There were several highlights among the too many low lights on the defensive side of the ball for Florida. Things can get fixed, and we will give our opinion on how to fix them as we break it down by play and by series here.
1st series – (1st-10) (87 yard TD strike) running back Drake with elite speed lined wide and draws a linebacker wide in man coverage and one deep safety over the top in the middle of the field. Gorman cannot cover that much ground. He’s got to worry about three receivers left and can’t cheat to that side. Should have called a time out, had to have been worked on all week by Bama for that situation and they worked it like a charm. Issues: There shouldn’t be an issue with a linebacker on a back, but in this particular arrangement, they had to adjust or call a time out. There is just no way Morrison could cover that guy and his speed and no way for Gorman to get over fast enough on the back end.
2nd series – (1st-10) Kenyan Drake again runs for (8 yards) on the right side and Marcus Maye with a text book rip and strip of the ball that Vernon Hargreaves lands on. O-stopper: Just a great play by Maye who got his hand under and cupped the ball and ripped as hard as he could.
3rd series - (1st-10) Bama inside zone run with tight end and fullback. Cummings slaughters the left guard and pushes him back into T.J. Yeldon, who has to veer wide right, but Jonathan Bullard gets penetration and he has to move backwards a little and wider where Hargreaves and Ball cleaned the play up (-1). (2nd-11) Scree pass to DeAndrew White to the left and Poole misses a chance for a tackle one yard in the backfield, he picks up (7) after the miss. (3rd-5) Drop back with six-man protection and a 4 man rush. Fowler was double teamed and had the back not come over to help he would have leveled Sims. Sims throws a bullet in the middle of zone coverage to Amari Cooper for (25) yards. (1st-10) Penalty on Bama, illegal procedure. (1st-15) DeAndrew White catches a 6 yard out pass but is swarmed… Neiron Ball and Keanu Neal strip the ball and Neal heads down the sideline for a (49) yard fumble return and (TD). O-stopper: Ball has been a whirling dervish all year and came up to tip this one away perfectly. Credit goes to Neal for scooping on the run and taking off for the long haul and also to Dante Fowler who sprinted ahead of Neal to block for him for the TD.
4th series – (1st-10) Penalty on Bama, delay of game. (1st-15) Good protection on 4-man rush. Cooper just sits in the zone at about 8 yards and gets (11) on the play. (2nd-3) Quick hit to Cooper for (2), Hargreaves all over him at the catch. (3rd -1) QB keeper for (3). (1st-10) Another inside run to Yeldon and Fowler forces him wide right where Poole and Morrison clean it up for a (1) yard loss. (2nd-11) Sims gets smashed by McCalister just as he throws a 25 yard skinny-post strike to Cooper who had Maye covering him and safety help up top. A well thrown ball and good catch. (1st-10) outside zone run left with Yeldon, blocked well on the edge and Maye gave up the edge for (4) yards. (2nd-6) Roll out pass wide right to Cooper and well overthrown. (3rd-6) Looking to go to Cooper again with Quincy Wilson in coverage (Hargreaves out after making tackle on last play) Cummings stops his drive and jumps up to bat the ball incomplete. Missed Field goal. O-stopper: Cummings with the batted pass that might have gone for a first down.
5th series- (1st-10) The bomb to Cooper for a 79 yard TD. We know that Poole had something to do with it. Cooper was in a slot position, but both receivers were too one side Hargreaves on the outside. Poole was supposed to at least cover him in the short to medium field, but watching the actions of everyone they weren’t in a man defense, so Neal still busted his assignment bad as a deep cover-2 safety. Issues: Poole didn’t play the assignment, but equal blame goes to the deep safety Neal for not covering the deep field. The play call is fine if everyone does their job.
6th series – (1st-10) Outside zone run left and the fullback with an awful non-call holding on the guy supposed to keep containment on the edge which was Neal. Yeldon gets (7) because of the hold. (2nd-3) Quick roll out pass to White who sits in a hole. Sims on the run makes another dagger of a throw for (18). (1st-10) Screen pass to White and he makes a move to get past Ball for (5) yards. (2nd-5) Screen pass sniffed out by Cummings and the congestion causes Yeldon to drop the ball. (3rd-5) Man defense and Sims spots Neal covering tight end O.J. Howard and hits him on an inside Dig route for (12 yards), Not bad coverage. Nice throw. (1st-10) Zone stretch run with Yeldon. Cummings gets to the edge somehow and gets to the feet of Yeldon and Maye and Leon Orr clean it up for a (1) yard gain. (2nd-9) Bootleg roll out pass to the right and finds Cooper guarded by Hargreaves but nice play lands him (13) yards. (1st-10) QB keeper and Leon Orr forces a Sims fumble. Fowler picks it up and moves forward and fumbled and then hustles enough after being on the ground to get the ball again and advance it further (32 yards total). O-stopper: Leon Orr shooting inside so quick and the forced fumble after surprising Sims with being so quick into the backfield, then Fowler going crazy with getting the ball.
7th series – ball at -12 (1st-10) Inside zone run by Yeldon and again the defensive tackles have everything covered and smothered inside. He it’s a wall and cuts outside to the right Hargreaves hits him at LOS but can’t wrap up, he bounces for (5) yards and the gang tackled. (2nd-5) Sims has all day and waits on Cooper to keep getting deep before heaving it. Double covered by Maye underneath and Neal deep they are able to knock the ball away. (3rd-5) Sideline pass to Christion Jones for (3) and Hargreaves and Neal there to push him out before first down. Bama to punt. Drive stopping play: Hargreaves on his man on the short route denying the 1st down. O-stopper: Good coverage all around and the Cooper double covered deep.
8th series – (1st-10) Leon Orr with a nice swim move to whip the left guard. On an inside zone run, Derrick Henry only gets one yard when Orr makes the tackle. (2nd-9) Roll out pass but nobody open. Morrison heading over to push Sims to sideline and should have had at LOS, instead Sims fakes outside and cuts back up for 6 more and then Cummings nailed for hitting him out of bounds (penalty, personal foul). (1st-10) Henry with an inside zone run. Again there is nothing there as the DT’s were crushing their guys, he has to cut far right and makes a move for (6) yards before Alex McCalister has him by the feet and Neal smacks him hard and then does the “George Jefferson” prance after the hit. (2nd-4) FB Jalston Fowler on a screen picks up (22) yards. (1st-8) Penalty, illegal procedure on Bama. (1st-13) Henry on a zone run to the right. Outflanked on that side and he finds the open gap for (11) yards. (2nd-2) Roll out pass for Sims. Nobody open and he motions Fowler to move to the right and scores right at the edge of the end zone (TD). Issues: Personal foul by Cummings deep in Alabama where it would have been 3rd- 3. On the same play Morrison missed a chance to push him out at the goal line giving him six extra yards and the PF would have never happened.
9th series – ball at (-17) (1st-10) Sims rolls out left, but has to scramble with Ball and Fowler stalking him. He makes a hard cut on Ivie who misses a tackle at the LOS and scoots for (9) yards. (2nd-1) Inside zone run for Yeldon who has nothing and Fowler gets great penetration on the edge, and pushes him deep. Yeldon runs right for (-2) when Maye and Poole join Fowler in hitting him at the sideline. (3rd-3) play action pass with good protection and Cooper has enough time to bump off Hargreaves and move inside for (7). (1st-10) play action and Fowler gets back there quick. Sims sidesteps him steps up and throws a bullet in traffic to White for (7). (2nd-3) Joey Ivie and Jay-nard Bostwick plug up the inside on an inside zone run for Henry, he has nowhere to run and gets (1) yard. (3rd-2) Yeldon in Wildcat. Middle was plugged for nothing but then surged for (4). (1st-10) Antonio Morrison tipped a slant pass intended for White and the ball goes incomplete. (2nd-10) (penalty) man runs out of bounds. (3rd-10) Leon Orr sniffed out a screen pass and kept Yeldon from catching it. Punt time. O-stopper: penalty helped make long yardage on 3rd, but Orr playing the screen so well was the stopper.
10th series – (1st-10) Hargreaves burned on long 32 yard fade, but (penalty) and comes back. (1st-15) Zone stretch to the left and D-Line still caving the Bama front in, Gorman comes up and fills for the outside contain, Morrison, Bullard, and Taylor combine on a tackle for (2) yards. (2nd-13) Hargreaves giving Cooper too much room on the sideline. Wide open for a 5 yard catch that he turns in to a (14) yard catch and 1st down. (1st-10) Inside zone run from Yeldon, again the DT’s (Orr and Cummings) just wouldn’t budge and Yeldon gets just (2). (2nd-8) Bootleg roll out and Neiron Ball tips the pass high in the air for Antonio Morrison to run under the ball for the INT. Ball is such a bullet when he gets his eyes on the ball carrier and nothing between he and that ball carrier. Nice play and set up of the play by the defense. O-stopper: Neiron Ball can flat turn on the jets when he gets his eye on something. He completely blew up the play with his speed forcing Sims to rush his throw and then tips the ball up for Morrison.
11th series – (1st-10) DLine pushed back a little, Ivie in there to start the half, but the line still managed to squeeze everything on the inside zone run by Yeldon and then Ivie breaks free of his man and along with Hargreaves make the tackle. (2nd-8) Finally Bama gets some separation and after watching the replay I see the center with hands holding all over the outside of the shoulder pads on Caleb Brantley not allowing him to get to the lane Yeldon was running for an inside zone that amounted to a (7) yard gain. (3rd-1) Yeldon in wildcat and gets (2) yards. (1st-10) Play action pass deep to fullback… Neal on the coverage and thrown to deep because of coverage. (2nd-10) Drop back and the gators bring a blitz with six guys. Michael Taylor and Jonathan Bullard force a scramble and Sims gets outside for (9) yards. (3rd-1) Zone run and Yeldon gets (2) yards and then another (4) as the pile is moved. (1st-10) Coverage sack for McCalister who subbed for Fowler after limping off. Bama had max protect against 4 rushers and McCalister was the only one not double teamed fought his guy off and the sack for (-8). (2nd-18) Inside zone run and Henry forced outside by a blitzing Jarrad Davis. McCalister came from the far side and only got one arm on him, Gorman hit him hard and bounced off, then Cummings and Neal finally made the tackle after gain of (6). (3rd-12) shotgun pass and a dig over the middle. Looked like Morrison playing too inside and White found the opening in the zone for the first down and (13) yards. (1st-10) Inside zone run from Henry. Nothing there with penetration from Brantley. He cuts right but Bullard gets penetration and Morrison comes up to cut off the outside for a (-1) yard loss. (2nd-11) Gators not lined up on the tight end outside. Quick hitter to O J Howard goes for (10). (2nd-1) QB sneak and Sims gets (1). (1st-10) Fade to corner for Cooper, Hargreaves in tight coverage and ball out of bounds. (2nd-10) (penalty) false start on Bama OL. (2nd-15) Cummings gets a hole on inside run as they sealed off Cummings and Orr, McCalister with a shoe string tackle saving a touchdown from Henry who got (7) on the play. (3rd-8) (penalty) pass interference on Cooper. (3rd-23) Screen to Henry and Michael Taylor had man coverage. Got blocked down by left tackle and couldn’t make the play. Gorman comes flying and misses, finally tackled by a weary Poole and Neal at the three and a (30) yard gain. You don’t blitz there on 3rd and 23, rush 3 and drop back into zone make them throw underneath. (1st-G) Toss left to Henry, he fights outside to open space and is standing when he crosses the goal line (TD). Issues: Bama starts forcing the ball to the outside a little after being stymied inside all day. The find little creases on the edges and make big runs. The crusher was a bad play call on defense on 3rd-23. Don’t blitz in super long down and distance situations, allow them to get 8 yards by backing everyone up.
12th series – (1st-10) Drop back pass, Gators rush six on a blitz. Decent protection but won’t stand up and Sims breaks away for (23). Backups are in up front after the long drive last series. (1st-10) zone stretch run left for Henry. He gets outside quick and Gators are out flanked on the left side. Henry with a beast run for (25). (1st-10) Zone stretch again , looked almost identical to last play. Brantley gets a great jump in backfield but can’t catch up with Henry who gets (12). (1st-10) Inside zone with Yeldon and he is patient for things to open up. Michael Taylor misses a tackle after three yards but Yeldon ends up with (11). (1st-8) (penalty) Cummings off sides. (1st-4) Good coverage near the end zone and Bullard in hot pursuit, Jake Coker had to throw it away. (2nd-4) Toss sweep right and Poole controls the edge and gets to Yeldon for loss of (-1) rush. (3rd-5) Fade to Cooper and Hargreaves on him. Played well by both guys but Cooper came down with the (TD). Issues: Big plays. Scramble for 23. Stretch run for 25. Henry stretch run for 12. Inside zone for 11. They didn’t even have to play a 2nd down until inside the 10.
13th series – (1st-10) Screen pass to Yeldon. Taylor gets too set inside and allows Yeldon to get way outside on the play. Gorman, Cox, and Orr all miss tackles on the play. Yeldon nets (32) yards). (1st-10) Inside zone from Yeldon. Finds a crease for about four yards and Neal hits him hard, doesn’t wrap he carries a pile for (10) total. Holding again on the left tackle. (1st-10) Zone stretch to Henry gets (3). (2nd-7) Zone stretch right and Henry cuts it back up and is able to dance. Or could have made the play but nasty cut block from behind got him on the ground. (1st-2) Inside zone run again and Henry gets (1) Cummings and Orr owned the middle. (2nd-1) (penalty) motion on Alabama. (2nd-6) Roll out pass and the defense has it covered well. Ball falls incomplete. (3rd6) Fade pass to Cooper at goal line. Poole has nice technique, but Cooper makes a nice move to get to the ball and a (TD). Issues: Same thing, too many big plays mostly in run game. Only one 2nd down before they were inside the 10.
14th series – (1st-10) Henry inside zone run nets (8). Creases getting bigger at this point. (2nd-2) Stretch zone and Henry finding another crease cuts it back up. Gorman gives everything he’s got on the hit, but Henry trucks him for (7). (1st-10) Henry inside zone for (3). (2nd-7) (penalty) Cummings in neutral zone. (2nd-2) Drake on zone stretch. Morrison hits him after 2 yards but doesn’t wrap. He bounces and gets another 10 for (12) yard run and out of bounds. (1st-10) Gators stretch it out wide and Drake gets (3) yards on an inside one, but McCalister called for a personal foul late hit. Questionable call in my opinion. (1st-7) Toss right to Drake, and Tabor comes up and makes the tackle for (-5). (2nd-12) Zone stretch and Henry cuts it back for just (3). (3rd-9) (penalty) illegal motion on Bama. (3rd-14) Zone stretch for Henry who gets (0). (4th-14) Zone stretch for Henry for (4). Issues: Two big penalties here. Cummings gives then 5 and makes it 2nd-2. Then a crappy call by the refs gives first down after a 3 yard stop.
Defensive Line: I thought they played reasonably well. For 10 series of the game they controlled the line of scrimmage in the running game, and then by the 11th series they were giving the edges. This was the best the defensive tackles played since Easley was hurt a year ago. They plugged the middle all day and they made plays. Outside of three bone headed penalties from Cummings, he played well, but other guys did too like Brantley and Ivie. Cumming needs to drop the mistakes because those guys are going to start taking some playing time from him. Regardless, the DT’s made a bunch of plays on the day in my book.
I would have liked to see more from the defensive ends in terms of getting to the quarterback. But, it was a mixed bag, they got pressure some and then at times they didn’t. McCalister and Fowler were the stars. I know this isn’t the best offensive line Alabama has had, but it is still very talented and I thought overall the entire line played well and they played a lot of players.
Linebacker: Neiron Ball continues to be a beast. He forced a fumbled and tipped a pass for an interception. His straight ahead speed is definitely the best in this unit and he plays like a wild man attacking the ball. I don’t blame the first play on Morrison even though he was the guy lined up that is supposed to make that play. He just had no chance against that back. Morrison was alright.He is around the ball a lot. He missed a play or two he should have made, but I think he is a guy that helps out on a lot of tackles that allow for them to happen. He along with Taylor and Neal all led the team in tackles (each with 10) and I think it showed for Morrison. Taylor on the other hand didn’t have a good game in my opinion. I think he is a guy that has been pretty absent so far this year and needs to do more on the field. Saturday was the same. One note I would like to make is that outside of Neiron Ball, we seem to never blitz with linebackers anymore, hardly ever up the middle. There was a little bit of Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis on the field. Davis might have played more if not dinged up during the game.
Secondary: Both corners had their hands full when Cooper lined up against them. Hargreaves probably lost more than he won, but he also won some and fought hard. I thought Poole played pretty well outside of the screw up on the second TD pass. The problems with the secondary do not lie with the cornerbacks.
Safety and NICKEL are a whole different matter. To me in this game as well, the main issue lies at the NICKEL spot. I believe the staff knows that is the weak link and they know teams are going to attack it, so they try to help there. I believe this has caused confusion on the back end and to do what is normal and what is the right thing are different things at this point. That is why we see a mis-alignment here and a blown coverage there. The misalignments create bigger holes in the secondary than we are used to seeing around here. All of that doesn’t seem to be fair to put it on the players. The safeties play hard. They come up and make hits. For every bad play from Neal, we see 4-5 big time plays, it is just that bad play that hurts. Jabari Gorman gets stuck on the first play in the middle of the field deep and he sees three receivers to his right so he has to lean that way and then can’t cover the fastest guy on the field when he beats a linebacker. Outside of not having a guy that can cover in the slot, almost all of the issues in the secondary are mental. They have to figure out the NICKEL and we will get into that in a moment.
Coaching: This game was easier to spot some of the coaching blunders than most games and some of the blunders come from excellent scheming by the offense. They certainly did some schematically nice things… like the first play. I really think the only thing that should have or could have been done on that first play was to call a time out and talk it over about what to do if they line up like that again. At minimum, have two deep safeties, one on each half in that formation and personnel.
The other single play blunder to me was blitzing on 3rd-23 and playing man across. It left half the field open for a play to be made and they called the perfect play for it. The old Saban would have done the same thing there, not sure on new Saban.
Outside of those two things the biggest issue with the coaching is the personnel and that there is so much confusion trying to cover up a spot or two on the field. They spent all spring and early fall with Brian Poole at NICKEL and a freshman manning outside at corner. In the spring that other corner was Tabor maybe every practice. The NICKEL position is the issue and Marcus Maye plays so well against the run there, but his coverage skills seem null and void at this time. That again is the biggest thing going on.
I think the tight end being uncovered is just a miscommunication and execution of the defense, probably caused by the confusion from the things they are trying to do.
In my opinion they are going to have to bite the bullet here and play the freshmen at cornerback. Surprisingly, Quincy Wilson has been playing ahead of Tabor since early in fall practice. They had Tabor actually backing up Vernon and Quincy would come in behind Poole in the depth chart, but the few times Hargreaves went down for a play or two Saturday, Wilson was the one that substituted at that spot. Maybe the biggest issue is that with Poole at NICKEL, there are only three cornerbacks on the depth chart as they are looking to redshirt Deiondre Porter. That is more than dangerously thin.
Maybe the cure is Duke Dawson who performed well in the spring at corner and they think he can play NICKEL. Maybe he can play that spot and let Poole stay outside where he has played reasonably well. The biggest loss from last year’s team right now looks like the transfer of Cody Riggs to Notre Dame. He wanted to play corner, we said he was a safety. He could probably play corner now and let Poole run at the NICKEL and we would be better off than we are right now.
In the end, they are going to have to make a change in the middle of the secondary. Teams will continue to exploit that and we aren’t executing at a high enough level to overcome that exploitation.