02 October 2008
Sorry this has taken so long this week... it's just been one of those weeks.
Despite the fact that the final score shows Georgia with 30 points, it would be very easy to say that Alabama's defense was very, very effective against the Dawgs on Saturday night. There aren't any huge numbers that jump off the page, especially since the Georgia statistical crew decided that none of Alabama's defenders deserved a single quarterback hurry. More on that in a little bit.
I'll be honest and say that I was a little concerned when the Georgia offense realed off 33 yards on its first three plays - passes to Massaquoi and Moreno and a run by Moreno. It looked as though the Dawgs would quickly answer Alabama's initial scoring drive and set up a shootout to rival the Jay Barker/Eric Zeier game from the 90s.
But on a second and three play from the Bama 43 yard line Rolando McClain perfectly read a screen pass, almost intercepting it, and eventually combining with Terrence Cody to not only drop Knowshon Moreno for a four yard loss, but also send a message that the Tide would be bringing the lumber all night. A second and short became a third and long, and despite the fact that he wasn't credited with a QB hurry, Brandon Deaderick forced a quick pass from Matthew Stafford that fell incomplete. And that was pretty much the story of the first half.
Yes, the Dawgs did manage to turn things around a little in the second half. Though they didn't manage to start stockpiling yards and points until the game was well out of hand at 41-17. In fact, twenty of Georgia's 59 offensive snaps came in the fourth quarter. The Dawgs did manage two nice third quarter drives that totalled 17 plays, 105 yards, and 8:38 of clock time.
Those drives did little but demonstrate how explosive the Bulldog offense could
be, which only demonstrated how effectively the Bama defense had held them in check during the first half. A first half in which Georgia managed just 81 yards on 20 total plays. And of those 81 yards, 33 came on their first three snaps of the game. Doing the math there, that's 48 yards on the remaining 17 plays of the half - an average of just 2.8 yards per play. Throw in two turnovers and you get complete domination by the Tide defense in the first half.
These guys played unbelievably well. It's an absolute travesty that the Georgia stat folks didn't bother charting hurries for Alabama (they did give six to the Bulldogs) because guys like Brandon Deaderick, Bobby Greenwood and Lorenzo Washington were in the backfield on just about every play.
As Glen55 pointed out, Alabama was able to get an effective pass rush on Matt Stafford by simply rushing four - with the fourth being jack linebacker Brandon Fanney. Glen55 chose to lump Fanney in with the lineman, and at this point, that't probably the way to go. I did notice him standing up on defense for a handful of plays, but he's spent most of his time with his hand on the ground.
It should be pointed out that Alabama has done a tremendous amount of shifting on the defensive front this season. There have been many times when based on true alignment Terrence Cody or Josh Chapman has been lined up at end and either Greenwood or Deaderick in the middle. I would guess that this is to change where the double team blocks have to come from to stop Cody, but it has been interesting to see a 365 guy on the edge.
Cody had his typical game again. Just one tackle, the above mentioned tackle for a loss, but he completely controlled the line of scrimmage. I'll give Ben Jones credit, the freshman from Centreville did a better job against the big man than anyone other than Luigs that the Tide has played this year. But he didn't do enough to keep Georgia from having to double and triple team Terrence. With Josh Chapman sporting a tender ankle, Cody played a lot more than we've seen, and there was no drop off late in the game.
Brandon Deaderick's stat line reads just two tackles, but he was everywhere. He and Matt Stafford spent a tremendous amount of time picking each other up off of the ground on Saturday night, and by my amateur count, he should have gotten at least five hurries. In all fairness, I think that the Bama stat crew has been just as stingy on giving hurries to Deaderick who has been in the backfield far more than the one hurry on his season sheet would indicate.
There wasn't much of a drop off when Luther Davis came in, either. It looked throughout most of the fall camp like Marcel Dareus might push Luther towards the scout team, but Luther has responded with several big games in a row. Again, just two tackles, but he put a lot of pressure on the QB from off of the edge,
Two tackles was a popular theme, with Bobby Greenwood also joing in the group at two. He wasn't quite as active in the backfield as the other guys, but continued to be solid on closing down his side of the line. That's something that goes overlooked a lot in a 3-4 scheme, but Greenwood has been a vastly improved run stopper this season.
Lorenzo Washington was the only lineman to get rewarded for the pressure he put on the QB. He didn't technically sack Matt Stafford, but had the Georgia QB in his grasp when an intentional grounding penalty was called - which earned him a sack on the stat sheet. He had at least three more QB hurries, and spent a great deal of time making Stafford leave the pocket.
I'll follow Glen55's lead an talk about Brandon Fanney here. He is still a bit limited physically, as was demonstrated on Georgia's second offensive snap - he read the screen pass perfectly but was simply not fast enough to get to Moreno before he got up field. But he is playing in a way that has reminded me of what Bama got last year from Darren Mustin. Brandon is constantly in the right position, and while he might not be making the play, he's string plays out long enough for other people to make them.
His production has been steadily improving as well, and with four tackles for a loss and a half sack on the season he has already produced more than Keith Saunders did a year ago. He ended up with four tackles on the day, including that half sack, and was in the Georgia backfield seemingly every time that Stafford dropped back to pass. The stat sheet might not show it, but this was probably his best game as a Tide player.
Did you notice that I got this far into discussing the Tide defensive line without discussing run defense? That's because this has become a given at this point. It was partly the score that made Georgia abandon the rushing attack, but it was also the fact that the Dawg running backs managed just 39 yards on ten carries - 3.9 per attempt, well below their season average.
On the final stat sheet Georgia ended up with 50 yards rushing, but 11 of those came on two late scrambles by Stafford, including one where he slid to avoid the hit and the officials spotted the ball where he ended his slide, rather than where he started it, accounting for an additional three or four yards.
Simply put, the Bama defense eliminated Knowshon Moreno from this football game, and a great deal of the credit for that goes to the Bama front. They simply took the middle of the field away and punished Moreno any time he did get a chance to carry the ball. He managed just one carry of greater than ten yards, and his 3.8 yards per carry average was close to half of his season average.
Ho-hum, another five tackles for Rolando McClain. I was a bit critical of Rolando in my player profile section, pointing out that he disappeared at times in games. In Bama's final two games of last season he was everywhere, though, and that has continued in this game. The screen pass that he blew up on Georgia's fourth play of the game was a bit of vindication for Rolando, after the Dawgs repeatedly threw into his area with success in 2007.
He laid the wood on Saturday and was a disruptive force in both the rushing attack and pass defense, where he has become an excellent defender over the middle. Georgia hasn't been big on using the tight end this year, instead relying on screens to take advantage of linebackers. After the initial screen that gained 13 yards, Georgia ran two more for a total of one net yard. Credit Rolando big time for that.
As Glen55 pointed out, the score of the game dictated that Georgia go deeper into the Tide secondary, and that kept the linebackers from racking up the tackles. It also allowed Eryk Anders to pin his ears back and harken back to his days as a high school defensive end. Despite being massively under sized he has a wide array of moves that help him get to the quarterback, including some that have him come from the outside and use his speed to abuse opposing centers. He got credit for the other half of Fanney's sack, and was routinely chasing Stafford out of the pocket.
Don'ta Hightower held his own in this game. I was afraid that Georgia would pick on him the same way that they did McClain last year, but the big freshman played a smart football game. His fumble recovery was a bit of a gift, but he took advantage of it and got some decent yards on the return. Just two tackles for him, but this game should serve as a confidence builder for him after a sub-par performance against Arkansas.
While the stat sheet doesn't pop with numbers for the guys from this group, it does need to be noted that their ability to do the right thing on plays early in the game simply took things away from the Georgia defense. There were no adjustments made by the Dawg staff at half time to take advantage of mistakes made by this group in the first half. They played smart, smart football, and while that doesn't shop up in individual numbers, it sure as hell shows up on the scoreboard.
For most of the fourth quarter Bama was in the dime defense, which meant that the jack linebacker (either Fanney or Anders) and McClain were the only two linebackers on the field.
The final numbers show Matt Stafford with 274 yards passing, but the nation's best quarterback (arguably) was never able to develop enough rhythm to make those yards matter. Yes, he threw two beautiful second half touchdowns. He also threw the best pass I've seen all year to AJ Green in the third quarter for a big game. But he simply wasn't able to do enough things, especially in the first half, to keep Georgia in the game, and the play of the secondary had a ton to do with that.
I usually talk about Kareem Jackson last, because he usually has such a quiet game that it's tough to talk about him. He got picked on a bit in this game, but by the combination of Stafford and Green, that's not exactly a surprise. Both big plays that Georgia hit against Jackson were a result of elite level talent with those two guys, and not because Kareem made big mistakes. Sometimes corners are going to get beaten by great QB-WR combos, even in the NFL. The Kareem would like to have back is probably a sure INT and likely TD that he dropped in the fourth quarter.
Rashad Johnson finally stepped up and had the type of huge game that we got used to seeing last season. Just two tackles and two passes broken up on the stat sheet, but he simply took half of the field out of play for Matt Stafford for most of the night. His closing speed is still shocking every time that I see him have to make a play, and the NFL scouts who watched Saturday's game certainly took notice.
Justin Woodall just keeps on making plays. Not only did he intercept Georgia's last ditch effort at first half points, but he also caused the fumble that allowed Bama to completely put the game away earlier in the second quarter. The fact that this guy is still learning is a frightening thought for Bama's opponents, and I expect that games like this (5 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT, 1 FF) will only help Justin build confidence, and will breed better play.
Marquis Johnson and Ali Sharrief both saw a lot of time as Bama spent most of the night in nickel, and all of the fourth quarter in dime. These guys have both benefited so much from the coaching of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart and it is very, very evident on the field. They both have such amazingly improved technique that they give Bama quality production.
There were 24 completed passes, so it wasn't a total lock down night for anybody. But this group continually put a hand on the ball (6 PBUs) and continually put a hat on the Georgia receivers as soon as they touched the ball. Explosive offenses like Georgia put up big numbers typically by having guys make plays after the catch, and that simply didn't happen Saturday. All of Bama's defensive backs were a part of that, but Marquis Johnson had a particularly solid night of dropping his man right where the catch was made.
All in all this was a pretty fantastic effort by the Tide defense. If not for a blown call on a punt return and a botched on-side kick recovery, the numbers look better on both the scoreboard and the stat sheet. The film room showed this, though, so I would imagine that the coaching staff was pretty pleased. Any time you can shut out a combination of Stafford and Moreno for a half, you've accomplished something.