Know Your Opponent: Quick-Scouting Alabama

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    To start, yes, I am fully aware that Alabama’s most recent game was an absolute drubbing of Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. However, with some controversy swirling about Kenny Hill’s mid-week adventures leading up to that game and the suspicion of Alabama’s ability to change play calls on the road, I have decided to use their most recent road game for this week’s quick-scout. It was an ugly game that exposed some of Alabama’s weaknesses, in my opinion, and is a good place to start looking for the type of game that Tennessee will need in order to have any shot at pulling off the upset.

    *The times below indicate the time of the YouTube video, not of actual game time. And sorry that the clip is so long, but I couldn’t find a shorter cut-up.*

    Here’s what we can expect this weekend from the Crimson Tide:

    3:59: Alabama’s defense comes out strong in the opening drive by Arkansas and forces a three-and-out, but Alabama’s Christion Jones makes a huge error in deciding to field this ball off the bounce and ends up turning it over on the muffed punt. Obviously, this isn’t a play that you can just diagram up if you’re Tennessee, but it does offer some options as far as how they may wish to punt to Jones in this game. Darr has ben more consistent lately with his distance and accuracy, so Tennessee may elect to punt to Jones in a way that forces him to chase balls in hopes of forcing a similar result as this play. Jones also had a critical fumble late in the second half against Ole Miss that set up the Rebels’ game winning touchdown, so this is something that Tennessee may try to exploit.

    7:48: What an incredibly tough break for Arkansas that all Tennessee fans can empathize with. This is Arkansas’ version of Pig Howard’s fumble last year against Georgia and this play, much like Pig’s, would have an enormous impact on the outcome of this game. It was a great play by Arkansas to slip the fullback out of the backfield into the flat to put pressure on Alabama’s linebacker to cover him. Alabama has struggled against Arkansas and Ole miss to cover running backs out of the backfield, so this may be another area that Tennessee may try to exploit this weekend.

    10:10: This is a new wrinkle for Alabama’s offense this year with the mobile Blake Sims at quarterback. Here, they use a zone-read look, but fake the handoff and roll Sims out to his right to the underneath receiver. This is an easy play for Sims that Bama seems to use early in games to get him in rhythm, but there are also other variations of this same play that involve quarterback runs, handoffs, midrange and deep passes – making it a very simple, but difficult look to prepare for.

    10:40: Great play by Arkansas here to stay at home and force the incompletion. A staple of all Lane Kiffin offenses (that made me sick to type) is using the fullback in the passing game. Here, the formations screams that this is going to be a run to the right, but Sims fakes the handoff and looks for the fullback in the flat. Arkansas stays at home and is able to shut this play down.

    11:26: Hahahahaha

    14:15: Interesting formation by Arkansas here to split the receiver out wide to get him matched up with a cornerback. The tight end runs a slant and is able to box out the cornerback for a nice first down pickup. Tennessee may try this with Ethan Wolf or Daniel Helm this week if they like the matchup.

    21:30: I chose the diagram of this play to show a better angle. Arkansas runs a ‘pick play’ here but the quarterback doesn’t see the open man underneath. Tennessee runs a lot of plays similar to this with Von Pearson, and with him finally back to 100-percent I would expect to see something like this from the Vols on Saturday.

    29:49:  Another example of a horrible special teams mistake by Alabama. This just isn’t something that they have done in recent years.

    30:59: Mad Saban is mad.

    36:11: Here’s a look at a run-pass option for Blake Sims. If the tight end is covered then he hands the ball off to Yeldon, but since the linebacker bites on the run action Sims keeps it and hits him for a big play. This play puts a lot of pressure on a defense to play disciplined football. Ole Miss ran it a couple of times against Tennessee with limited success, but expect to see it from the Tide this weekend.

    41:11: We are 20-minutes into this game and there have been four turnovers and two missed field goals. One of the sloppiest starts to an SEC game that I can remember.

    42:27: This is about the third dropped interception in the game to this point…Just atrocious football being played.

    43:40: This is what has helped Alabama overcome some of their shortcomings on offense this season. Sims has nobody open initially, but is able to buy time with his feet until Yeldon comes open downfield. Tennessee will have to do a good job in covering receivers for an extended period of time on Saturday if Tennessee’s defensive line can’t keep Sims from escaping the pocket and extending plays.

    -To this point in the game it is clear that Alabama’s defensive line possesses talent, but I don’t think that they are as good as they have been. They are aided by playing in front of a very strong secondary and certainly know how to pressure a quarterback, but I don’t think they are on the same level as Ole Miss or Florida.

    50:36: Arkansas really likes to feature the tight ends in the passing game. This is about the 6th or 7th time in the first half that the tight end has been the primary target for Brandon Allen. If Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm are healthy – which they appear to be based on what we see in practice – then they should be able to find some holes in this Alabama secondary for some big plays. Obviously, this is contingent on Worley having time to find them.

    1:00:00: Sims again shows why he is so dangerous. He sees the pocket collapsing and scrambles to his right while keeping his eyes downfield and is able to find his receiver for a 21-yard gain on 3rd and 8. It just puts a lot of pressure on a defense when the quarterback is able to do this and his receivers know how to get open after the initial route is covered.

    1:00:31: This play was one of the big reasons that Arkansas was able to keep this game close. The Razorbacks are pretty good in the secondary, but not good enough to shut down Amari Cooper for four quarters at full strength. This knee tweak would slow Cooper down for the remainder of this game just as Alabama was starting to look for him more in the passing game. Cooper appeared fully healthy this week against Texas A&M when he amassed 140 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

    1:20:48: Arkansas gives Alabama a taste of their own medicine here for a nice pickup.

    1:28:58: T.J. Yeldon has struggled to really get anything going on the ground to this point, so Bama brings in Derrick Henry. Henry is a 6-3, 240 pound battering ram with deceptive speed that they use to wear out defenses in the second half. Expect to see him on Saturday.

    1:32:37: Arkansas runs another ‘pick play’ right here, only this time it actually works. The tight ends run crossing routes and the play works perfectly to spring the left tight end free over the middle for an unlikely touchdown.

    1:48:16: Very nice play by Sims to find the tight end against the grain on this play. Sims has incredibly quick feet and a rifle of on arm, which makes defending plays like this extremely difficult for a defense. He rolls right and his first two reads are well covered, but because he can create space with his feet and survey the field he is able to make a very impressive throw across his body for the touchdown.

    1:53:50: This is Alabama’s 4th fumble on special teams in this game.

    1:56:18: This is why Amari Cooper is one of the best receivers in the game. Even when he’s not 100% healthy he still has the hesitation move to freeze the defender and then the speed to beat him to the first down line.

    2:00:15: Arkansas went to the well one too many times with this one. This is a perfectly called corner blitz by Alabama against the play-action pass here. The tight end doesn’t get over in time to block and it’s an easy sack for the corner. Alabama hasn’t blitzed as much in this game as I’m used to seeing from them, but this one is a great call. If – and that’s a big if – Justin Worley has adequate protection in this game, then expect Alabama to dial up some blitzes similar to this to confuse him.

    -From here on out there isn’t much from Alabama outside of their base defense and running out the clock on offense. Alabama would eventually seal the game with an interception by Landon Collins on Arkansas’ final drive.

    This is a talented Alabama team, no doubt, but they do not seem as disciplined as they have been in the past. They are loose with the football and do not communicate very well on offense when the crowd starts to get noisy. They are incredibly fast on defense, but I don’t know that they possess that true “game-changer” along the defensive front seven that teams like Ole Miss, Florida and Ole Miss have thrown at Tennessee.