Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Is the RPO finally back?
Though the Tide suffered a bit of a lull through the 2nd quarter of this game, they absolutely blasted the ULM Warhawks in most all phases of the game from start to finish, with Nick Saban actually covering the massive 49.5 point spread. Much of the domination was actually on the heels of an all-around phenomenal special teams performance, with Kool-Aid McKinstry giving the offense short field position all game, Brian Branch returning a punt for a touchdown, and Malachi Moore picking up a blocked punt for another score.
With that, there were many individual effort, both good and bad, that caught my eye.
I really loved this effort from Deontae Lawson as he got his first playing time with the starters in the first quarter:
Lawson blitzed on 3rd down and essentially juked the offensive lineman across his face, put on a swim move, and immediately hit the gas up field, showing impressive athleticism to change from horizontal to vertical.
I also really loved the design of the blitz from Pete Golding. Notice Dallas Turner rushing his guy wide and then stopping and waiting. His role from the start was intended to give the blitzing linebackers and Star more space to get through, and be ready to pick up the QB if he scrambled forward. Byron Young did the same thing from the nose tackle spot and moving to the left… A movement which actually took three linemen’s attention for a split second, giving Lawson the 1v1 up the middle.
On the very first play of the game, Alabama went with a run out of pistol to Jahmyr Gibbs. It wound up getting called back by a holding, and they wound up converting and going down the field. However, it was center Darrian Dalcourt that caught my eye:
Now, I don’t know what on earth ULM’s defense was doing here, as both the RT and RG were totally free to zone block and get down the field since there wasn’t a single guy pressing either of their gaps. The corner actually made a heck of a play to get the shoestring tackle or Gibbs might have been gone.
In any case, what bothered me was seeing Dalcourt getting manhandled backwards 5 yards. It worked out since there were no defenders on the right side so Gibbs could slip around him, but it very well could have ruined that play. Last year, it seemed like Seth McLaughlin seemed to work better than Dalcourt with the rest of line in terms of blitz pickups, but struggled with strength at the line of scrimmage. But if Dalcourt is going to get bulldozed like this, I’m not sure where the upside is supposed to be.
Stock up… and up… and down
Two steps forward and one step back still equals a step forward, right? We complained in 2021 about the lack of the deadly RPO slant that Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones hit so well from 2018-2020. Whether it’s a Bryce Young thing (he’s short… no sugarcoating that), or a Bill O’Brien thing (don’t get me started), it’s a simple, deadly weapon that we didn’t see enough last year.
Out of a 2-back set, no less! Notice how #44 panics and steps up towards McClellan for one step, only for Bryce to immediately whip it to Burton. Beautiful.
Similarly, the pulling guard and TE really sells this play to look like an off tackle power run, and LB#2 vacated the zone, giving Holden plenty of room.
And then only two plays later, we get this:
Aside from the obvious problem that Brooks dropped it and it was intercepted, there were some other issues here. For starters, I’m not sure this was an actual RPO or if it was a play action all the way. If it was a play action, then Young did not do a great job of selling the fake. If it was an RPO, then Young was faced with a tough decision. The linebacker dropped into the slant zone, so he, in theory, should have handed the ball off. However, Emil Ekiyor got beat to the inside, so a handoff likely would have failed.
These RPO slant plays look easy when executed correctly, but getting the timing right all around is amazing difficult.
Late in the 3rd quarter, reserve defensive tackle Jamil Burroughs got some playing time. He’s been talked up some over the summer as an interior pass rusher type for his quickness off the snap. However, these two back to back plays in the run game show why he hasn’t translated his pass rushing quickness into a contributing role yet:
In this one, you see Burroughs (#98) jump the snap and try to immediately swim around the LG. He got into the backfield, only for the gap he just vacated to leave a nice hole for the RB as he got pushed to the ground.
On the very next play, he again tries to shoot for the gap between two linemen. Which could have been good if the QB was going for a straight deep drop. They were running, though, and he left a massive hole behind him and was pushed to the ground, again, as he tried to stop his rush. Fortunately, the ULM running back missed the cutback lane.
It was two back to back plays with essentially the exact same mistake on both.
Kendrick Blackshire with the open field stop on a screen pass!!
With the game well in hand, Alabama was giving many of the second teamers some run at this point. With a corner blitz coming from the side the screen was called, this could have been disaster for the Tide defense. Blackshire essentially had 3 pulling linemen between him and the running back. But he saw the screen and moved into position quickly, even giving a little bit of a slight inside move to set up the OL before cutting back out to make the tackle for a loss.
It also helped that freshman Isaiah Hastings was coming for the QB way faster than someone his size has a right to be moving.