Five Things to Watch Against Alabama

Horns_bullet_mediumWill Mack and Colt seal their legacies? Standing in confett together will place them at the top of the Longhorn pantheon, securing both of their legacies. It's all either one needs to be placed with the Texas greatest of all time in football. Both are right there at the edge and tonight would put them over the top. 'Nuff said.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the Texas defensive line and linebackers outplay the 'Bama line? The front six or seven need to get off their blocks and win at the point of attack when Alabama man blocks. The Tide may want to double team Ben Alexander because it could be hard to block him one-on-one. He's an X-factor in the game. Lamarr Houston will be the stud that he is and make some plays. Texas may force Alabama into running more zone plays or pulling linemen to get more double teams. The man runs with two players releasing to the second level from the Anatomy posts is a good play and one that can break big gains, but can Alabama afford to block the Texas defensive tackles man up on those plays? I don't think so.

The linebackers and defensive line must get off blocks and win their individual battles. Letting Ingram and Richardson run free into the third level will result in missed tackles, poor angles, and yards after contact. All very bad things. Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, and Roddrick Muckelroy must have big games.

McElroy doesn't take a ton of big hits in the passing game, mostly because they use so much play action and it's not easy to tee off on them. If the Longhorns can win first and second down, the ends can sell out upfield. Kindle coming free on the edge even once in the game could result in a game-changing play like the "freaky leg plant" the led to Taylor Pitts  being rocked for the rest of the season. Rattling McElroy early could lead to the bad throws to which he is prone.

 

Horns_bullet_mediumHow much can Colt McCoy run in this game? What about the rest of the running game?

Bullet style because of time constraints:

  • How much will the Longhorns run the zone read? How does Alabama gameplan the zone read? If I'm Nick Saban, I force the handoff and count on the defensive line to beat the Texas offensive line. The other option is scraping the linebacker and giving him a keep read to put some hits on him. Either way, the Longhorns may not be able to run it as much as they would like because 'Bama will be prepared for it.
  • What about quarterback draws? As mentioned in the Cody post, having to double team Cody on first and second down means the Longhorns can account for one fewer player -- they will have to hit the play on passing downs when Alabama may lose contain and Cody isn't in the game.
  • LSU picked up some yards on the speed option against the Tide, but the Longhorns don't run the play much and McCoy doesn't seem to have a great natural feel for it. Probably not much of an option.
  • How much will the jet series be used? Alabama is the most vulnerable on the perimeter -- trying to run right at them ealry in the game like Tennessee did may not be the best idea. Texas needs to use Stealer and another play they've been hinting at but not showing -- when the motion player comes across the formation, he paus and chops his feet while McCoy shows a run back the other direction. The motion man gets in a pitch relationship for the speed option. Along with a reverse to Shipley and a wheel route to the motion man, those are the most likely new wrinkles for the series, as well as the most likely new wrinkles to the running game.

 

Horns_bullet_mediumWho makes the big plays, either on special teams, defense, or explosive plays offensively? Javier Arenas is good. In watching the film on him, my most consistent note -- like on nearly every return -- marvelled at his incredible balance and how much trouble the first several players had in bringing him down. I pretty quickly ran out of different ways to say the same thing. The good news it that the gunners for Alabama don't cover particularly well and often allow opponents to be in Arenas' face when he catches the ball. Hence, the need for so many broken tackles directly after the catch. Most teams tried to sky kick or angle with Arenas.

How will Texas handle him? The rugby punt doesn't get much height on it and could allow Arenas to catch the ball with momentum and room in front of him. Will Tucker try the left-footed rugby punt that only had about a 50% success rate against Colorado in extensive action? Or will John Gold, who has a great leg, be the punter? To me, this is a game for Gold -- limiting the opportunities for Arenas with a short field is paramount.

The flip side is that the Alabama coverage teams really struggle. Jordan Shipley, DJ Monroe, and Marquise Goodwin all have a chance to score on special teams. However, it's possible that Alabama will play more ones than normal on kickoff and punt coverage, just as will the Longhorns. Inserting greater talent and speed may help neutralize the Texas advantage. Will Malcolm Williams be back for kick returns? His blocking, along with that of Eddie Jones, Cody Johnson, and Aaron Smith in the wedge will be the most important crucial blocks to break a big play. Can the playmakers make plays/

The Longhorns will also play more starters on special teams in an effort to limit Arenas. Even using a guy like Keenan Robinson made a big difference against Nebraska. Make one or two big plays in the third phase and limit Arenas and the Longhorns have an excellent chance of winning.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas move the ball by increasing tempo? The offense has been at its best this season when working in the two-minute drills, scoring touchdowns right before the half in 9-of13 games and will almost certainly increase the tempo at some point early in the game because Alabama has had some trouble with it this season.

The jet tempo may not be such a great idea. It hurt Nebraska once or twice, but after that it stalled drives. The problem is that there are only a couple plays off of it and you can basically play one defense to affect it. Alabama will almost surely send Arenas to help in run support or to blitz off the edge on a bootleg. If Texas tries to bootleg right with jet tempo, Arenas will hit him just like Matt O'Hanlon did against Nebraska. It will have to be bootleg left or not at all, but the hashmark the ball is on dictates the bootleg most of the time. In other words, not a good idea.

Increasing tempo may mean more Dan Buckner on the field in 10 personnel, with the Longhorns eshewing the running game early or trying to run some option to even the numbers and catch Alabama off guards. It's a risky strategy and one that Davis and Brown have surely weighed. The counter read play hasn't worked particularly well so that may not be an option and Buckner hasn't blocked well this year. Putting him in the game makes the Longhorns pretty one-dimensional, so Davis will have to find some way to counter that if Buckner's going to play extensively.

If Texas can get a one-on-one match up with Buckner on Corey Reamer, probably the least atheletic of any of the players in the back seven for Alabama, but I would expect freshman Nico Johnson, a kid I really liked when I saw him in the Army game last year, to play in Reamer's place in those personnel packages. He has excellent speed and can run with Buckner, which would neutralize the advantage by having the converted wide receiver on the field. It's a chess match obviously, like all these things.

Hook 'Em, baby.

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