bennett:  “He can’t see it between the tackles,” said an opposing coach. “He does a good enough job not to get them beat. Is he going to take a game over? No.”

Perhaps the most surprising take, and one that honestly doesn’t reflect what’s happened so far this season, is this:  “In the SEC, the best defense usually wins. And it’s clear who has the best defense.”

Thamel is predicting a 21-17 Georgia win.  All I can say is that if Georgia holds that ‘Bama defense offense under twenty points, Kirby Smart is truly a wizard.

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football

Keeping the lid on

I don’t think you’ll be particularly surprised by these stats David Hale compiled and shared yesterday.

Georgia hasn’t been particularly explosive on offense, but on defense has excelled sufficiently stifling explosive plays to neutralize the potential damage.

What Georgia has been good at, to go along with the above, is being consistent in moving the chains.

The only downside to that data is that ‘Bama has been better at it than Georgia.

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Throw the damned ball, Monken.

Jake Rowe has a good list of key matchups for Saturday’s game here.  It’s personnel oriented, and that’s why I think it’s missing what might be the biggest matchup of the day, Todd Monken versus Pete Golding.

I think that’s a face off that will have an even larger impact on which side comes out on top than will the Lanning/Sarkisian battle, simply because I expect ‘Bama will win some of those and Georgia will win some.  But after watching replays of Georgia’s and Alabama’s wins from last weekend, I think there’s a shortcoming in the ‘Bama defense that Monken has the opportunity to exploit all game.

I’ve already discussed aspects of it in other posts this week, but to sum it up:

  • Alabama’s pass defense is vulnerable to passes over the middle of the field.
  • Stetson Bennett likes throwing to the middle of the field, and, more importantly, has been successful doing so.

Add to that, Nick Saban’s bout with COVID means he’s leaving Pete Golding out on an island to defend Georgia’s passing attack, so to speak, and I think that puts Monken in a position to make some real hay in the passing game.

Spend a few minutes watching The Battle Hymnal’s Alabama preview, and I think you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I mean.

Monken doesn’t run a variant of Art Briles’ Baylor scheme, as Ole Miss does, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find creative ways besides lining up wideouts next to the sidelines to create open space to give Bennett some easy pitch and catch opportunities.  In fact, we’ve already seen plenty of that in Georgia’s first three games.  After watching those clips, it’s not exactly crazy to picture an open tight end running down the seam, playing pitch and catch with Stetson.

Now, I don’t expect Georgia to go all Air Raid Saturday.  Not that it needs to:  Ole Miss ran the ball almost twice as often (57 carries) as it threw (29 passing attempts) en route to gaining 647 yards against that vaunted (once-vaunted?) Tide defense.  Those are numbers that ought to warm the cockles of Kirby Smart’s stern heart.

And as far as pace goes, Kiffin got a lot of credit for going into hyperdrive last week, but if you look at the number of plays Ole Miss has run versus the number Georgia has, you might be a little surprised.  On the season,

  • Georgia:  239
  • Ole Miss:  231

Georgia ran more plays against Arkansas than Ole Miss ran against Alabama.

The opportunity is there.  In fact, I’ll go on record right now saying that if the Dawgs can generate an effective passing game, they’ll win.

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Roll ‘Bama Roll’s Mortal Lock of the Week

You heard it here first.

Alabama -6 vs Georgia:

Yep. We’re here. Risking my 6-0 record on the season to give you an ironclad guarantee — Alabama will win this game, and will do so by double digits. Why?

First of all, the ‘Dawgs are undoubtedly impressive up front. They’ve bullied Auburn, turned it on against Arkansas, and slopped around versus Tennessee before finally pulling away. But in no case has the offense been impressive doing so. And it is just an offense that matches up better with an intellectually challenged Alabama defense, with inexperience all over the place. Hat-on-a-hat, UGA doesn’t want to trick you; they want to punish you up front. And that simple violence is precisely what this defense can likely counter the best. See Mizzou and Aggy.

On defense, the Bulldogs have seen absolutely nothing like the hellfire that can be dumped over their head in gooey buckets as they will on Saturday. Do they want to blitz against UA’s outstanding pass-blocking line and leave some iffy corners on an island against the speedy ‘Bama wide receivers? This says nothing of Mac Jones, who’s shown the willingness to scorch people over the top. Do the Dawgs sit back in a zone, where Mac is coming off a career game picking apart the same? Will they crowd the box on standard downs to sell-out against Najee, leaving screens and and dangerous double-move play-action passes open? We’ve not even seen what the Tide offense can do outside of the very vanilla plays its been tormenting opponents with to date.

And it’s on the road, where Road Kirby is not Home Kirby and the ‘Dawgs were gifted the Vols and Barn at home. Thus, their biggest test is on the road, against a man and a team that they’ve come to expect heartache from, and against whom Kirby has made some woeful coaching calls.

Yes, it will be a step up in class for the Tide offense. We won’t see stupid track meets that have become a fixture of Saturdays in 2020. Yes. We will still see screwups in execution by the Tide, particularly with Battle sitting for a half. And we will still see some frustrating big plays allowed and aggravating missed tackles. But, at the end of the day, a smart Mac Jones and too much team speed wins games.

If we’ve learned anything the last half-decade it’s that elite offense beats elite defenses 99 times out of 100…or certainly when it matters most. And the best one on the field will be wearing crimson. The Tide gets a garbage score late to make it look worse than it is, but ‘Bama covers: Alabama 34 — Georgia 20

‘Bama scoring 34, garbage time or not, certainly isn’t outside the realm of possibility (although if there’s a defense that can match speed, it’s this Georgia one), and his point about elite offense is my biggest concern about Saturday, but I am intrigued by the confidence shown in the defense holding Georgia to 20.  Particularly, I doubt anyone who has closely watched Georgia’s offense this season would boil Monken’s approach down to a simple “Hat-on-a-hat, UGA doesn’t want to trick you; they want to punish you up front”.  Maybe I’m wrong about that, though.  Thoughts?

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football