"You can talk and say whatever you want, but at the end of the day, you have to play on the field, you know?" —Eddie Lacy (h/t thetowntalk.com)
Alabama certainly played on the field against LSU in Week 10, but it wasn't pretty. Of course, there's no such thing as an ugly win. Wins are all pretty. They line up neatly and leave the loss column filled with zeros.
Alabama took down the Tigers via two half-ending drives that both were less than a minute from start to touchdown. The final score doesn't accurately reflect what happened on the field though. just like last year's meeting, the team that executed better overall did not walk away with the win.
The team that executed all the way to the end zone better was the one that won. While Alabama played well below its ability, it only reinforced to all Tide fans that this is definitely the best team in the nation.
To put this into perspective, LSU is now 36-2 at night in Death Valley with Les Miles at the helm. The last team to do what Alabama just did was Florida in 2009 with Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer wearing the Gators' blue and orange.
*Stats not from memory are from ESPN.com
Overall Grade: C+
A.J. McCarron has had much better games than he had against LSU in Week 10. The great news is that, when it came down to crunch time at the end of each quarter, he responded with two major drives. One was a 58-second scoring drive; the other was a 43-second, game-winning drive that ended on a little screen to T.J. Yeldon, who promptly did his thing for roughly 28 yards on the way to the end zone.
When it came to the second half, McCarron was simply ineffective. Lots of credit goes to the LSU secondary, but McCarron did miss some opportunities with open receivers. Not wide-open, mind you, but you're rarely going to get wide-open against LSU. McCarron missed a deep touchdown pass by about three yards that would have put Alabama up 7-0 on the opening drive. Those kinds of passes are going to have to be en pointe if McCarron is going to outscore Texas A&M next weekend.
McCarron: 14/27 for 165 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
Overall Grade: A-
Overall, LSU looked like it had prepared very well for Eddie Lacy. That means the Tigers were woefully unprepared for T.J. Yeldon for almost the entire game. By the time they figured out Yeldon, Lacy came back into the mix and helped beat LSU as well.
Lacy: 11 carries for 83 yards and one touchdown, one reception for 19 yards. (102 total yards.)
Yeldon: 11 carries for 76 yards, one reception for 28 yards and one touchdown. (104 total yards.)
Neither running back was really more effective than the other, which means that Auburn fans are still really upset that Yeldon came to Tuscaloosa.
Overall Grade: B+
The wideouts did a great job in the blocking schemes, especially in the first half. The receiver of the game was hands-down Kevin Norwood. Norwood had five total receptions for 62 yards and no touchdowns. What made him the “receiver of the game” for yours truly was the fact that all five of his receptions came on the two scoring drives to end the halves. Without Norwood, those drives would not have happened. Christion Jones tacked on four receptions for 40 yards throughout the game to come in as the Tide's second-leading receiver. Amari Cooper was huge in the blocking aspect of the position, but caught zero passes in this particular venture.
The big subtraction from the wideouts' grade was the fact that they could not find a way to beat LSU's secondary. While the offense came out with the win, the receivers were almost completely ineffective on all drives except scoring drives. Basically, the Tide either got points or got a three-and-out. There was little in between.
Overall Grade: A
Kelly Johnson had one catch for 10 yards and Michael Williams tacked on six yards with his lone catch. The tight ends aren't really noticed much unless they're catching the football. However, for the most part, these guys were all over their assignments. Quarterback protection was excellent, and there were plenty of holes to run through for both the running backs and receivers. (The trick was figuring out how to get the ball to the receivers.) Those holes closed up ridiculously quickly, but this was LSU. It wasn't expected to be a blowout.
Overall Grade: A+
McCarron had almost all the time he would ever need on every play of the game. Sure, there were some plays that had him a little rushed, but a few of those were his fault for bailing out of the pocket when there wasn't actually any danger. Had McCarron kept his head 100 percent of the time, the scoreboard would likely look more like the o-line's grade. Of course, if the opposing quarterback could easily keep his wits about him, it wouldn't be called “Death Valley.”
Overall Grade: A
The defensive line did a great job in this game. LSU's offensive line was almost always moving backwards. While this was true, the pressures that the coaches were dialing up weren't working. The slow-developing pressures weren't actually getting pressure on Mettenberger, as he'd usually already sent the ball out. That can't be charged to the line, though. The reason that the line couldn't really apply massive pressure late in the game was due to the breakdowns in the rest of the defense. Other than the two major sacks around the transition point between the first two quarters, Mettenberger was highly effective as far as yardage was concerned. Of course, the Tigers failed to find the end zone enough to come away with the win.
Again, most of the issues were behind the defensive linemen, and well get to them promptly.
Overall Grade: C
If there were two words that stuck out to me all game, it was “missed” and “tackle.” That was basically the nickname of the linebacking corps for this match. Alabama had repeated opportunity to stuff LSU in third-and-long situations, and LSU repeatedly got the first down. Things weren't all bad, as Alabama stuffed LSU on a crucial fourth-and-one to take over on downs on what likely would have been another morale-crushing LSU touchdown drive.
The biggest overall breakdown on the Tide defense was easily the linebackers. LSU rushed for more than twice the Tide's average rushing yards allowed this season, and had far too much success in the short passing game. Again, all this was mostly due to missed tackles. Alabama would have contact in the backfield and a defensive back would end up bringing the running backs down well after they'd gotten a first down.
Overall Grade: B
The secondary did a great job keeping LSU out of the end zone for the most part. With all the running backs that were making it to the second level, that was quite the accomplishment. However, the LSU Tigers got 296 yards through the air. Not all of those yards were the linebackers' fault. Alabama's secondary was tested, and held every LSU pass to 19 or fewer yards. The issue was with how many passes went for more than 10, though. If Alabama's planning to beat Texas A&M, they had better make sure they're prepared for every single successful LSU play to be thrown at them in a week.
Overall Grade: B
Special teams did not do badly at all. Other than the muffed punt by Cyrus Jones that was recovered by LSU, you wouldn't have even been upset by anything the situational unit did. Luckily for Jones, that LSU drive ended in a faked field goal that did absolutely nothing to the scoreboard. (Even Les Miles said he should have kept that one under his hat when he was asked about it at halftime.)
Cody Mandell: seven punts for 316 yards for a 45.1 yards-per-punt average.
Jeremy Shelley: hit all three of his PAT's.
No field goals were attempted by Alabama in the game.
Overall Grade: B+
While we all respect the coaching staff for what's going on at the Capstone, there were some issues with play-calling in this particular meeting of the SEC West Division powerhouses. Alabama's delayed blitzes were completely ineffective, and Mettenberger was already getting rid of the football quickly. While it was a decent idea to try to trick Mettenberger into thinking he had more time to throw, the truth was that he didn't need more time to throw. Delayed blitzing (for the most part), was basically handing him a completion.
Other than that, the Tide just looked awful on offense after halftime. McCarron had just scored on a 43-second drive to send the Tide up by 11 heading into the break. During the two-minute drill, McCarron looked poised, decisive, intelligent and lethal. After the second half started, it was as if the Tide left their offense in the locker room. That offense wouldn't return to the field until the last two-minute drill of the game.
The coaches looked like they were absolutely set on using the game plan they came in with, even though it wasn't really working. While the Tide can absolutely win every game by perfectly executing the original game plan, it's disconcerting to see the coaches stick to a failing strategy for so long. Execution has to be fixed in practice. You can't usually fix execution on the sideline. If you're having a bad day, you can't keep saying, “Stop having a bad day.” You need to do something to be more effective. Then you're day will get better.