If, like me, you’re not quite ready to let go of that Rose Bowl buzz, enjoy Matt Wyatt’s breakdown of every touchdown scored in that game. For obvious reasons, it’s about nine minutes long.
Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics
… to Jalen Hurts.
I am no strategic genius, but I’m not missing what Job One for Mel Tucker is Monday night, am I? It’s got to be to make Hurts beat you throwing the ball… or, more accurately, make Hurts beat you throwing the ball while bracketing Calvin Ridley in coverage. Right? Right?
One thing I noticed reviewing Fromm’s passing stats from the Rose Bowl is that despite going 20-29 with no interceptions, he wound up posting a passer rating below his season’s average. The primary reason for that is a low (for him) 7.2 yards per attempt number. As the three games he had with lower ratings all involved much lower completion percentages than the 69% he hit in the Rose Bowl, all I can conclude was that he really stuck to a short and mid-range passing game.
This CFB Film Room tweet bears that out.
That is an excellent question… although I might expand it to ask whether they’ll trust the offensive line to give him the time to air it out against ‘Bama.
So I’m reading this New York Times article about what Saban wants out of his quarterbacks…
The Saban philosophy of quarterbacking can be summarized as: Don’t screw up. For Saban, who was an N.F.L. defensive coordinator under Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and coached the Miami Dolphins for two seasons, the quarterback’s main goals are to get the ball to talented backs and receivers, avoid big errors and let his typically top-ranked defenses do the rest.
“Jalen has always been a guy that, because of his athleticism and his ability to run the ball, has made a lot of plays with his feet,” Saban said. “But I also think that we’ve been able to help him develop as a quarterback in terms of his decision-making in the pocket.”
That emphasis is not new for Saban. The starting quarterback on the first of his five national championship teams (including one with Louisiana State) has, in his football afterlife, taken on the profession that perhaps best suits the prototypical Saban quarterback: dentist.
As the head signal-caller on the 2003 L.S.U. team, Matt Mauck averaged just 16 completions and barely 200 yards per game. He was called on not to be a superhero, but to be efficient.
“If it’s 3rd-and-5,” said Mauck who now works as a dentist near Denver, “just focus on getting 6 yards.”
In a Saban offense, the quarterback is never the team’s most talented player. (This year, that distinction likely belongs either to running back Bo Scarbrough or wide receiver Calvin Ridley.) For the quarterbacks who played alongside the Heisman Trophy winners Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, the best play was frequently a dump-off.
“So many guys want to drive it down the field, make a tight window,” McElroy said, “but if you have the running back 3 yards away from you, that’s the best ball-carrier on the field.”
Saban could not — as has been remarked of offensive gurus like the former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh — take any guy off the street, anoint him quarterback and win the national title.
“It doesn’t bother me — well, it does a little bit — when people say anyone can play quarterback at Alabama,” McElroy said. “But it’s not true.”
That is because Saban asks his quarterbacks to do different things than most college coaches request, but not necessarily fewer things. The derogatory “game manager” appellation is unfair to them. Mauck was one of the game’s most efficient quarterbacks; McCarron and Coker had among the highest completion percentages.
“The first thing we talk about in any game we play is, ‘The ball, the ball, the ball,’” Saban said earlier this season.
… and I’m thinking “hmm, this sure sounds familiar to a Georgia fan”, when I get down to this:
If there is any team whose quarterback represents the old Saban paradigm, it is probably Georgia. Coached by the former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Georgia relies on a stifling defense and a run-first offense whose quarterback, the freshman Jake Fromm, stands out for his extreme calm, his 63.7 percent completion rate and his 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In fact, Alabama had eagerly recruited Fromm.
“We thought he was a fantastic player,” Saban said recently, adding the highest praise one can imagine Saban giving a quarterback. “Always puts his team in the best play that they can be in.”
Is it Monday night yet?
As the clips in Boyd’s post indicate, there was ferocious blocking by Georgia’s offense — not just the line’s, but also from the tight ends and the wideouts. Check out Tyler Simmons’ work on this run:
There were Oklahoma defenders being pancaked on almost every play from scrimmage. Don’t try to tell me that didn’t wear them down at the end, when even Jake Fromm was an effective blocker.
Meanwhile, defensively, it seemed like Georgia’s defense flicked on a massive switch in the third quarter that Oklahoma had no answer for. As Connolly put it,
An Oklahoma line that had given up just 30 total pressures all season suddenly looked clueless. The players were thinking, not playing on instincts. Basic four-man loops and stunts got home:
Georgia was more physical than Oklahoma and in the end, that was the difference on the day.
If you want to read anonymous coaches’ comments about some of Monday’s matchups, here you go.
Yeah, my nerves are tingling over what Georgia’s defense will be facing with Baker Mayfield, but what about the other side of the ball? The Sooners offense is the best single unit playing in the CFP, but their defense is the weakest single unit hitting the field on New Year’s Day. What should we expect from Chaney, Fromm, Chubb, Michel, et al.? And what’s Oklahoma going to do about that?
Well, there seem to be a few common themes out there about those questions.
- It’s the Big 12, and those offenses, man. That’s one the Oklahoma team appears to embrace, itself. “In the Big 12, you’re going to be stressed in a lot of different ways,” senior defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo says. “We’re not complaining — it’s just the nature of the beast. I think it’s just a little misleading, looking at it on paper.”
- SEC defenses are overrated because they don’t face many good offenses. The complement to theme #1 means that Georgia’s offensive staff hasn’t had to work as hard to game plan as your typical Big 12 staff because they can get away with a vanilla offense due to the level of opposing offenses. Here’s Oklahoma’s DC on that: “It’s a unique league. The quarterbacks, the offensive coordinators do a great job, really, scheming week to week and trying to pick at your weaknesses. I would imagine Georgia’s had three or four weeks to do that. So we’ll see.”
- Oklahoma’s defense will be playing with a chip on its shoulder. Hard to do when you’re 12-1 and in the CFP, but: “The only time you pretty much do hear about our defense is how much we suck … or how we’ve got to improve in this and this and this, and how we’re holding the team back,” sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly says. “So we have a lot to prove and we have these next two games to do it. And I’m just hoping we come together as a defense and continue playing well like we have the past couple of games.” Seems to me you could apply the same sort of thinking to Georgia’s passing game, if you want to.
As you can see, those are all kind of generic. Ian Boyd, though, gets more specific with what is an interesting point. Amidst pointing out the weak spots in Oklahoma’s defense this season, he finds one potential strength:
The saving grace for the Sooners in this contest is that Georgia is much simpler as a rushing team than Kansas State and their favorite play, inside zone, is vulnerable to the Sooners’ favorite front.
The challenge of this “tite” front, which uses a pair of 4i-technique DEs clogging up the B-gaps and then outside linebackers on the edges is that it makes it hard to run the ball downhill as the play is designed and either the sam linebacker or the mike can be a free hitter that the offense doesn’t block. Georgia has tended to handle that with either a Fromm keep option or a quick pass outside to the slot but the Sooners are hard to beat that way with strong safety Steven Parker dropping down. The senior is a pretty sure tackler and these options all involve giving the ball to someone other than Chubb or Michel which isn’t the preference in Athens.
Boyd goes on to say that “There’s a chance Georgia mauls the OU defensive line and blows open holes up the middle anyways, or that they can use their supporting run plays to attack the edges or get OU from clogging up their inside zone play, but the strength of the Georgia offense is not in attacking a defensive front like this.” Look, if Georgia can’t win either line of scrimmage Monday, this is going to be the first Auburn game all over again. I just happen to think that Chaney’s learned a lot from that debacle and will be prepared to react, as he did in the SECCG, if Oklahoma has early success loading the box and stuffing the inside running game.
By the way, read the entirety of Boyd’s piece. He’s got some interesting things to say about the flaws that have plagued the Sooners defense most of the season. There are definitely areas for Jim Chaney to try to exploit, particularly in terms of the steps Stoops has taken to scheme to protect linebacker Caleb Kelly in coverage.
One thing about Ian’s “Georgia is much simpler as a rushing team than Kansas State” observation — and he’s a much sharper Xs and Os guy than I’ll ever be, so I take him at his word there — is that it took me through several game logs for a few teams to see how that sorted out. The Kansas State game was Oklahoma’s worst of the season in terms of defensive yards per carry (interestingly enough, the Iowa State loss involved one of their better efforts). Without Georgia playing the Wildcats it’s a little hard to provide complete context, but there is a common opponent between KSU and Georgia, and that’s Vanderbilt. You may remember that Kansas State lost to Vandy, but still managed to turn in one of its better rushing efforts of the season, gaining over 200 yards and averaging almost six yards a carry.
However, that pales in comparison to what Georgia did against Vanderbilt: 423 rushing yards; 7.83 ypc. Sometimes, success is more about execution than it is about scheme.
And I think in the end that’s where it all comes back to. If I have a fear it’s that it takes Georgia’s offense longer to sort itself out than Mayfield does against Georgia’s defense, and the Dawgs are looking at an early two or three score deficit. As Boyd concludes,
The Sooners have a large and talented if inconsistent defensive front and they’ll be keen to send numbers to stop the run and encourage Georgia to ask Jake Fromm to out duel Baker Mayfield in a shootout. If Georgia is going to rise above that and impose their will in the trenches then they’ll either have to slow down Mayfield or get going early on the ground in this game. That may be the battle to watch in this game.
As we saw on the Plains, Georgia isn’t really built for massive comebacks. It’s got to maintain some semblance of control on at least one side of the ball to win.