28 November 2009
I don't care what anyone tells you, that was a pretty win. Why? Because any time I leave Jordan-Hare Stadium with Alabama having won, it was absolutely beautiful.
There are some really positive things to take from this win, as well:
--- All we've heard for weeks from the television experts is "Stop Mark Ingram and make Greg McElroy make plays, and you can beat Alabama." Auburn stopped Mark Ingram and made Greg McElroy make plays. Greg rose to the challenge, going 21-31 with 218 and two touchdowns. So much for that being the recipe.
--- Javier Arenas broke the SEC record for career punt return yards. He is now just 37 yards away from Wes Welker's NCAA record. Florida has allowed just 13 punt return yards all season, so he's not likely to have a big game in Atlanta. At this point it won't take but four or five opportunities for him to get the record. He should get that over the next two games, unless teams totally avoid him.
--- Bama faced its largest deficit of the season, going down 14-0 early in the game. It didn't appear to phase the Tide one bit. Even trailing late in the fourth quarter, Bama never looked like they were ready to panic.
In fact, the Tide did exactly the opposite.
Championship teams rise to the occasion when they have to. After Auburn made a great special teams play to pin Bama near its own goal line, and then forced a three-and-out, they were in a position to ice the game.
Auburn had the ball 1st and 10 at the Alabama 44 yard line, with 10:37 to play. Had they managed a seven or eight play drive that ate up four minutes or so, and punched the ball into the end zone, they probably win the game. If they manage a simple three plays and zero yards, they likely pin Bama right back by the goal line, right in front of their student section, and cause a repeat of the previous three minutes.
Instead, we saw the Bama defense rise to the occasion.
**Auburn's first play saw Ben Tate run up the middle for one yard, with Rolando McClain and Javier Arenas making the stop.
**Guessing that they couldn't make a play up the middle, they ran the option to the strong side of the field. Bama contained the quarterback, and Kareem Jackson dropped Ben Tate for a seven yard loss immediately after he caught the pitch.
** On 3rd and 16, Auburn tried to make a play downfield, and Bama came with extreme pressure. Rolando McClain officially got the sack, but had he missed, Javier Arenas would have notched it. The play lost 10 yards.
In total, Auburn's potential game-icing drive went three plays for negative 16 yards, and took just 2:10 off of the clock. Instead of pinning Bama back near the goal line, Bama was able to start their drive at the 21 yard line.
THAT is how a championship defense rises to the occasion. Alabama absolutely could not afford for Auburn to score points. Alabama could not afford for Auburn to get a first down. Alabama really couldn't even afford to let Auburn punt the ball from the original line of scrimmage.
The final offensive drive was great, and it will be one that is talked about for decades if Bama goes on to win the National Championship. But let's not forget that defensive stand, because it set up the winning drive.
As for that drive... it should be remembered for decades. It was absolutely brilliant. Let's take a look at it, play by play:
- 1st and 10 at the Bama 21 - Trent Richardson gashes the right side for 7 yards, following great blocks by Barrett Jones and Drew Davis.
- 2nd and 3 at the Bama 28 - McElroy misses on a pass to Darius Hanks.
- 3rd and 3 at the Bama 28 - sitting at just 2-11 on 3rd down conversions on the day, Bama was in a situation where it had to convert. McElroy hit Julio on a short cross 9 yards.
- 1st and 10 at the Bama 37 - McElroy was sacked for 4 yards, giving Auburn its last real glimpse of hope on the day.
- 2nd and 14 at the Bama 33 - the perfect play call at the perfect time, McElroy hit Mark Ingram on a screen for 9 yards that not only negated the sack, and gave Bama a manageable third down, but slowed the Auburn pass rush for the next few plays.
- 3rd and 5 at the Bama 42 - another must have 3rd down, and again McElroy hit Julio on a short cross for 6 yards - possibly the same play as above.
- 1st and 10 at the Bama 48 - Trent Richardson went up the middle for 2 yards, with Auburn making a nice late shift to take away the running lane.
- 2nd and 8 at the 50 - Bama's only downfield pass attempt on the drive, McElroy hit Julio on the left sidelines for an 11 yard gain. The ball wasn't perfectly thrown, but Julio did a great job of shielding the defensive back with his body and making the catch.
- 1st and 10 at the Auburn 39 - Trent Richardson ran for 4 yards on a play that should have gone for zero. He made several guys miss, and was never actually tackled on the play - he simply ran out of room to run before going out of bounds.
- 2nd and 6 at the Auburn 35 - McElroy again hit Julio on the short crossing route, and it again netted a first down.
- 1st and 10 at the Auburn 28 - With Bama in field goal range, the Tide got conservative for one play. Mark Ingram tried the middle, got just one yard, and suffered a slight hip pointer. Ingram going out might have changed the mindset, the play going nowhere might have changed the mindset, or Bama might have had no intention of being conservative past that play. Either way...
- 2nd and 9 at the Auburn 27 - With Auburn stunting heavily, Bama again called a screen to the right - the same play that got 9 yards after the sack on the fourth play of the drive. This time Richardson had good downfield blocking and took the ball 17 yards down to the Auburn 10.
- 1st and 10 at the Auburn 10 - it technically wasn't 1st and goal, because the ball was just outside the ten. The Auburn stats folks also technically messed this up, because in that situation, the official line of scrimmage should be listed as the 11. But who cares about trivialities? Bama was safely within chip-shot field goal range to win the game, and the Tide wanted to maintain possession, get in the middle of the field, and run clock. Trent Richardson accomplished all three of those things with a 4 yard run down.
- 2nd and 6 at the Auburn 6 - after an Auburn time out to preserve as much clock as possible, Bama went to Richardson again. He was bottled up at the line of scrimmage, but showed the vision and poise that he lacked in the early part of the season. He tucked the ball, found the smallest of seams, and dove beneath a tackler to pick up 3 yards, when there simply wasn't any room for him to make positive yards. It was a small gain, and could easily get lost in the shuffle of bigger plays. But it put Bama into a short yardage 3rd down situation that set up the final play. It was a very veteran and intelligent run by Trent.
- 3rd and 3 at the Auburn 3 - remember what I said about the perfect play call at the perfect time? Ring up that phrase again. After an Auburn timeout was spent with Coach Saban lobbying for a pass, and Bama came back out in a run formation, Coach Saban called a timeout to have more discussion about the final play. He wanted to pass, and since he's the guy in charge, Bama passed. It wasn't just a standard pass, though. With two tight ends, Roy Upchurch at fullback, and Terrance Cody as an additional blocker, everything screamed RUN to the Auburn defense. Bama had done nothing but run when Cody was in the game all season, and his prescence on the field worked as the perfect decoy. A play fake to Richardson left Upchurch open in the flat. McElroy hit him in stride for the three yard touchdown.
In all the drive went 79 yards in 15 plays and took 7:03 off of the clock. It was Bama's longest drive of the season in terms of plays. And it won the football game.
The offense didn't let the defense carry it to victory. The offense didn't go in a hole when Mark Ingram left the game. The offense didn't get conservative when Greg McElroy got sacked. Instead the Tide offense did exactly what the Bama defense had just done... it rose to the occasion, and made play after play to win the game - including going 3-3 on third downs on the drive.
This is what championship teams do.
And in one week, Bama will get the chance to win a championship. If the Tide wins in Atlanta, they'll get the chance to win a bigger championship.
|< Prev||Next >|