Run, Trent, Run: Breaking Down the 57 Yard Heisman Dash

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Trent Richardson’s 57-yard fourth quarter dash against Auburn, here it is:

A couple of things about this run:

1) This was a perfectly designed and executed play that put Trent in position to make a big play.

2) Notice first that the Tide was lined-up with an unbalanced line: LT Barrett Jones was lined up on the right, beside RT D.J. Fluker.  Tight end Michael Williams was lined up on the left beside G Chance Warmack.

3) This unbalanced set also featured three total tight ends: Williams (lined up left next to Warmack), Brad Smelley (lined up in an H back position on the left side, just off the line and outside of Williams) and Chris Underwood (lined up in an H back position, on the right, outside of Jones).

4) At the snap, the Auburn defense reacts to a run to the left side and three key blocks occur: Smelley blocks the right cornerback, #11 Chris Davis; Williams kicks-out right defensive end, #55 Corey Lemonier; and Warmack picks up right inside linebacker, #25 Darren Bates, who doesn’t make it within two yards of the line of scrimmage. In fact, Warmack pancakes Bates and also nearly blocks #21 Eltoro Freeman who is pursuing the play.  (There’s actually great blocking up and down the line on this play.)

5) In the blink of an eye, Trent has picked up 15 yards (from the 27 to the 42) before being trapped by the sideline and box of five Auburn Tigers.

6) Richardson stops on a dime, rag dolls safety #15 Neiko Thorpe (who has taken a terrible pursuit angle) out of bounds, cuts right, heads toward midfield as #11 Davis and linebacker #38 Jawara White make a sandwich out of each other on the sideline.

7) As Trent races diagonally across the field, at least seven Tiger defenders give chase.

8 ) Finally, Tiger cornerback #6 Jonathon Mincy cuts off Trent around the Auburn 15 yard line, before also being rag dolled like Thorpe.

9) Auburn defensive back #12 Demetruce McNeal finally downs Richardson at the 16.

The result?  An incredible 57-yard run.

There was one missed block on this run that probably cost Richardson a touchdown.  I hate to point it out, but it’s true.  Brandon Gibson lines up wide right, on the line, guarded by Auburn defensive back Mincy, who is 10 yards off the ball.  At the snap, Mincy takes a deep pursuit angle as Richarson runs to the left sideline.  Gibson pursues.  When Richardson finally reaches the sideline, Gibson falls behind Mincy, who immediately begins to pursue Trent back across the field.  If Gibson ever lays a hand on Mincy, it’s likely all the remaining help Richardson would have needed to finish the run.  Mincy was able to cut Trent off, and he did have help on the way, but Trent would have most likely reached the endzone.

A great run by Richardson.  Many, many great blocks by teammates.  Hopefully, this was a Heisman dash.


Alabama – Auburn: More Postgame Thoughts

Last week I took a look a what Auburn had to do vs. Bama to win and, likewise, what the Tide had to do to win.  In the aftermath of Bama’s 42-14 thumping of the Tigers let’s take a look back and see how close I came to reality.

What Auburn Had to do to Win

It was a given that the Tigers needed to execute flawlessly, play special on special teams and win the turnover battle.  Two out of three usually isn’t bad, but in this case it didn’t help much.  Auburn created a huge first half turnover that resulted in a touchdown and returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown.  Plays like that are key ingredients for an upset, but in Auburn’s case those were their only two highlights.

Offensively, the Tigers needed to run the ball.  I thought they would try to mimic Michael Dyer’s 41 tote performance against South Carolina, but that didn’t happen.  In fact, that project never got started.  Dyer carried the ball only twice in the first 12 plays – while Auburn was still in the game.  He finished with 13 carries for 48 yards, most of those coming in garbage time, though.

Defensively, I thought Auburn would load up to stop the run and put the game into AJ McCarron’s hands.  That’s not a novel idea.  That’s what most teams try to do.  Auburn failed and failed spectacularly.  McCarron finished 18 of 23 for 186 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores coming in the first half.  Heisman contender Trent Richardson finished what McCarron started by rushing 27 time for a career-high 203 yards.  That’s a gaudy 7.5 yards per pop.

Overall, I thought the Auburn game plan – offensively and defensively – was poor.  Offensively, the Tigers were conservative and predictable.  Gus Malzahn slowed his fast break offense down to a snail’s pace in an attempt to slow the game, but lacked any sort of originality in creating a running game.  I know that would have been asking Malzahn to do something no other team has done this year, but his failure to utilize Dyer in the early going and insistence on using two quarterbacks – each in obvious situations – hurt any sort of chance the Tigers may have had.  Defensively, the Tigers best player was the “12th man.”  The crowd noise helped create a false start penalty on the Tide’s first play of the game, but that was the defensive highlight of the day for the Tigers.

What Alabama Had to do to Win

The Tide had to know that Auburn would load up to stop the run.  So the only question was whether Alabama would attack by air or by land:

In Auburn’s case, if they load the box to shut down the running game, they leave themselves very, very exposed with their secondary – a secondary that ranks dead-last in the SEC defending the pass.

So let me say this:  I will not be surprised if Saban turns the game over to McCarron from the beginning.  McCarron has played well this year and, statistically, Auburn just isn’t very good against the pass.  If McCarron can pass, Richardson will eventually run wild.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, but this is basically what happened.  It was simply a matter of Auburn picking their poison and Nick Saban deciding which way to administer it:

The Alabama game plan won’t simply be to respond to what the Tigers do offensively and defensively.  Nick Saban likes for his teams to dominate the competition by imposing their will.  Sometimes that may be by blunt force trauma – i.e. via Trent Richardson and the running game.  Other times that may mean making you pay by attacking your weakness.

Other than the McCarron fumble and the kickoff return, this game went 100% according to the Tide’s game plan.  With the stakes involved, the revenge factor and simply because this is a rivalry game, Auburn didn’t ever realistically have a chance.


Fun with Numbers, Auburn-Style

It must be nice to get paid to be a pot-stirrer.

Under the category of “Auburn has the better head coach because ______________,” Kevin Scarbinsky tries to fill in the blank with Gene Chizik is better coach than Nick Saban because he’s better in close games.  He even has statistics to back it up:

As good as Saban and his staff have been at recruiting and developing players, at developing and installing game plans, there’s something about the way Chizik and his staff perform at crunch time that can’t be denied.

Let’s go to the numbers. In five years at Alabama, Saban is 6-4 in games decided by four points or less. Expand the final margin to eight points or less – which is a one-score game – and he’s 10-9.

It’s not a bad record in nail-biters. It’s just that Chizik’s is much better. In three years at Auburn, he’s 9-0 in games decided by four points or less and 12-3 in games decided by eight points or less.

Yes, Saban is 10-9 in games, decided by eight points or less.  But did you know that 10 of those came in his first year?  The Tide’s record was 4-6 in those games, meaning Saban has gone 6-3 since.  Of those three losses, two have come to LSU – including this year’s “Game of the Century,” and one came to the 2010 national champions.  I think I can live with that record.

Let’s also point out that in 2010, Auburn had perhaps the best college football player in the last 25 years in Cam Newton.  Despite this, five of their fourteen wins were by less than four points.  Before we begin to sing the hallelujah chorus over Chizik, let’s remind ourselves that he would’ve lost several game without Newton.

Scarbinsky also makes this point:

Do the Alabama players tend to tighten up at crunch time because their head coach is wound so tight? Or are they so used to early knockouts that they don’t get enough practice trading punches in the 15th round?

Horrors.  Maybe their coach is just cooler than ours.  To double-check this, why don’t we look at games decided by more than 14 points.  By my math, Alabama is 36-0*, including multiple wins over Arkansas, Tennessee, Penn State and Florida to name a few and includes the 2009 SEC championship game and also the BCS title game win over Texas.  Saban has never lost a game at Alabama by more than 14 points.

Chizik, on the other hand, is 14-5* in games decided by more than 14 points.  Seven of those are Newton aided.  In 2011 alone, the Tigers have been pasted by 38-14, 45-10 and 45-7 scores.

Well, I’ll tell ya what.  Y’all can keep Chizik and we’ll keep Saban and we’ll even let you think you have the better coach.  How does that sound?


* I tallied these records rather quickly and could be off a game or so, but you get the point.


“I didn’t know I couldn’t raise my arm up”

Last year’s loss to Auburn was excruciating.  If several plays in that game go differently – we’ve talked about them here – the outcome is different.  That’s what makes it excruciating, I guess.

One of those plays was Mark Barron’s apparent whiff on a Cam Newton pass to Terrell Zachery that resulted in a 70 yard touchdown on Auburn’s second play from from scrimmage in the second half.

The play allowed Auburn to close their deficit to 24-14 with 14 minutes left in the third quarter.  The quick score had effectively eliminated Alabama’s dominance in the first half and allowed the Tigers back into the game.  Just like that.

Barron is a headhunting ball hawk and one of the best safeties ever to play at Alabama – if not the best.  We had seen him make this play time and time again.  That’s why it was such a shock to see him whiff.

But now we read the rest of the story, courtesy of ESPN’s Chris Low:

“It eats at me knowing that people think I was just out there playing like that and didn’t know I was hurt,” Barron said. “ I don’t like that, and I don’t like that I couldn’t make the play. But it is what it is.”

“The bad thing is that I didn’t know I couldn’t raise my arm up until that play,” Barron recalled. “I knew I’d hurt it in the first half on their first touchdown. I didn’t know how bad. I knew I was in pain, and I also knew I wasn’t coming out of the game. But that play is when I found out I wasn’t able to lift my arm.”

“I felt like at the time that everything happens for a reason,” Barron said. “I’m happy with my decision and glad I did come back. Things are looking good for us. I always felt like I made the right decision, but even more now.”

Barron didn’t make the play because he couldn’t lift his arm.

But that’s the way last season went for the Tide.  Twisted ankles for Courtney Upshaw and Marcel Dareus.  A banged-up Trent Richardson.  An injured Barrett Jones.  A recovering Dont’a Hightower.  As a friend recalled yesterday, “It’s just like it wasn’t meant to be.”

In hind sight, he’s obviously right.  It wasn’t meant to be.  But things are different this year.

Alabama – Auburn: “Full Redemption”

I’m not going to lie to you or sugarcoat:  last year’s Iron Bowl loss to Auburn was one of the worst days of my life.  From a sports stand point, it was definitely the worst.  But from an overall this-is-my-life-the-the-only-one-I’ve-got, yes this loss to Auburn ranked way up there in terms of worst days ever.  Ug, it makes my stomach hurt just to think about it.

Take it all in again, up 24-0 in your in-state rival who is ranked No. 1 in the country.  You have a chance to smash their national championship dreams or leave them with a “yeah they-won-the-national-championship-but-lost-to-us” mark.  Plus, just spanking your in-state rival is just plain nice.  Ahhh, that would’ve felt good.

But no.

In gut-wrenching, tear your heart out, cuss a blue streak, throw things at the television fashion, Auburn inched their way back to win.  Really, folks, there’s nothing that compares to this in all of the sporting world.

There were (at least) three game-changing plays:

1) First drive of the second quarter and Bama is leading 21-0 and driving.  Greg McElrody dumps a pass over the middle to Mark Ingram who dashes to his right and down the sideline.  Ingram makes a slight move left to dodge a tackler, has his legs hit by the would be tackler and begins to stumble.  As Ingram stumbles, Auburn defender Antoine Carter finally catches him, somehow knocks the ball out of his arms.  The ball then dances about 20 yards down the sideline and through the end zone.  Auburn’s ball.

2) The Tigers don’t score after the turnover, though, and the Tide gets the ball back at the 50 yard line following a 20 yard Auburn punt.  First down Trent Richardson for five yards.  Second down, incomplete pass.  Third down, McElroy hits Julio Jones for a 42 yard pass down to the Auburn three.  Boom.  We’re rolling.  And then it happens.  First down, McElroy finds Richardson open in the right flat, but ugghh, Richardson gets twisted and drops the ball.  A sure six points fall harmlessly to the ground.  Second down, Richardson for one.  Third down, incomplete pass.  Fourth down, kick a field goal.

A touchdown on either of those possessions ices the game.  No doubt.  Those two possessions gave the bad guys hope and let them cling to life.  But that wasn’t the only game-changing gaffe.

3) Tide safety Mark Barron whiffed on an interception attempt on the Tigers’ second play of the second half:

Alabama still led 24-7 going to the locker room, but yet another miscue probably hurt the Tide most of all. On Auburn’s second play of the second half, Newton threw a deep pass for Zachery down the sideline. Alabama safety Mark Barron came racing over and appeared to have a chance either at the interception or a big hit on the receiver.

He got neither. Barron actually got to the receiver a little early and slid by him. Zachery came down with the ball and kept on going for the touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-14.

The comeback was on. The Tigers never slowed down.

The 2010 Iron Bowl can’t be re-played, that is for sure.  But the 2011 version can be.  So it warms my cockles to hear this:

“I’m looking for full redemption,” Alabama linebacker Don’t’a Hightower said. “We know those guys are going to come at us like it’s the national championship and pull all the tricks out of the bag: double reverse passes and all that, like they did a couple years ago. But we’ll be prepared for that.”
Playing your in-state rival?  Check.  National championship berth on the line?  Check.  A chance for redemption after being embarrassed?  Check.  If you can’t get ready for a game like this, you need to find another sport.
Roll Tide!