Alabama vs. Virginia Tech: Breaking Down The Crimson Tide’s Offensive Line Mistakes


Aug 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron (10) throws under pressure from Virginia Tech Hokies defensive tackle Nigel Williams (95) during the fourth quarter of the 2013 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide were lackluster in a victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies last Saturday. There are two schools of thought regarding the problems that plagued Alabama’s offensive line.  One group of fans are hunkered down in their safe place while Adele’s “Skyfall” plays in a continuous loop.  These folks see absolutely no hope for Alabama’s offensive line  and they are very quick to tell you so.

A larger group of Crimson Tide faithful simply feel that Saturday’s game was an aberration. They have faith that Coach Nick Saban and new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal will use Saturday’s performance as motivation, and feel the coaches will use the next two weeks to correct the multitude of issues.

So which group is right?

In an investigatory effort, we reviewed each time McCarron was sacked and each time an Alabama back was tackled for a loss in an effort to figure out whether or not our friends in the “sky is falling” group can safely come out of hiding.  Are things going to be okay, or do we all need to find a happy place when we play the Aggies on September 14?

Let’s just say there is no simple fix.  The issues are widespread and they include the backs and the tight ends as well as the line.

On Saturday, Alabama gave up four sacks to the Hokies.  Here’s a quick look at them:

  • 2nd and 15 at the Alabama 20:  Va Tech blitzed and DE James Gayle beat Austin Shepherd to the outside.  McCarron stepped up in the pocket and still has time, but eventually was dropped for a one-yard sack.  Consider this more of a coverage sack, though Shepherd certainly could have done better.
  • First and 10 at the Bama 42:  T.J. Yeldon whiffed on a blitz pickup and McCarron was sacked quickly.
  • Third and 11 at the Bama 33:  Off play action, McCarron had time, but eventually scrambled and was dropped for another coverage sack.  Tenpenny didn’t turn his head around quickly enough to be a viable checkdown receiver so he bears some of the fault on this one.
  • Third and 13 at the Bama 29:  Virginia Tech stunted their four-man rush, resulting in Steen and Shepherd allowing their man to get thru the line easily.  This sack was on the line.

You can see that the offensive line was truly responsible for only one sack.  However, on McCarron’s interception the Kouandjio brothers failed to pick up a stunt, which resulted in the hurried throw.  Cyrus was also beaten around the edge numerous times.  In short, Cyrus had a miserable game (which included two holding calls).  Meanwhile, at the other tackle spot, Austin Shepherd whiffed in pass protection at least once and he missed an audibled blitz pick up that led to a chewing out by McCarron.

Our analysis of the run game yielded similar results – there were numerous issues across the board.

  • Third and 1 at the Bama 49: With Bama in the I-formation, Arie allows penetration, allowing the blitzing LB to come thru cleanly.  Fowler is unable to pick him up, resulting in a four-yard loss.  Jalston had issues with his blocking throughout the night.
  • First and 10 at the Bama 25: This play is an assignment nightmare.  Shepherd blocks down to his left while Kelly and Steen block to their right (towards Shepherd). This is a blown play because they are blocking against one another instead of working as a unit.  Meanwhile, Cyrus K. also blocks down to his right while Vogler blocks out left.  This leaves a defender free to wreck the play.  What a mess.
  • Second and 10 at the Bama 18:  With Bama running left away from the Hokie numbers, it looks like Yeldon is going to have a big gainer.  Unfortunately, Arie K. and Kelly whiffed on their combo block and instead it’s a two-yard loss.
  • Second and 6 at the Bama 32: Bama leaves a backside defender unblocked due to the numbers Virginia Tech puts at the line of scrimmage (this is done on purpose, as you simply can’t account for everyone).  With a nice hole opening up to his right, Yeldon inexplicably decides to cut it back left into the unblocked defender, resulting in a loss on the play.  Yeldon continually did this throughout the night.
  • Second and 6 at the Bama 38:  Ryan Kelly is blown up and ends up five yards deep in the backfield.  Tenpenny is forced to bounce outside where Jalston Fowler once again fails to get any sort of block on the edge.  The result was a five-yard loss.
  • First and 10 a the Tech 36:  With Tech overloading the left side, Alabama runs left anyway.  With the numbers causing confusion, Cyrus whiffs on his block.  Meanwhile, Kelly can’t hold his block (again) and Williams (replacing Arie K.) can’t stay engaged. Huge cut back lanes were available to the right but, instead, Yeldon stays left and loses two.  Yeldon seems to love to cut back to his left but doesn’t seem to like to cut back to his right.
  • First and 10 at the Bama 32:  With everyone blocking down to their right, Henry gets the handoff and takes three steps before he’s dropped like a bad habit.  O.J. Howard failed to seal off the back side and his man ended up blowing up the play.

All in all, we counted at least ten physical errors and at least four blown assignments.  Alabama’s offensive line has been in a state of flux throughout fall camp, and with Kellen Williams insertion at left guard on Saturday (replacing Arie Kouandjio), it obviously continues to be in flux today.

There’s a reason that teams who have a veteran offensive line have a tremendous amount of success at all levels of football.  Good lines are able to work together as a unit and can adjust on the fly as the defensive front re-aligns just before the snap.  At present, Alabama’s line lacks the ability to communicate, and thus has a long way to go before they can work together as a unit.  Worse yet, there were numerous physical failures as well.

The good news is that Alabama will not face an aggressive defensive front like the Hokies for the rest of the season.  When Virginia Tech behaved themselves and didn’t bring the kitchen sink, the line actually held up fairly well.  With two weeks of practice to get more cohesion across the line, I’d expect them to be working hard on ironing out their blocking assignments and stunt pickups, as those were two huge issues on Saturday.  Meanwhile, the backs and tight ends have much to work on as well, as their inability to hold blocks, pick up blitzes and read running lanes were as much to blame for the lost yardage as the offensive line.

The two weeks between the August 17 scrimmage and the Virginia Tech game didn’t seem to be enough time to get the blocking assignments worked out.  Perhaps the next two weeks will be time better spent.