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BCS National Championship Film Study -- Would LSU Quarterback Jarrett Lee Have Made a Difference? (Part III)

LSU fans shared this same look as Gary Coleman on Jan. 9th
Photo via Black Sports Online
Here is Part I & Part II of the "Would Jarrett Lee Have Made a Difference" film study. I highly advise you read Part II, because it plays a big role in this column. 

LSU fans had hope. 

Struggling quarterback Jordan Jefferson fired a dart, complete to Odell Beckaham Jr. for 19 yards. This was LSU's longest play of the evening, showing the slightest glimpse of optimism for the offense against the wild, raging bulls wearing Crimson on the other side of the ball. 

The LSU offense would struggle to create any offense after that. They only had one play go for over ten yards for the rest of the game. But on this completion to Beckham Jr., there was a cheer of relief amongst the LSU fans. There wasn't much cheering on January 9th, 2012. 

But if you don't like bad news, quit reading this column. This was actually LSU's MOST FRUSTRATING offensive play of the night, as it summed up quarterbacking play of the last four years...never too bad, never too good, but definitely never elite. 

I know what you are thinking..." HOW CAN THIS BE THE 'MOST FRUSTRATING' PLAY OF THE NIGHT? WE ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING POSITIVE! I DIDN'T HAVE TO HEAR 'ROLL TIDE.'" It seems and sounds stupid. You probably have the same face as my friend Gary Coleman in the picture above after reading what I wrote in the previous paragraph.

What I always remind people of is that stats don't lie, but they can deceive. Film never lies or deceive. Let's roll this beautiful bean footage and I'll show you what I'm talking about....

Play #2
Jefferson complete to Beckham Jr. for 19 yards

This is the second phenomenal play call in a row LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studwara. On the play before, LSU missed on a great opportunity to make a big play down field when Beckham Jr. and Jefferson failed to connect on a pass involving a play action fake. On this play, they succeeded after a play action fake. But this time around, Jefferson made the wrong decision. Let's hit the tape...

As we can see in the picture above, LSU shows a similar formation as they did the play before. They lineup with two tight ends to the right of the formation, but this time Chase Clement is the tight end on the inside and Deangelo Peterson (DP) is tight end on the outside in a 2-point stance. On the play before,  Mitch Joseph was the tight end on the inside and Clement was on the outside. 

We also see some personnel decisions from Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and the Alabama defense. Alabama has their "Nickel" package on the field (five defensive backs). Like LSU, they like to move one of their starting cornerbacks over the slot receiver in the formation. LSU does it with Tyrann Mathieu, while Alabama does it here with DeQuan Menzie. This decision alone could have affected the overall failure of the play. 

The receivers are in the exact same position from the play before. Rueben Randle is at the top of the screen and Beckham Jr. is at the bottom. Spencer Ware remains the single running back. Let's run the next slide...

As we see in the picture above, Peterson (DP), unlike Clement on the last play and this play, is running a passing route. We see Jefferson performing a play action fake to Ware for the second play in a row. Beckham Jr. also for the second play in a row gets a clean release off the line of scrimmage while Randle doesn't. 

The Alabama linebackers and Nickelback Menzie respect the play action fake but are not at all fooled by it. Roll out another slide baby!...

As the play moves along, you see I have highlighted the BCS National Championship defensive MVP Courtney Upshaw (CU). He, along with his other defensive lineman, are performing what Upshaw liked to call a "mush rush" against Jefferson. Like I mentioned in the first film study, Upshaw told me after the game a "mush rush" is a passive-agressive form of attacking a mobile quarterback. He said the point is to continue to collapse the pocket while maintaing your rush lanes. This plays a critical role on this play because LSU is running "All-Verticals" with their receivers. 

On Nov. 5, LSU had success with two plays in particular. The first was the option, the second was "All-Verticals". What made vertical routes successful is that the receivers would take the defensive backs out of the play, Jefferson would wait for the rush to over-pursue and he would take off scrambling for chunks of yardage. This was crucial in LSU's 9-6 victory. 

The "mush-rush" was put in the gameplan for that not to happen again. Upshaw told me after the game that the defense wanted to make Jefferson beat him with his arm instead of legs in this game. This right here was their gameplan to the fullest. None of the lineman, including Upshaw, (CU) are overly agressive with their rush. 

But what the "mush rush" allows for Jefferson to do is have all day to throw the football, which he does on this play well. The LSU offensive line are doing a fine job of protection, as they have seven guys (five lineman, Clement and Ware) doing their jobs. Next slide...

As you can see here, the line play is near perfect for LSU (SHOCKER, I KNOW). There is a clean pocket for Jefferson to work with to step up and make a crisp throw. But I want you to notice his head placement. He what you like to call "locking in on one receiver."

Once again, I don't play quarterback. I know on some snaps quarterbacks only have to make one read and only have to look one way. But on deep routes with time, the great ones usually survey the field. And Jefferson on this play, and on many other plays in his career, doesn't. This is where things get fun, NEXT SLIDE...

As we can see here, Jefferson fits a tight spiral to Beckham, Jr. (ODB) on the right side for a completion, unlike the play before. The ball is perfectly thrown. Alabama safety Robert Lester then knocks him out of bounds for a gain LSU desperately needed. But if you look a little closer, LSU could have had a lot more. 

If you look at the top-middle of the last slide, Peterson (DP), the original highlighted tight end in the first slide, is running wide open in the center of the field. And it's kind of ironic that people miss how open he was on this play, considering (DP) has disappeared all season for the Tigers. 

We will now look at this play at another angle. But before we continue, I want to talk about one of the most important aspects of quarterback play called "Safety Manipulation." This practice becomes more important the higher the level of football a quarterback plays. I will describe in more detail in these next few slides. LET'S  ROLL THE TAPE...

As we can see here, this is another pre-snap angle of the play. What makes this shot important is now we can see the safeties. Lester (RL), who should have been beaten on the last play, is on the near side of the screen and Thorpe finalist Mark Barron (MB) is on the far side of the screen. I also have highlighted Menzie (DM), who is in the slot. LSU's respect of his cover ability could have had an affect on the outcome of this play. 

Now for LSU, I have Randle (RR) highlighted at the top of the screen. If anybody has followed LSU football season, they know Randle has caught many fly pattern touchdown routes along the sideline this year. Last season, he destroyed Alabama in the third quarter. For this game, the Crimson Tide aren't going to let that happen. Notice how Randle is the only receiver in the formation who has a corner pressing him. Menzie told me on BCS Media Day that they weren't going to let Randle get clean runs off the line of scrimmage under any circumstance. 

I also wanted to show you that the analyst for this play, Kirk Herbstreit, who is probably my favorite in-game, color-commentating analyst, broke down the play after it was over as you can see with the yellow squiggly lines in the last slide from his telestrator. Let's run the next slide...

I believe this slide sums up everything we need to know this play. This is just a warning, but things are about to get really technical. I'm a former defensive lineman, so if I can understand this, anybody can understand it. 

The coverage Alabama is running is a form of "Cover-2". You see the safeties playing over the top with the corners and linebackers playing everything underneath. Every quarterback knows the weaknesses of "Cover-2" is the deep-middle of the field. 

As we can see, the Tide are adjusting their Cover-2 to personnel. Randle at the top of the screen has a corner running with him and safety Barron (MB) still opening his body to help the corner over the top. This is the ultimate sign of respect from an Alabama defense who thinks they can guard any receiver in the country. But because Barron is giving help, the corner running with Randle doesn't take away any of the weaknesses of the Cover-2 defense. 

Now this is where things get interesting. Notice how Menzie and the linebackers stop running with Peterson. They begin to sit down in their zone underneath coverage. Look at how evenly spaced these defenders are in the center of the field and where their eyes are located. They completely ignore the receiver, Peterson (DP), running right behind them. 

This coverage is very UnSaban-like. Usually The Crimson Tide run man coverage under their Two-Deep safety, which they did on Nov. 5. This hurt the Tide, because LSU ran "All-Verticals" last game against it. If a corner is in man coverage, their back is turned to the ball, making it easy for Jefferson to scramble for chunks of yardage. 

But for this game, they would rather Jefferson make attempt to read a defense instead of tucking and scrambling. Notice how Menzie and the Alabama linebackers are both spying Jefferson, waiting for him to scramble. They are running zone underneath their two deep safeties, which Jefferson should have crucified them for with his arm but didn't. 

Now for those who believe LSU didn't call ANY deep passing plays, you are wrong. In fact, Stud and the LSU coaching staff called the absolute perfect play here. I mean it can't get any better than this. The formation is set up perfectly. Stud knew the entire game, especially in the third quarter, that Randle was going to have safety help and will draw two defenders to his side of the field. So what he did was put his fastest receiving tight end, Peterson (DP), in a tight end position opposite of Randle. He also just ran a deep route with Beckham Jr., so Alabama wouldn't be expecting another on the very next play. Stud also knew the best play against Cover-2 is "All Verticals" with at least three receivers. So if the corners are in "Cover-2", they won't run with the receivers (other than Randle), meaning if there is enough time to throw the football, one of the receivers would be open for a HUGE GAIN. 

So in simpler terms, Stud essentially created a situation, in basketball terms, a 3-on-2 fast break where at least one offensive player will be open for an easy basket (or in this case, a touchdown). It's simple math. 

Now lets get back to a term I used a minute ago called "Safety Manipulation." This might sound stupid, but No. 9 for the LSU Tigers isn't No. 9 for the New Orleans Saints. There is not a better quarterback in the NFL than Drew Brees when it comes to manipulating a safety. For a quarterback, this means making a safety do one thing by your head placement and pump fakes when he should be doing another. 

If you ever watch Brees play, you notice how well he goes through his reads and progressions on the field. It's a work of art and I thank God for him playing on my beloved WHO DATS! On almost every deep ball thrown, Brees is always pump faking and looking a safety off his route. HE HARDLY EVER STARES DOWN HIS RECEIVER.

This is the same exact slide as the one before. I did so you can see why Jefferson needs to make this play happen. By looking at Jefferson, you would think he was in a staring contest with Beckham Jr. (OBJ). This was actually not as easy I am making it sound, but it's simple numbers game.

Notice how the ball is still in Jefferson's hands when Peterson (DP) is still fighting through that linebacker traffic. He sees the open Beckham Jr. (ODB) and reacts by throwing the ball his way. Jefferson has to know before the play that if he reads Alabama in a "Cover-2" when his receivers are evenly spaced out across the field, running "All-Verticals," he has to connect with Peterson exploiting the middle. 

This is where Jefferson could have applied "Safety Manipulation." All he has to do is look in the direction of Beckham Jr. (ODB) and then fire it to Peterson (DP) for a clear path touchdown. If he pump fakes it in the direction of (ODB) then delivers to Peterson, even better. And because the play before involved Lester closing in on Beckham Jr., look at how hard Lester is running in the direction of (ODB). But this shows Jefferson's extremely low football IQ.


Let's run the next slide...

Jefferson sees an open Beckham Jr. (ODB) and fits a tight spiral before Lester can get there. But if you look in the middle of the screen, Peterson is wide open. Now I made a joke earlier in the piece about how you can easily miss Peterson because of how quiet he has gotten this year with production. But Peterson is Jefferson's old roommate. They  have always connected well together, dating back to Peterson's break out performance versus Alabama in their first championship year under Saban. 

Once again, all Jefferson has to do is just look at ODB and then throw it to Peterson. This is where anticipation is key for quarterbacking. Jefferson has to know if he doesn't feel pressure, that three vertical route from fast weapons will rip apart a Two-deep safety zone coverage, especially in the middle.

Now I've said multiple times that Menzie could have affected the outcome of the play. If Jefferson thought Menzie, who is arguably Alabama's best cover corner, was going to play Peterson in man-coverage, maybe Jefferson decided pre-snap he wasn't going to throw the ball his way. But I doubt that was the case. 

If you go back in listen to the broadcast, ESPN color commentator Kirk Herbstreit misses this as well. Herbstreit was a great college quarterback. He praised Jefferson for fitting the ball in the tight window, which Jefferson did do well. Herbstreit didn't see the open Peterson (DP) running in the middle of the field. This shows the play wasn't as easy as I am making it sound. But it can't be stated enough...


Would Jarrett Lee Have Made a Difference?

What many of you are thinking right now is, "Lee is better thrower and he is smarter at making reads/anticipating routes and coverages. He would have made that throw." 

If you are thinking that, you are right about the first part. Now the second part, that's for debate. I actually have film to prove it. It will just have to wait for the next film session.

(Side Note: I tweeted the other day that I hope LSU starting quarterback for next year, Zach Mettenberger, for next year learns how to "look off a safety." For those that responded, this film study is what I am talking about.)


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