Before Alabama established the run and took over the game in the second half of the Crimson Tide’s 38-17 win over LSU on Saturday, it relied on its passing game to hang with LSU.
The Tigers were racking up yardage, but kept shooting themselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers that stalled drives. So Alabama needed a couple of big plays in its passing game to stay in it and eventually take the lead.
The Crimson Tide’s receiving corps might be the deepest and most talented in the country. In Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell, it has five receivers with a varied skill set who have the potential to make a game-breaking play at any time. It has heavily featured tight ends O.J. Howard and Brian Vogler, H-back Jalston Fowler and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake as well.
And McCarron does a great job of spreading the ball around.
Norwood is the Tide’s leading receiver with just 386 yards. But, Alabama has four other pass-catchers with more than 200 yards. Nine receivers have caught touchdowns, with seven having two or more.
Below is a breakdown of Alabama’s three passing touchdowns and how the various skill sets in Alabama’s passing game contributed.
Here, the 6'6", 237-pound Howard is split out into the slot. Cornerback Jalen Mills is playing over him, but the Tigers will drop back into a zone.
Howard will run a seven-yard in-route, slipping in between the linebackers and secondary for a short completion.
After the catch, though, Howard works his magic.
Howard has as much size as anyone at tight end, but what separates him is his speed. LSU safety Ronald Martin has a great angle on him to make the tackle, but Howard turns on the jets, cuts upfield at the sideline and simply outruns the Tigers’ secondary.
Alabama has had a lot of success with short passes and letting its receivers make plays after the catch. It’s just unfair, though, when it has a tight end like Howard who can move like that.
Chemistry and Multiplicity
Quarterback AJ McCarron, Norwood and Bell all came to Alabama in 2009 and redshirted as freshmen. There’s a certain chemistry that comes with playing with someone for five years, and it's on full display this season.
Alabama’s wide range of receiving options also forces defenses to account for everyone on the field. With some teams, you can take away two or three receiving options, but not against Alabama.
Both the chemistry and multiplicity were on display for Alabama’s second touchdown.
On McCarron’s left side, Vogler is split out wide, with Cooper to his right, and Norwood lines up almost like a tight end.
LSU blitzes McCarron, leaving its defensive backs in man-to-man coverage.
Vogler runs a quick hitch and Cooper runs a drag across the middle, leaving Norwood one-on-one for a corner route. This play was clearly designed to get Norwood isolated with just a defensive back. McCarron throws the ball right away, and Vogler and Cooper are already watching Norwood when the ball is thrown.
Because McCarron has been throwing to Norwood his whole career, the pair is almost on another wavelength on the field. When Alabama needs big catches—against LSU last year or at Texas A&M earlier this season—McCarron seems to almost always look for Norwood.
McCarron puts the ball where he knows only Norwood can get it, and Norwood makes an athletic play to make the catch.
Alabama’s last touchdown seems to be its bread-and-butter pass play on the goal line. It’s the same play the Tide ran to seal the game against Texas A&M. and they did the same thing on Saturday against LSU.
Alabama had been running the ball with immense success in the second half, and everyone was expecting run on the goal line yet again.
So Alabama runs a play action and Fowler slips out into the flat.
Usually, Fowler is wide open in this situation (as he was against Texas A&M). The Tigers, though, have done their homework.
Facing two defenders, Fowler does what he does best and simply runs through them.
He knocks the first one on his back and drags the second one with him into the end zone for the score.
In Fowler, Alabama has a weapon that it can go to in play action on the goal line this year, much like tight end Michael Williams was last year. So far this year, Fowler has five catches, four of which have gone for touchdowns.
*Screenshots courtesy of CBS