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LSU versus Alabama Film Study -- Crimson Tide Wins the Opening Play

Montgomery is a key asset to LSU's defense.
Photo via LSU Sports
The LSU defense had one of the gutsiest performances in the history of Tiger football on November 5th. They held a potent Alabama offense to only six points on the road, but the performance wasn't the prettiest.

If SEC games are won in the trenches, as everyone would say, then LSU lost this game. After re-watching this game, Alabama won the battle at the line of scrimmage roughly 75 percent of the time. As you look at some of the plays I will break down in the next few weeks, you will see what I'm talking about. 

But as I pointed out in my last column, the Tigers played some of the best "bend but don't break" defense I have ever seen. Defenses are judged on making plays and stops when you need to the most. The Bayou Bengals were nearly perfect in that aspect.   

In the first drive versus Alabama, the Crimson Tide racked up early yardage but was torn apart at the seams by their kicker Kade Foster. Let's run through the first play of the drive...

Play #1
Trent Richardson runs for 18 yards

This play is textbook Alabama offense over the past couple of years. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain creates a blocking numbers and matchup advantage, the blocking is in turn perfect and Richardson makes a safety miss for extra yardage.   

Let's first state the obvious. TR3 is so damn good. Every player on LSU knows it. They even Tweet about it. But when the Tigers played fundamental football, they defended him better. On this first snap of the game, this is evident. Let's break down the tape...

As you can see in the picture above, LSU lines up in a 5-2-4 formation with 4-3-4 personnel (4 DLs, 3 LBs, 4DBs). All season long, LSU has been at their peak when they can play a majority of their snaps in five or six defensive back sets (Nickel 4-2-5, Dime 4-1-6, Mustang 3-2-6). But against a traditional Pro-Style offense such as Alabama, the Tigers have to play 4-3 to muscle up against the powerful Crimson Tide rushing attack.

What this essentially does is take away LSU's most explosive Tyrann Mathieu (TM7), out of a roaming position in the middle of the field. For him to stay on the field, he is forced to play a traditional cornerback position on the outside. Mathieu can play the position efficiently, but not at an elite level.

LSU linebacker Ryan Baker in the beginning of the set is playing the strong side backer position. He sees four blocking players (somewhat of an "unbalanced line" look) on one side of the football, so he runs to the line of scrimmage to give LSU five players on the line of scrimmage.

In most defenses, the front seven (linebackers and defensive lineman) are assigned gaps. Each gap as a universal name and the name is the same on both sides of the center. The "A-Gap" is located between the center and guard. The "B-Gap" is located between the guard and tackle. The "C-Gap"is between the tackle and tight end.    

The Tigers believe pre-snap te run is going to the outside because both their defensive tackles are in a 3-techniques, which means the outside shoulder of the guard. This leaves both A-gaps (the gap between the center and guard) open and responsible to middle linebacker Kevin Minter

Before the snap, we see Alabama tight-end Chris Underwood motion to the other side of the formation. The LSU defense keeps it's course, as defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't like to change assignments/rotate much versus pre-snap motion. But what this does is give Alabama a significant advantage on this run to the left. 

A key component to stopping the Alabama running game is how well the play-side (the side the ball is going) defensive end holds at the point of attack. Sam Montgomery is one of the best in the conference in this category. But on this play, the motioned tight end gives Montgomery fits and he ultimately loses his battle with All-American Barrett Jones.

Right off the snap of the ball, we see and learn a couple of things. 

The first is that Alabama reads up on their scouting reports. If you look near the bottom of the screen, Alabama backside tight end Michael Williams "cut blocks" defensive end Kendrick Adams at the knee. While it is a legal play, this was Adams first snap coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss the previous game versus Auburn. First play in and the Crimson Tide attacked a key Tiger run stopper in an injured area.

But going back to the original point, Montgomery (labeled SM) doesn't fire off the ball well versus Jones. Jones is able to take away Montgomery's outside shoulder and turn him inside enough to give Richardson a clear running lane to the outside. It's tough to see from here, but this next picture gives you a better look.

As you see in this picture above, Jones has pushed SM back a yard off the line of scrimmage. SM essentially takes himself out of the play because his outside shoulder was turned inside by Jones. This is textbook form and technique from Jones. 

You often hear the phrase "the low man wins." In this case, Jones is lower than SM. His arms are fully extended as well, giving him maximum power against an elite run defender. As an offensive lineman, you want your butt to be in the direction of where the ball is going, because that usually means you have turned your assigned defender away from the play. Whiles Jones doesn't completely get there, he does a fine job of turning inside SM. Coaches would say Jones "sealed" SM to the inside. 

But in defense of SM, he wasn't the only one to have "contain" responsibility. They duty belonged to outside linebacker Stefoin Francois. Usually in a 4-3, the defensive end has "contain." But because LSU lined a defensive tackle in a "B-Gap," this allowed Francois to help SM on the outside pre-snap. But because SM was turned inside by Jones easily, this allowed Underwood and H-back Brad Smelley a clear blocking lane to Francois.

As you see at the very top of the screen, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne was able to fight off a block by wide receiver Darius Hanks. Claiborne gets in a great tackling position and is looking to find the football. But then, as you see in this next picture, finds himself in trouble with Smelley coming around the corner.

As Richardson turns the corner, you see Smelley left his double team with Underwood on Francois. He then finds the next possible player up field to block, which is Mo. I referenced earlier how a blocker wants to get his butt to side where the ball is going. Smelley does this to perfection. His arms are fully extended and Mo has no where to go. 

The blocking is perfect on this play. You can see Jones in the middle of the screen finishing off his block on SM by putting him to the ground. Underwood does a great job holding his ground on Francois as Richardson turns the corner. This pretty much leaves safety Brandon Taylor as the only player to make the tackle. It's TR3's job to make him miss and turn this in to a huge gain. 

As you can see here, TR3 is successful in making an exceptional open field tackler miss. He is able to get up field after juking Taylor and Alabama gets a nice 18 yard gain on their first play from scrimmage. 

Like I stated before, this is vintage Crimson Tide football. Much credit has to be given to McElwain for creating a blocking advantage to the outside. He trusted his three guys (Jones, Underwood and Smelley) could beat LSU's three guys (Montgomery, Francois and Claiborne) in a blocking war and succeeded. 

But there was one positive for the Tigers. Baker and defensive tackle Bennie Logan hustled in backside pursuit to make the tackle on Richardson. There is not a better team in the country than LSU in this category. But as they game wore on, LSU strengthened their fundamentals and held TR3 in check in comparison to his lofty standards in the running game. 

I will show more plays later in the week of LSU's defensive line playing some good and bad snaps. This play, and many others, should concern Chavis. LSU must do a better job of holding the point of attack versus Alabama, or else the final result may be different. 


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