Opposing linemen tire and lose their leverage. Players try to do too much and lose their gap integrity. Defenders get sloppy, and Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon slips through a couple of would-be tackles.
In its last two games – wins over Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Missouri in the SEC Championship – Alabama won thanks in part to a series of late scores. The fourth quarter is the Tide’s time to shine, and Alabama has outscored opponents 95-47 in the final frame this season.
Alabama trailed Auburn 36-27 with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Four straight touchdowns morphed that into a 55-36 advantage for the Tide. In the fourth quarter against Auburn, Alabama averaged 11.5 yards on 14 carries and had six rushes of more than 10 yards.
Against Missouri, Alabama held a 21-13 lead after a Missouri field goal with 4:37 left in the third quarter. Three touchdowns later, Nick Saban’s men were celebrating a 42-13 romp.
It all starts with the offensive line, where huge holes appear in the second half. Once signs of fatigue or frustration set in, Alabama’s big men know what happens next.
“It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world, when you just go in and dominate and take over a game,” right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “You work hard all game to try to get to that point and when you get there you want to finish. That’s just one of the greatest feelings, just going in and finishing and scoring a couple of touchdowns.”
Left guard Arie Kouandjio echoed that statement, saying, “It feels awesome... it’s great to be in the moment in that time.”
So what can Ohio State do to avoid meeting a similar fate? Junior linebacker Joshua Perry laid out a fundamentals-based plan that some of Bama’s victims have struggled to execute in the late stages of games with the outcome on the line.
“One thing that has been overlooked by a lot of people is how good their running game is,” Perry said. “Their running game is really, really good and they’ve got a couple of backs who run really well. The way you do that is obviously by being physical up front and then you have to be gap sound and know your scheme. That’s going to be a big thing.
“Past that, you’ve got to be able to know what you’re looking at in the run game and be able to recognize pullers in different formations. They’re two powerful runners, a couple of big guys, so obviously tackling is going to be a big deal.”
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett took a more simple approach when asked what Ohio State needs to do to avoid an outcome similar to that of the Iron Bowl. When Alabama is running the ball to bleed out the clock and suffocate opponents’ chances of winning, it becomes a toughness battle.
“(Stopping Alabama) comes with toughness,” Bennett said. “That comes with not letting them do that. That has nothing to do with game plan or anything. That’s just them deciding to run the clock out and the other team not being able to stop them. I don’t think we’re in that situation, and I don’t predict that will happen.”