Friday, January 1, 2016

Early thoughts on the first round of the playoffs

Many recruiting writers love nothing more than to extoll the importance of recruiting. It's rather self-serving, honestly, as they are basically pumping up the content they produce as the be-all and end-all of football analysis and coverage.

Consequently, Alabama result against Michigan State is being heralded by some as the triumph of recruiting over development. It's not, in reality, but is instead the triumph of well-coached exceptional talent over well-coached good talent. Call me back when a decently-coached team of 4/5-star underclassmen take down Michigan State.

However, there's no doubt that Alabama looked like a terrifying dreadnought in that game. There were two aspects to their victory which were particularly horrifying and which should keep Dabo Sweeney up at night over the next week.

First was the pass-rush that Alabama put on Connor Cook. Jonathan Allen should be a first day draft choice and his ability to get pressure inside on Sparty's OL completely ruined their entire offensive scheme, particularly their normally very effective pass down defense which depends on spread sets.

Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson are also both effective pass-rushers, Alabama hasn't had anyone like any of these guys since the last time they won a title, and they made mince-meat of Sparty's right tackle Kody Kieler.

I'll have to see how they fared against OU's DL but I'm not initially optimistic about the ability of Clemson's OL to stand up to these guys and keep Deshaun Watson clean.

The other horrifying aspect of the game was how well Jacob Coker responded to the inevitable challenge from Dantonio to win the game without simply handing off to Derrick Henry 30x and watching him run for 200+ yards.

25-30 passing at 9.5 ypa is no joke, and his ability to avoid interceptions (or intentional grounding calls) hearkened back to Saban Alabama QBs of old who have always played with well-drilled turnover-avoidance habits in big games.

I detailed before the game how Alabama would need to attack the schwerpunkt of the Spartan defensive structure to relieve pressure off the run game and score points, or else run the ball into loaded fronts.

They did this most effectively with Coker connecting deep to the slot receivers, which is the best way to attack aggressive quarters teams like Sparty, and completely rolled up the Spartan phalanx. Coker was accurate and hit a few tight windows over the course of the game. Clemson should be concerned.

The other side of the bracket went more or less how you might have expected. Watson was given repeated chances to run the ball and went for 145 yards on a Sooner front that was pretty beat up and exhausted before the third quarter even began.

Losing Charles Walker surely hurt the Sooners badly, as did the long-true fact that they play a 3-4 defense but feature athletes at ILB rather than stone-walling dudes like Reggie Ragland or Reuben Foster who can stop the forward progress of a climbing guard or power-back. That doesn't tend to matter much in the Big 12 but it matters in the playoffs.

They also got bit by the injury bug, with RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon both going down over the course of the game and leaving Baker Mayfield to try and beat a good Clemson secondary and pass-rush by himself. But there was no doubt in this game that Clemson was a superior squad and they physically beat the tar out of the Sooners for four quarters. Stoops' squads have never handled that particularly well over his tenure.

Clemson will now try to bring their QB-run game against the Tide in the hopes that Saban still doesn't have the answers for this style of offense. There's going to be a lot of people pushing the idea that he doesn't and that this is the way to take down the Tide...I think the actual result of this game is probably less exciting than that.


  1. Aren't we being a little too hard on OU for this?
    A good OL + good RB + good running and throwing QB = tough team to stop.

    OU was the 3rd (or 4th, Ohio St) best team in the country this year, a year in which they had 2 Frosh OT's, a new QB, and a new offensive system paired with a defense coming off a sketchy year.

    2016 was targeted as a better chance for the Sooners with improvements on both lines likely.

    1. Why do we think OU was the 3rd or 4th best team in the country this year? They finally played a good team with a healthy QB and were spanked and sent to bed without supper.

    2. Ok...who's better?

      Probably Ohio St?
      Stanford would be a high scoring game.
      Who else?

    3. Teams playing OU have to contend with pretty good offensive and defensive squads. There are only a few who could do this.

      Please don't bring up Baylor or TCU with their injured QBs. Injuries are the price of running your QB.

      (on a side note, hopefully his SECOND concussion has thought Mayfield this so next year he'll chuck the rock out of bounds rather than dither in the backfield so much).

    4. What should I not bring up about Baylor or TCU?

      I think OU was a good team this year who was extraordinarily lucky to play weakened teams in a weak league (this year) in a season when many of the best national teams weren't elite (Stanford, Ohio State) or had bad luck with injuries (Notre Dame).

      In particular, the national scene just didn't have many great upperclassmen QBs. The best QBs were at schools that didn't have great teams, except Clemson.

    5. So you're saying OU was probably 3rd, 4th, or 5th best team this year in the mix with Ohio St and Stanford. I didn't watch enough of ND to comment on them.
      I agree with that. This is in a rebuilding year when neither you nor I expected much from this team. 2016 will be their peak.

      A primary argument against running your QB is that it exposes the most important player on the team to injury. Clemson learn that last year with Watson.

      OU won at Baylor with Stidham playing by 10. They were up on TCU at half 23-7 when THEIR OWN QB got hurt. No Mulligans. TCU won their bowl game because of a QB injury.

      Injuries are the great equalizer and cannot be "what if'd" in football.

  2. I've been viewing Clemson as juiced Tennessee, with particular advantages to the Tigers in their passing game (QB and WR) and in the back 7 on defense.

    The OU-Clemson game was a re-run of the first half of OU-Tennessee game?

    This bodes well for Clemson vs Bama. The Tigers defense has similar strength to the Florida defense matched with a VERY efficient offense.

    The diversity of the Tiger's running game will keep the Bama defense honest. Then, Watson's running ability will also temper the Tide pass rush. He is efficient throwing the ball.

    The Tide offense has benefited greatly from their defense's effectiveness. Without a dominating defensive performance, Coker will have to make too many plays and won't.

    Tigers 31
    Tide 20

    1. I'm leaning the other direction, I think the gap between the Big 12's best and the nation's best is going to become clear by what happens in this title game.

    2. Wait a minute, we know the transitive property doesn't work.

      I think Bama and Clemson are better than the rest of the nation this year (full strength Ohio St if they'd been focus on offense and had a DL that was on point...that's too many ifs).

      You just wrote about the pairing single wing running attacks with spread passing, and I agree with you.
      This Clemson run game diversity is such that they'll be able to churn out 4-5 yd/play. That's enough to move the chains.
      Watson will then still have favorable numbers to pass against.

      It all depends on whether Clemson's front seven can keep Henry from also getting 4-5/yds per pop with 7 in the box. I think they can. The Tigers secondary should hold up vs Coker/Bama's WR.

    3. It's entirely possible that, even running single-wing style plays, that Clemson is unable to get 4-5 yards a pop against Alabama's front 7.

      It's also possible that Clemson won't be able to hurt Bama deep with the passing game well enough to keep them from swarming Watson and the run game.

      If Clemson wins this game I think it will be because of their defense.


    4. My argument for Clemson is based on

      Clemson Off = Bama Def -- efficiency for the Tiger for 2-3 drives. One big play.

      Clemson Def > Bama Off -- Henry won't be efficient vs 6-7 in the box and the Tiger's DB's can lock down the young Bama WR. I don't trust Coker.

      Two best teams this year will get to play in a game that should be competitive. Thanks for your commentary throughout the year. q

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