09 December 2009
After Alabama stopped Florida on third down, I was making a T with my hands and screaming "timeout" with 2:01 left in the first half. Instead, Alabama let Florida run the clock down 40 seconds before kicking a field goal, and then ran the clock out on the first half with dive plays, giving Florida the chance to get the ball to start the second half and then drive down the field to take the lead.
The more I thought about that, the madder and madder I got. I got so mad I didn't really pay any attention to the second half. How bad did they beat us, anyway?
But seriously, folks . . . . Let's talk about the game.
In case y'all missed the game, and haven't heard anything about it, and didn't read anything about it - most of you are in this category, right? - let me sum it up for you in four little words: we made Tebow cry.
Seriously, that is something that will be remembered about this game 40 years from now. Tim Tebow is in my opinion one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most celebrated, amateur athletes ever, any sport. But instead of topping his career off with a third national championship, he topped it off crying on the bench
I've got all the respect in the world for a guy who has enough confidence in his masculinity to forget all that macho crap and show his emotions in public. But that doesn't mean I'm not gonna brag about it. Folks, we made Tebow cry. Own it.
I wouldn't mind if we put a Weeping Tebow statute on the Walk of Champions.
McElroy vs Tebow
As well as providing my patented couch-derived analysis, I'll throw in a bone or two from the perspective of a fellow who had the privilege of attending this classic (while it was recording at home).
I put a close eye, and my binoculars, on the two quarterbacks warming up before the game. Tebow's accuracy was astounding. Guys 35-40 yards downfield were putting their hands up in front of them and the ball was hitting their hands. Meanwhile, McElroy's accuracy was OK, but his receivers kept having to reach way up high or move to the left or right. Tebow, never. Not once.
Once the game started, and the guys were throwing in the face of a pass rush? Different story. I'm obviously not the first one to say it, but the biggest story-line from this game, other than the overall story of the thrashing the Gators took, was that Tebow was the second-best quarterback on the field, and it wasn't even close.
Tebow played well - pretty much the only Gator that did so (I'll give Will Hill props for a fired-up game, but I'm having trouble thinking of the next guy). But McElroy made plays, just about every chance he got, and he got plenty. It was his best game of the year, by far.
By the way, McElroy's last pass came with 4:23 left in the third quarter. Here's one way to look at his 12-18 for 239 stat line:
First 35:07 of the game: 11-15 for 229 yards.
Last 24:53 of the game: 2-3 for 10 yards.
I didn't see a lot of key plays in the second half, just one long, methodical grind-down. But there were a handful early before the butt-whuppin got fully on.
One was Florida's second play from scrimmage, and here we just got lucky. Jeffery Demps dropped Tebow's safety-valve pass for no good reason. If he caught it, Arenas might have had a shot at tripping it up, but otherwise it's off to the races, and Demps doesn't lose races.
The next one was Fitzgerald's saving tackle of James early in the second quarter with the Tide leading 9-3. Folks, Fitzgerald was absolutely on an island with James, no help in the same county, nobody else on that side of the field. If James had been a little headier he might've realized he had time to slow down and make a move. Instead, he sprinted for the corner, Fitzgerald guessed right and headed him off, and Florida missed another chance to take the lead.
However, the obvious key play you think about came later, and in retrospect it appears to have broken the Gators' back. It came with 4:31 left in the second quarter, on the very next play from scrimmage after Tebow hit David Nelson for a 23-yard TD that cut the Tide's lead to 12-10. Mark Ingram took a screen pass, wove through several Gators, and stepped 69 yards down the sideline to set up a touchdown, and the game was never closer than six again.
Ingram did some nifty running, but the play was made by Alabama's downfield blocking:
- William Vlachos took Brandon Spikes out of the play 13 yards downfield.
- Colin Peek blocked Ahmad Black 20 yards downfield. On the replay, you could see that Peek zeroed in on Black when they were 25 yards apart, then tracked him down and knocked him out of bounds just in time for Ingram to race by.
- Julio Jones blocked Will Hill 33 yards downfield to free Ingram to race down the sidelines.
Each of those guys were otherwise in great shape to make the tackle.
McElroy made some very nice throws, and a couple of nifty runs, but it was neither his hands nor his feet that were his best asset in this game.
Football thinking is not the same thing as SAT thinking. You don't get a couple of minutes to study over your answer and make notes. Football thinking is about instantly and intuitively appraising the situation, evaluating your best options, and picking one.
Greg ("3.85-GPA") McElroy is obviously pretty good at SAT thinking, but I don't think he got a 3.85 in football this year. On Saturday, however, he got an A+. Yeah, he made a mental mistake or two - taking a snap with five in the backfield, throwing the ball a second late a couple of times - but he made numerous brilliant split-second decisions.
Here are a few:
- On the very first play from scrimmage, McElroy checked down to find Julio Jones wide open for 18 yards.
- On the third play from scrimmage, McElroy rolled left looking to throw, but spotted the hole opening up in front of him and took off for a first down.
- With Bama leading 9-3 in the second quarter, when Trent Richardson was stuffed inside and extemporaneously turned left, McElroy spotted what was going on and put a block on Brandon Hicks that took Hicks right out of the play and sprung Trent for a gain. (By the way, if you've got the game tapes, take a gander at the stiff-arm faceplant Richardson put on All-American Joe Haden.)
- On 3rd and 5 on that same drive, McElroy tiptoed around a Mark Ingram block and tightroped down the sideline for an improbable first down.
- On a 3rd and 7 during Alabama's back-breaking 88-yard second-half TD drive, McElroy made the quick read and hit Julio Jones for a first down even though Brandon Spikes came free on the blitz, got a great jump off the snap, and was so close to Greg that he had to throw around him.
- 2nd and 9 on the Florida 10, first play of the fourth quarter, same drive, McElroy danced away from Jeremy Trattou, who was coming free on the rush, and spun his way to within inches of the first down.
Last year, Florida had the #1 defense in the nation. Every starter and every second-stringer returned. That's right: 22 out of 22. The Gator D was expected to be even better in 2009, one of the greatest college football defenses of all time, and they came into the game Saturday leading the nation in total D once again.
They left the game shell-shocked.
Alabama scored every time it touched the ball except two times. Once in the first half, Florida guessed right and stuffed a Mark Ingram sweep on a 3rd and 4 play. The only other Gator stop came when Bama possibly went a touch too conservative a touch too early: leading 32-13 with about 10 minutes left, the Tide couldn't eke out a first down on three straight runs.
Alabama was 11-15 on third downs, including 8-9 in the second half.
Overall, it was an amazing performance against any D, and against the heralded Florida D it was stupefying. 32 points and 490 yards does not begin to describe Alabama's offensive dominance.
This made two straight games where Bama went to Trent in the fourth quarter more than it went to Mark. There are ways to explain that away - Ingram got hurt late against Auburn and Auburn was focusing on him; the fourth quarter against UF was a near-blowout - but I think the real reason is Richardson's move-the-pile power.
Ingram has excellent power, but Richardson's is special. You like those fresh legs in the fourth quarter, but a fresh pile-driver is pretty much impossible for a gassed D to stop. Even if Richardson doesn't take the Heisman Trophy winner's (that's right, I'm calling it right here and now) job away from him in spring practice, I think he will be our fourth-quarter go-to guy next year.
Still our best receiver, but he had another big drop Saturday, and he also slowed down and tried to draw pass interference on a long pass that he could've just caught - definitely, it would've been all his - if he had kept running. (You should, though, give him props for several excellent blocks.)
Julio dropped almost nothing last year, and looks to have the same receiving technique, so it's perplexing that he has had a bit of the dropsies this year. My only guess is that he has focused on being more explosive and less on possession, and he actually has gotten loose downfield more often, but hopefully he will give us explosion and possession in '10.
Another explanation is that McElroy and Julio just haven't developed the chemistry that #8 had with #14 last year. The fault isn't all in one direction, as McElroy has missed, or failed to find, Julio when he was wide-open downfield on several occasions this year.
Marquis Maze has had a more consistent year than Julio, but he hasn't caught him and won't, at least unless he stops catching with his arms. However, there's no doubt that Bama this year has had the #2 receiving option that wasn't so apparent in '08. In fact, there are more than two, as Peek, Ingram, and Hanks have also been more prominent than anybody not named Jones who caught for the Tide last season.
By the way, Colin Peek is the best all-around tight end the Tide has had since Terry Jones, who would've been a great one in the NFL but for injuries. See, e.g., the blitz pick-up on Hicks that gave McElroy all day to hit Marquis Maze on a big 28-yarder during the Tide's first second-half TD drive . . . and, of course, the nifty TD reception. But I'm pretty optimistic about Michael Williams picking up the slack next year.
On the other side of the ball, things went pretty much as expected. Florida moved it sporadically, but not consistently. If their D had helped ‘em out any at all, they would probably have put up 24-27 or so.
Rolando McClain came up huge as usual, especially with timely pass rushes. He also made a couple of plays in pass D and a nifty tackle from the side on an early Tebow run.
Brandon Deaderick didn't have much in the way of a stat line, but he was moving the line and effecting plays on the pass rush. It was the most active I've seen him all season.
It wasn't really a Terrence Cody type of game with Florida pretty much abandoning the run, but #62 was never effectively blocked.
Lost in #57's pass-rush and hurry stats is the fact that he is excellent at reading and disrupting screens. He did exactly that on a big third-down pay in the second quarter, forcing a field goal.
Florida tried to pick on Kareem Jackson - and failed utterly. Cory Reamer showed up on pass D with a couple of big plays. Same for Marquis Johnson, which should shock nobody by now.
On the other side of the ledger, Mark Barron was named as first string AP All-SEC immediately after turning in one of his worst games of the year. Barron gave up three 20+-yard receptions in the fourth quarter on three plays where he had a chance to make a play and did not, and was never even in the picture on the long pass to Cooper in the second quarter, even after Cooper cut back to the middle of the field.
By the way, anybody who thought that Alabama was again going to get torched by the shovel pass to the tight end after getting it rammed where it hurts last year, please go the back of the class where the dunce cap is waiting. Obviously, Urban Meyer will not be back there with you. Florida ran it on their very first play of the game, it got stuffed, and we didn't see it again.
Man, that Florida punter is good. Javy got six yards out of him, and that was noteworthy. In fact, it increased the amount of punt return yardage he has given up on the season by 46.2%.
Still 36 to go for the record.
Couple of other special teams notes: most notably, Florida never got past the 35 on Alabama's seven kickoffs. Alabama's kickoff return coverage has been abysmal this season, but somehow we never got in real trouble from it, and we did just fine Saturday on the biggest stage
Also, I'll take a 48-yard field goal and give up a missed extra point. Tiffin kicked off well and field-goal-kicked well enough: I'll take it.
Gary gets a lot of poop talked about him in Tuscaloosa, but he spent about zero time whining about how TimTebowTM was getting facialed. Instead, he was on the McElroy > Tebow story early on, and came back to it repeatedly, even with some backstory about McElroy's recruiting thrown in to juice it up. He never sounded even slightly disappointed at the way the game went down. Instead, he went with the flow of the game.
Face it, the guy is an excellent analyst, and just maybe he has been so hype-tastic for Tebow because (1) Tebow is that good, and (2) Danielson has a job, he works for a broadcast company, and it's his job to hype. Sure, he says stupid stuff occasionally, but that's because he's not afraid to say what's on his mind. Give me the guy who will say something, and be wrong from time to time, over the guy who only spouts platitudes, which is what most of ‘em do.
If you've been reading my column at all this year, you may know by now that I like to mount up on the soapbox in favor of aggressive coaching, particularly going for it on fourth down more frequently. And yes, I was joking in the opening of this column about what I thought was Alabama's passive coaching late in the first half, but if Florida had come back in the second half I wouldn't have been joking.
Nevertheless, I did get some soapbox ammo in this game, and it came from the other side of the field. Trailing 19-13, and trailing significantly in time of possession - and not having stopped Alabama's offense at all - Florida punted on 4th and 1 on their own 38 on their first second-half possession.
Folks, Florida has an excellent short-yardage conversion game. And after what had happened in the first half, no one should have been surprised that Alabama cranked it right down the field for a touchdown.
Florida was never a serious threat to win the game thereafter.
Coaches hate mistakes that can be easily pinned on them, but the flip side of that is this: passive play will get you beat.
Oh, and By the Way
If we had made that two-point conversion, the final score would've been 34-13. That score remind y'all of anything?
Oh, and By the Other Way
We made Tebow cry.
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