Alabama Crimson Tide fans recall the 45-yard strike from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper that put the Tide up 32-28 in the SEC Championship against the Georgia Bulldogs. But before that came a crucial T.J. Yeldon carry on third-and-five that helped set up the touchdown pass. We’re going to take a look at that play and how it contributed to Alabama’s win, which punched the ticket to the BSC Championship game in Miami against Notre Dame.
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First, a reminder of where things stood in the game. It’s the fourth quarter, and Alabama is down three points with 4:01 remaining in the game. After minimal yardage on first and second down, Alabama finds themselves in a third-and-five situation at midfield.
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Alabama came out showing a formation very similar to the one shown above, before Georgia called a timeout and we were sent to a commercial break. Initially, the Tide showed the identical formation except that AJ McCarron was in the pistol. During the timeout, the call was made to go under center.
This formation is a staple of the Alabama offense; an ‘ace,’ or one-back look with twins to the left and the tight end and ‘H’ back to the right. True freshman TJ Yeldon is the single back behind McCarron, while the twin receivers are Kevin Norwood and Amari Cooper (widest). Back to the right side of the formation are senior tight end Michael Williams and senior walk-on ‘H’ back Kelly Johnson.
The Georgia defense is in a pretty standard 3-4 alignment that is shifted to the strength of the Tide formation. Georgia appears to be playing man on both of Bama’s receivers. Bacarri Rambo is standing back about 15 yards off of the ball, which shows the respect that Georgia had for Amari Cooper.
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The play selected is quite possibly the oldest in football; commonly known simply as power. It utilizes gap blocking, which is basically creating a crease for the ball carrier to run through, as opposed to zone blocking, where the ball carrier picks his crease to run through. This was an odd play call in this situation because:
- Alabama’s run of choice is inside zone probably 90 percent of the time; and
- Power, in Alabama’s offense, is usually reserved for short yardage and goal line situations.
It was also an odd choice considering the extraordinary success that Alabama had in this game with the inside zone play. Bama scratched and crawled back into this game after being down 11 points in the second half with the inside zone play, and yet chose to run power here.
After watching this drive again, I’m convinced that in this third-and-five situation, Alabama was in four-down territory. I just don’t think that with this possibly being their last offensive play in the game, that they were banking on this play to get them the five yards needed to continue the drive. I feel that they were going to depend on the offensive line grinding out five yards in two plays against this fatigued defense.
The play starts out with McCarron sending ‘H’ back Kelly Johnson in a short motion from his preset wing position to insert him between tackle DJ Fluker and tight end Michael Williams. This places Johnson in a perfect position to carry out his eventual block. So from the Georgia Dome roof, this is what we’ve got:
The idea behind the power is that the offensive line will block ‘down,’ protecting their inside gaps. This means that Barrett Jones will block down to No. 56, Anthony Steen will block down to No. 99, and from this alignment DJ Fluker will block down on No. 99 also and he will come off that double-team to go get No. 9 Alec Ogletree. This leaves tight end Michael Williams to handle No. 6 John Jenkins, who is usually the Georgia nose guard, playing tackle in this situation.
Michael Williams would be outweighed about 80 pounds in this match up, but he does have a good angle to block him down. On the backside of the play, left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio will step hard to his inside gap because he has to protect the gap created by the pull of left guard Chance Warmack. Warmack will pull around to the front side of the play and lead up through the first hole he sees. ‘H’ back Kelly Johnson’s job is to ‘kick out’ All-American Jarvis Jones.
So this is what the play should look like…
I believe pre-snap this was the plan, even though in a perfect world big No. 6 John Jenkins would at least be lined up over Fluker or even inside him, so that Fluker could take him rather than Michael Williams.
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Once the ball is snapped we see the play start to develop. Center Barrett Jones is well on his way to dominating No. 56 Garrison Smith. Right guard Anthony Steen has to quickly step down into his gap to get a piece of No. 99 Kwame Geathers, who is very close to beating Steen into the backfield and blowing up the play. In the image above you can see that John Jenkins has stepped to his right and appears to be slanting into Fluker’s gap. It seems that Fluker has taken notice of this and shifts his focus from the middle linebacker to the immediate threat of Jenkins crossing his face through his gap. Jarvis Jones is also pinching inside hard right next to Jenkins.
With Jenkins pinching inside of Fluker, the blocking scheme changes a bit:
With Jenkins slanting in front of Fluker, Alabama has the ideal matchups for this play. All that changes in the blocking scheme of the play is that Fluker now will drive Jenkins down into the pile of Georgia defensive linemen created by Barrett Jones and Anthony Steen. This allows tight end Michael Williams to block down to the middle linebacker No. 9 Alec Ogletree.
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In the images above we see the crease that has been created by the wave of down blocks and the block by ‘H’ back Kelly Johnson. Jarvis Jones crashed hard inside right next to John Jenkins, and was abruptly met at the line of scrimmage by Johnson.
As you can see, Jones basically gives up his whole body and position to Johnson rather than taking on the block like a football player and maintaining his position while waiting for Yeldon to meet him at the line of scrimmage.
Chance Warmack is rounding the corner and has Georgia linebacker No. 45 Christian Robinson in his sights. Robinson is slowly making his way into the crease.
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This is also around the moment Yeldon receives the ball from McCarron. Above is an (approximate) aerial view of what Yeldon saw when he took the handoff. At this point, the hole is there, and Yeldon likely would have followed Warmack if the blocks were sustained a little bit longer.
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At this point Warmack has met Robinson in the hole and Yeldon is approaching the line of scrimmage. Jarvis Jones has made a remarkable comeback from his pathetic attempt at taking on the block of Kelly Johnson. Jones has regained some leverage and ridden the block of Johnson down the line of scrimmage and constricting the previous crease, spilling the play outside.
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Yeldon is forced to bounce this play outside due to the play made by Jarvis Jones. In the aerial view above, you can see that now the only Georgia defender in position to make the play is strong safety No. 36 Shawn Williams. Williams is a little late on attacking this play and he’s also too wide. Yeldon sees the gap Williams has given him and that’s all he needs.
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As we’ve seen all season, Yeldon is extremely dangerous in the open field and has a very powerful initial burst of speed. He shows a lot of maturity and decisiveness on this run by seeing the gap between Williams and the mess inside, and shooting through the hole very quickly. Many backs would have taken this run outside. From the image above it seems that Williams may have actually over run this play a little bit, which obviously could have influenced Yeldon’s decision to get this upfield as quickly as possible.
Also evident from this image is the fact that many Georgia defenders are now actively pursuing the play. Most of them have either fought off their blocks or got off the block due to the angle of the ball carrier, also known as ‘skating.’
Two guys that haven’t fought off blocks are No. 45 Christian Robinson and No. 9 Alec Ogletree. It’s hard to tell from the image above, but Chance Warmack is absolutely dominating Robinson. Warmack blasts Robinson out of the original gap and drives him back past the 45 yard line. Also clearly evident from the image is that Michael Williams is in the process of removing Ogletree from the picture.
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Here is another view of about the exact same moment Yeldon cuts this run inside past Shawn Williams. You can barely see Warmack’s backside as he’s driving Robinson backwards, while Kelly Johnson is still engaged with Jarvis Jones keeping him out of the play.
Nose guard No. 99 Kwame Geathers has fought off his block from Anthony Steen and is pursuing Yeldon from behind.
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The three views above sum up the rest of the run. This is all effort from TJ Yeldon. He cuts it upfield and Shawn Williams is not in a position to make a tackle. Williams tries to go high and that’s not going to work. Williams resorts to hanging onto the football and in the second image, you can see Yeldon punching his arms off of the ball.
On his way to the ground Williams does at least manage to hold onto Yeldon and wrap him up around his knees, but it is too late. Geathers finally catches up from behind and is there to land on top of Williams and Yeldon after the tackle is made.
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Immediately after he’s brought down, we get this view from the CBS cameras. This picture perfectly tells the story of the last five yards of the play. After his cut to get upfield, this run was just plain effort from Yeldon.
The total play wasn’t all Yeldon, however; there was a lot of “Make their ass quit!” in this play.
One of the best players on the Georgia defense, Alec Ogletree was just eliminated by the block of Michael Williams. A good run-stuffing linebacker, Christian Robinson was stoned by Chance Warmack at the line of scrimmage and deposited around the first-down marker. Kelly Johnson, a walk-on ‘H’ back, took on an All-American linebacker and kept him engaged throughout most of the play. And we can’t forget DJ Fluker’s huge block on big John Jenkins.
A lot of things seemed to fall into place for Alabama on this play. Jenkins slanting inside enabled Fluker to block him down. Shawn Williams attacked the play sloppily and out of position. One thing is apparent though throughout this play; Alabama was just fundamentally better than Georgia.
Fundamentals aren’t the only thing that made this play happen though. Mental and physical toughness, which Coach Saban preaches, are just dripping from this play. They had just come back from an 11-point deficit in the second quarter against the No. 3 team in the nation, and were presented with this situation. In this instance, Alabama would not be denied. That says a lot about a football team.
When it came down to getting five yards to continue the drive and basically the season, Alabama’s coaching and execution came out on top.