Anatomy of a Winning Drive: Alabama vs. Auburn

*The following is all Big Roy, from the screen grabs to the breakdown of each play.  I was merely trying to be his mouthpiece here.  All credit to him.

Context

Up 21-14 in the third quarter, Auburn was able to stuff Mark Ingram on a 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 on a drive that started on the Alabama 45.  Obviously, such a stand gave Auburn all the momentum and great field position to possibly add to their lead.  Unfortunately, Gus Malzahn was noticeably more timid than he was in the first half, and the Tigers gained all of one total yard before punting.  Instead of pinning the Tide back, however, Javier Arenas returned the punt 56 yards to the Auburn 33 to set up a Tiffin field goal.  The Tigers would have yet another chance to add to their lead when Tiffin kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, but Chris Todd quickly threw an interception which Alabama turned into another field goal.  Momentum had clearly swung here, but despite all that, Auburn clung to a one point lead going into the fourth quarter.

Auburn was able to drive to midfield but stalled, but nonetheless pinned Alabama back on their own 3 yard line on the punt.  A quick three and out gave Auburn great field position and a chance to retake control of the game.  This would be their last chance to take advantage of their lead and field position, and they quickly squandered it by going backwards 16 yards and punting.  This set up Alabama's clock-killing, game-winning drive.

Snapshots

First play:  1st and 10 at Alabama 21

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Alabama comes out with one tight end, and Auburn is in their base 4-3.  Alabama primarily utilizes a man-blocking scheme, as you can see here, and the call is a simple run up the gut for Richardson.  The right guard and right tackle are to combo block the 3-tech defensive tackle to open up the running lane.

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1.  The center, William Vlachos, loses his one-on-one battle with the nose guard and gets driven into the backfield.  This forces Richardson to sidestep the penetration, which he does well.

2.  Left tackle James Carpenter also loses his matchup, and Antonio Coleman breaks free into the backfield.  Fortunately for Alabama, Richardson is able to evade both players in the backfield.

3.  Barrett Jones and Drew Davis execute the combo block well and open up a good running lane, despite the penetration.

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Richardson is hit five yards downfield and fights for a couple more yards for a good seven yard gain to start the drive. 

Second play:  2nd and 3 at Alabama 28

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1.  The next play is a double slant play similar to the one Goodwin scored on against Oklahoma.  The Tigers are in man defense, which is what this play is designed to handle.  Julio Jones is the outside receiver and Maze is on the hash marks.

2.  The inside receiver here is to clear the strong safety with a vertical route and open up the slants.

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1.  Maze is able to beat his man inside and is now open for a quick throw.  As you can see, the vertical route has cleared some space for him.

2.  Julio Jones is also open, primarily because Auburn kept giving him large cushions throughout the game.

3.  Greg McElroy has great protection here and has a perfect pocket to step up in and deliver and accurate ball.

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1.  Maze is wide open here, and if the ball is delivered he will easily pick up the first down and then some.

2.  Unfortunately, Auburn's defensive tackle does a good job of getting his hands up and deflects the football, and the ball never gets to Maze. 

Third play:  3rd and 3 at Alabama 28

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1.  This could be a check at the line of scrimmage by McElroy.  McElroy motions Jones tight to the line.

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1.  Jones runs a crossing route over the middle against a zone, while the tight end runs up the seam to clear space.

2.  Maze runs a "route" which is basically a pick play on the linebacker.

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1.  Maze engages the linebacker and politely moves him out of the way.  The legality of this is questionable, to say the least, but it did happen right in front of a zebra.  Maze looks behind him to see if the pick worked... I mean to look for the ball.  Hey, if they don't call it...

2.  With the tight end running upfield and Maze setting an pick, Jones is wide, wide open.

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Let me say again:  Wide, wide open.

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Jones gains a big nine yards on this simple looking play to convert the first down.

Fourth play:  1st and 10 at Alabama 37

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On first down, Alabama comes out in a run formation with two tight ends, and the call is a playaction pass with most routes heading downfield.  Auburn looks to be in man.

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1.  McElroy fakes the handoff, which draws the mild attention of the linebackers.

2.  The play looks good so far except for the left tackle, who is engaging Coleman trying to take the edge and has yet to get his hands on him.

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1.  Coleman has gained the edge against Carpenter and is attempting reorient himself to the quarterback.  Carpenter is attempting to grab him and slow him down.

2.  Notice the space in the middle of the field as well as the cushions Auburn is giving.  The defender responsible for the tight end, which looks like linebacker Craig Stevens, fails to disrupt the route and eventually crashes into his own teammate.  The tight end is open, as well as Julio Jones at the top.

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1.  In an attempt to be like Sergio Kindle, Coleman displays his own "freaky leg plant" to reorient his body towards McElroy and simultaneously blow by Carpenter.  McElroy has no idea what's happening.

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Before McElroy can get rid of the ball, Coleman gets him from behind and drops him for a four yard loss.

Fifth play:  2nd and 14 at Alabama 33

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This is a big play coming after the sack.  Alabama calls a screen to the right side of the field.  Auburn is in their 4-3.

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1.  The defensive lineman are taken by surprise, and the defensive tackle here seems to realize all too late that a screeni s coming.

2.  This defensive tackle, too, seems to realize that a screen is coming but is sealed off by an Alabama lineman.

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Since the receivers cleared out the back seven from the play, Ingram has plenty of space to run.  Some of the linemen, such as Vlachos, seem to have nobody to block in front of them.

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The result is a nine yard gain that turns a 2nd and 14 into a manageable third down.

Sixth play:  3rd and 5 at Alabama 42

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This is another pick play for Julio Jones, with two tight ends.  Two routes downfield clear out space while the tight end picks off the linebacker.

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1.  The linebacker, in a zone, sees Julio Jones coming and prepares for him.  Unfortunately, he does not see the tight end coming.

2.  The tight end zeroes in on his target and prepares to set the pick.

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1.  The pick is set, once again pushing the boundaries of the rules.  Also once again, the referee is right there. 

2.  Julio Jones makes his way behind the linebacker to the now vacated area.

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Julio Jones is now open as the linebacker desperately tries to fight off the pick and get back into position.

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Easy pickin's.  First down.

Seventh play:  1st and 10 at Alabama 48

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This may be a power play or zone play; either way, the linemen take a zone-step and the guard pulls into the hole.

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1.  The linebackers immediately come forward and await Richardson.

2.  While there is no real penetration, the tackle and defensive end for Auburn close the hole quickly and basically cause a small pile-up when Richardson gets the ball.

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Because there's no push, Richardson runs into the pile and attempts to bounce the run outside.

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His attempt is met quickly by the Auburn linebackers, and he is stopped for a short, two yard gain.

Eight play:  2nd and 8 at 50

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1.  Alabama comes out in the gun and Auburn comes out in the nickel.  Notice the huge cushion that Julio Jones is receiving on this comeback route.

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1.  McElroy's eyes immediately seem to track Jones and he prepares to deliver the ball.

2.  The pass protection here is generally good, although it is worth noting that Coleman again seems to be gaining the outside edge on the left tackle.

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Jones makes his break and looks for the football.  Because of the big cushion, Auburn corner Neiko Thorpe has no chance if the ball is well-thrown.

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Julio Jones makes the relatively easy catch.  Thorpe takes a bit of a poor angle on Jones.

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Nonetheless, Thorpe makes the tackle, but Jones gains 11 big yards on this play and a first down.

Ninth play:  1st and 10 at Auburn 39

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This is a zone-blocking toss play, which Big Roy suggests we should run at Texas for a guy like Fozzy.  Auburn is still in their nickel package.

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The offensive linemen do a good job holding their own here, while the center and TE head upfield to engage the linebackers.

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Note the excellent blocking at the perimeter, giving Richardson a clear lane to run through if he can turn the corner.

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Richardson has the speed to do so, and the result is a solid four yard gain.  This was a great show of athleticism by the linemen, of blocking by the receivers, of speed by Richardson.

Tenth play:  2nd and 6 at Auburn 35

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This is a simple slant route to Jones.  Notice again that Auburn elects to play Jones with soft coverage.

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1.  The pass protection is excellent here and McElroy has plenty of space to throw the ball.

2.  The corner backpedals to keep his distance from Jones, who prepares to make his cut.

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1.  McElroy sees Jones and has the time and space to make a good throw.

2.  Jones is wide open, and corner is nowhere near him.

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McElroy hits Jones who turns upfield quickly before being taken down for seven yards and first down.

Eleventh play:  1st and 10 at Auburn 28

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Now within decent field goal range, Alabama has firm control and the clock is becoming Auburn's enemy.  Here's another run where the right guard and right tackle combo block in what looks like a zone play.

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1.  The left guard gets pushed back into the path of Ingram.

2.  Likewise, the left tackle struggles to hold his block, although it helps that Ingram will be running away from the defender.

3.  The combo block doesn't get any movement at the point of attack, and Ingram is simply looking at a wall.

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1.  The wall doesn't move.  The Auburn defender, which may be Derrick Lykes, uses his hands well to push back the center and clog the hole.  One yard gain.

Twelfth play:  2nd and 9 at Auburn 27

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This is another screen, this one going to Richardson.

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1.  McElroy does his part to sell the screen by looking downfield, as does Richardson who looks like he's searching for somebody to block.

2.  The linemen, too, do a good job of selling the screen and spend a brief moment pass blocking.  Notice that the guard has no one to block before going out ahead on the screen pass.  Auburn sends a blitzer up the middle.

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1.  The tackle reaches the second level and has engaged a linebacker as Richardson receives the pass.  Notice that he does not attempt to cut block as Longhorn linemen typically do in space.

2.  The guard, too, is in the open field and is running ahead of Richardson. 

3.  Auburn is caught off-guard by the screen, with four Auburn players in the backfield effectively out of the play.

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1.  Julio Jones sets a nice block in the open field, further giving evidence to the strength of Alabama's screen game. 

2.  The tackle, as stated above, has not left his feet and therefore remains engaged with the linebacker as Richardson picks up speed.  The guard is simply looking for somebody to block at this point and there is a great deal of space for Richardson to run in.

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This display of great open field blocking by the linemen and wide receivers help Richardson pick up a big gain of 17 yards on second and long.

Thirteenth play:  1st and 10 at Auburn 11

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At this point, Auburn is in deep trouble; not only is Alabama in chip-shot field goal range for their good kicker, they can potentially score a touchdown while wasting more clock.  To do so, Alabama calls a straight power play against eight men in the box.

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The linebackers converge and there is no great push on the play.

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1.  Two linebackers step up to greet Richardson, who keeps his legs moving to grind out four tough yards.  This forces Auburn to burn their first timeout with 1:34 remaining.

Fourteenth play:  2nd and 6 at Auburn 7

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Alabama is simply interested in either wasting more clock or forcing Auburn to burn another timeout.  This is straight-man blocking.  Jones goes into motion here.

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As you can see, Auburn has just about everyone up at the line of scrimmage.

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As Richardson gets the ball, there isn't a lot of push again and not too much room to run.

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Richardson is met near the line of scrimmage but once again does a good job of getting what yards he can, this time gaining three.  This forces Auburn to call another timeout, and Alabama calls one of their own to set up their next play.

Fifteenth play:  3rd and 3 at Auburn 4

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The Tide could have theoretically simply settled for the field goal and forced Auburn to burn their last timeout.  Wisely, I think, they elected to go for the touchdown.  Mount Cody is in the game to gain the attention of the Auburn defense.

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As McElroy gets ready to fake the handoff, it is clear Cody got the attention desired as virtually the entire  Auburn defense flows towards him to play run.

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Auburn is caught flat-footed by the playaction, and Upchurch is about to break open.

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Upchurch has decent separation here and McElroy delivers a good pass.

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Touchdown, Alabama, on a drive that decimated Auburn's morale.  Alabama would fail to convert the two point conversion, but it was ultimately unimportant.

Final Totals

A staggering fifteen plays for 79 yards that soaked up a brutal 7:03.  Six runs for 21 yards, and one carry for one yard for Heisman winner Mark Ingram.  McElroy was 7/8 for 63 yards and a touchdown.  Julio Jones had four catches for 33 yards, two of which were pick plays that gained fifteen yards total.  Two screen passes to Ingram and Richardson for 26 yards, and zero times the offensive lineman went for a cut block in space.  Twice the left tackle lost his battle in the run game, and twice also in the pass game for one sack.  Ten out of the twelve plays run before the final sequence at Auburn's 11 that Auburn showed seven or eight men in the box.

Verdict

This drive was the best case scenario for Alabama and the worst for Auburn.  Auburn went from a one point lead with roughly eight and a half minutes remaining to a five point deficit with 1:24 left and only one timeout.  Alabama did not play well in many parts of this game, but that was one heck of a drive.

The drive demonstrates what Alabama does well in the passing game.  Julio Jones may be looked as a deep threat, as evidenced by how Auburn was playing him, but he can beat you in the short game and off deep comebacks and hitches.  The receivers do a good job running routes to beat man or zone and Alabama is willing to stretch the zone with a seam route with a TE.  Alabama also is adept at picking off players, which, if not called, is something the defense has to adjust to.  Also, due to their reputation as a running team, Alabama passes off playaction very well, making defensive ends pause their pass rush to afford more time for McElroy, who can even take off on a QB draw every once in a while (not show on this drive).  Finally, Alabama is very good in the screen game, having runningbacks who can run it well and linemen and wide receivers who can block well on the perimeter.  Both screens were crucial to the ultimate success of this drive.

The offensive line is good, but perhaps contrary to their reputation as a mauling group, they are not a force at the point of attack and more athletic in space, maybe better suited for a zone scheme that we run.  Alabama primarily does man-blocking and some of the linemen, such as the center and left tackle, seem to struggle.  Auburn's defensive line played a good game, as evidenced by their surprising resistance to Alabama's running game, and while a lot of that came from loaded fronts, it was also because Auburn won some battles at the line of scrimmage.

The run game on this drive, as in much of the game, did not do much, but Richardson was able to get some decent yards on several carries to kill the clock and wear down Auburn.  Richardson, at the least, was finding some space with his superior speed, so a struggling Ingram was wisely set aside.

For Texas, this raises several issues.  First and foremost, it will be interesting to see what Texas decides to do against Julio Jones.  Jones is a physical specimen worthy of respect, but is it wise to give him that much room?  Auburn was definitely determined to keep everything in front of them.  It might be worth trying to get up front and physical with Jones, something hardly anyone has done all year against him.  Of course, only Aaron Williams seems suited for the task, since Curtis Brown struggles against big, physical receivers and Chykie Brown is good for a brainfart or two.  In any case, the secondary will have to watch for the quick slants and comeback routes, while the entire back seven should be wary of Tide players coming to set picks on them.

Secondly, Auburn played with a loaded box most of the game, which surely made a lot of sense.  The Volunteers did the same thing, and it is likely Texas will do so as well.  It seems like the best bet to frustrate what this Tide offense wants to do.  However, due to the focus at the line of scrimmage, the defensive linemen will need to be aware of the screen game.  Our linemen have been very good at this in the past, but recognizing screens becomes even more of a priority against a team that executes it will and relies on it for yardage in the passing game. 

In addition, our defensive line can have some success against Alabama's offensive line.  The left tackle Carpenter seems to struggle against athletic ends on the edge, and if he thought Coleman's freaky leg plant was impressive, he just needs to wait to face Sergio Kindle.  The center, too, can struggle in man-blocking; since Houston may be combo blocked, it will be very important for the under-appreciated DT heroes Kheeston Randall and Ben Alexander to take advantage of the situation.  Still, because of Alabama's ability and willingness to run the ball between the tackles, Lamarr Houston is very, very important this game.

In examining Alabama's offense, it is much like when PB examined the team as a whole:  Their purported strengths are somewhat less impressive, but their purported weaknesses are given more respect.  Alabama's offensive line is excellent in space but are not immovable at the point of attack, and I like the matchup against our defensive line.  This makes Alabama's power run game somewhat short of dominating.  However, Alabama does a good job of mixing in passes, such as in playaction passes or screens, and those in addition to the run game still give Alabama a very efficient offense that is capable of eating up clock and demoralizing opponents.

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