31 August 2008
There are not enough words to express how well this group played. The play calling helped. The fact that Bama ran 4 different running backs who could carry the ball helped. The fact that they spent most of the 2nd half of the game blocking an exhausted Clemson defense helped. But the way that they played affected all of those things. Effective offensive line play is like a snowball. Good play from the beginning allows for better play throughout the game.
It started right from the beginning,too. Bama's first four plays were runs (two to the left, one to the right, and one up the middle) that combined for 17 yards. That set the tone for the day. Alabama snapped the ball 33 times on 1st down and 24 of those plays were runs - on which the Tide averaged 4.3 yards. When you are looking at 2nd and five or 2nd and six all day it completely changes what you can do from a play calling standpoint vs. being 2nd and eight.
In all Bama rushed the ball 50 times. Of those 50 only two were plays that were called as passes in which John Parker Wilson pulled the ball down and ran (one of those went for 15 yards). Of the other 48 called rushing plays the Tide failed to gain yards on only five. There were consistent holes for the backs to run through all night. There were only a few plays that saw the back have to make a move behind the line of scrimmage in order to avoid contact.
In all Bama attempted 30 passes. Add in the two plays that John Parker pulled down for runs and you end up with 32 called pass plays. There was not a single sack. In fact, other than the two times John Parker was forced to run I can only recall four other times that I would consider him having been pressured, and of those he threw the ball away before contact was made. When you can keep the defense from hitting you quarterback repeadetly it makes him a much, much better QB.
Play calling helped here as there were many short passes called that make it much more difficult for the defense to get pressure on the QB. The only thing that the defensive line can do to combat that is to bat balls down at the line of scrimmage. That only happened once, and indication that the offensive linemen were winning the battle of the hands, forcing the Clemson linemen to keep their hands down.
There was a terrifying moment in the 3rd quarter when Andre Smith went down with what appears to be a minor knee sprain. Injury was something the Tide was able to avoid all during the preparation period, and this one looked for a few minutes as though it could have been a blow to counter balance all of Bama's good injury luck. Fortunately early indications are that the injury is not serious and it is possible that Andre could be cleared to play as early as next week. I would not be surprised if he were held out of the next two games for precautionary reasons, though the Louisiana-Monroe game from last season should keep anyone from assuming a victory just because the opponent isn't a BCS school.
The encouraging thing for me is that the Alabama offense did not cave when Andre went down. With Mike Johnson moving over from left guard and David Ross coming in to play left guard the Tide moved the ball 18 yards on the next four plays, including two 3rd down conversions, for a touchdown. The next Alabama possessiontalled but Alabama followed that with a 14 play, 78 yards, 8:54 second drive that iced the game. Certainly the Tide is a better team with Andre Smith, but I was encouraged that Alabama was still able to move the football without him - admittedly at that point the Clemson defense was exhausted.
What to work on for next week: There really isn't much. When you completely dominate the line of scrimmage as much as the Tide did, there just isn't much to say. The Tide could be more effecient in the red zone, and some of that falls to the line. But really I think it would be tough to expect more from the line than we saw Saturday.