This week we bring you another numbers-centric breakdown of the SEC’s biggest game of the week. On most weeks this fall — when he’s not in California watching his own son play college football — guest analyst Ralph Miranda will provide us with a quick Tuesday breakdown of CBS’s Game of the Week or another big game airing on ESPN.
Ralph knows the game. He was a walk-on linebacker for Notre Dame’s 1977 national championship team and he also served as color analyst for Vanderbilt football games on television in the 1990s. His own site can be viewed here.
We think his short breakdowns — focusing on stats that coaches often say are the most important stats in football — will give you a little something extra as we wrap up one week and roll into the next.
And now, I turn it over to Ralph for his breakdown of Texas A&M’s 29-24 takedown of previously unbeaten Alabama…
Texas A&M — 0 (0 fumbles, 0 interceptions)
Alabama — 3 (1 fumble, 2 interceptions)
1st-and-10 Plays Covering 4+ Yards:
Texas A&M — 30 1st-and-10 Plays / 16 of 4+ yards (53%)
Alabama — 24 1st-and-10 Plays / 14 of 4+ yards (58%)
3rd Down Conversions:
Texas A&M — 11 of 18 (61%)
Alabama — 7 of 15 (47%)
Explosive Plays Covering 20+ Yards:
Texas A&M — 6 (2 on what turned out to be the eventual game-winning drive)
Alabama — 5
Three Keys To Victory:
1. Some Spread, Eh?
The Aggies run a spread offense. Nothing special about that, most college football teams do that these days. Most college football teams don’t have “Johnny Football” however. A&M had a brilliant game plan. They spread Alabama out by running 4 and 5 WR sets. This accomplished a couple things. First, it allowed the freshman QB Johnny Manziel to be able to read Bama’s coverage schemes. A defense cannot disguise their coverages as well when the offense is spreading the field. Manziel found the open receiver and delivered the rock on target most of the night. Second, spreading the field allowed A&M to get Manziel into the open and forced Alabama to make plays in space. More often then not, they didn’t.
2. The Defense Rests
A&M was undersized on the defensive line coming into the game. This created a matchup advantage for Alabama and its offensive line. The Aggies countered by bringing safeties late into the box, running stunts on the defensive line to create angles and confuse Alabama’s blockers, and utilizing zone blitzes against the pass to create further confusion for the Tide O-line and for QB AJ McCarron when he tried to find the hot receiver.
A&M also did what Alabama could not. They tackled extremely well in space. The Tide defense not only gave up 418 yards but also was often out of position and allowed too many yards after first contact to A&M receivers. Last week against LSU, the Bama allowed 104 such yards. It wasn’t much better this week.
3. Are You Old Enough To Remember Herschel Walker?
In my humble opinion, not since Herschel Walker led Georgia to the National Championship in 1980 as a true freshman has college football seen such a phenomenal, impact freshman like Manziel. He was 24-of-31 (77%) for 253 yards with 2 TDs and 0 interceptions. He consistently found the open receiver, delivered the ball with accuracy and zip and extended plays with his athletic ability. Not easy for any QB but especially for a freshman making his first career start at Alabama, the home of the #1 ranked team. His poise and ability was the key factor in the Aggies huge upset!
Conversely, McCarron was unable to make the big play when needed. Now you may say he completed three deep passes (one for a TD) but a deeper look supports my point. While Manziel consistently delivered passes on target and with the perfect trajectory and velocity, McCarron made two critical technical errors that cost Alabama the game. With 10 minutes left in the game he hit Cooper on a deep pass down the seam. The pass was underthrown allowing the A&M defender to recover and make the tackle. TJ Yeldon fumbled on the very next play. A proper pass would have led Cooper right into the end zone and Alabama would have been ahead. Next, with four minutes left, McCarron hit Bell on another deep pass down the seam. Underthrown again and A&M made the tackle. Alabama was intercepted on 4th-and-goal later in that drive to effectively end the game.