Monday, January 16, 2012

talking points, the week after

Now that the season is over and the champion is crowned — and by the way, the celebration is Saturday in Tuscaloosa — there's nothing really to do for the next few weeks except talk. As such, there's probably a need to address several of the talking points which will inevitably become fact about this year's BCS Championship Game.

Myth No. 1: Alabama shocked LSU with its offensive game plan by throwing on first down. I have neither the time nor the resources to do the necessary research to back this up, so you'll just have to trust me on this one: Jim McElwain's offense at Alabama has been a throw-first attack since 2008, particularly in big games. Maybe this sounds nonsensical, since Alabama is regarded as a physical team and has produced both a Heisman winner and a Heisman finalist in the last three seasons.
Particularly in big games, however, McElwain's modus operandi has been as follows: throw in early-down situations, attempt to stay out of long-yardage situations, and give yourself advantageous down-and-distance situations (thus making it easier to run the football). More to the point, as we discussed last week, the Tide's biggest wins under Nick Saban have all come in the following manner: Score early to take the lead, lock them down on defense, possess the football on offense and slowly ruin their will to resist you. If you want to go one step further, the reason Alabama couldn't secure the win over Auburn in 2010 (I think ... I blacked out most of it) was the offense's inability to possess the ball in the second half (basically hanging the defense out to dry).
Was it somewhat surprising to see A.J. McCarron perform so ably when no one was sure he could do so? Sure it was. But it was also pretty shocking to see John Parker Wilson throwing all over Georgia in Athens in 2008, just as it was to see Greg McElroy dissecting Florida in Atlanta in 2009. This performance wasn't any better or worse than those; just a different verse of the old song.

Myth No. 2: LSU's offense was inept. We criticized LSU's game plan in this space last week — attempting to play horizontal football even though a) Alabama is the surest tackling team in the country and b) SEC defenses are way too fast to be beaten horizontally — but I also noted at the time that LSU may have been attempting to go downfield all night, and Alabama simply wouldn't let them. OTS noted as much in his review of the game:
For Bobby Hebert: the reason LSU did not drive the ball down the field in the vertical passing game was because Alabama sat deep all night with two safeties and the combination of the physical coverage on the outside by the cornerbacks and the strength of the pass rush up front forced short, quick throws and did not allow either the time or the gaps in coverage on the back end to allow for deep throws of any reasonable chance of success. I would have assumed a former NFL-quarterback-turned-expert-analyst -- well, sort of -- would have figured that out from the press box, but apparently not. Consider that one on the house, Cajun Cannon. 
LSU fans will, of course, spend the rest of the offseason wondering why Les Miles and his offensive staff (apparently) never gave Jarrett Lee a shot, the first "DNP" for No. 12 all season. I can only say, I have no idea. But it might have something to do with Lee's stat line during his November outing against this defense: 3-7-2, 24 yards.
(UPDATE: Furman Bisher — who is 256 years old and hasn't actually covered a game since 1934 — advanced the theory on his website that Lee was actually benched for academic reasons. I have utterly no idea how Bisher would have come by this information that apparently no one else who covered the game knew anything about. Nevertheless, it's an interesting element to the conversation.)

Look, I understand the tendency to rationalize the dominance of a defense like Alabama's as "bad offense" or "inept quarterback play." Fine. But I will always be convinced that this defense — with this group and these coaches — was just way too good for any offense at the collegiate level. It was just an overwhelming unit performing in an overwhelming fashion.
(Note: I doubt anyone who isn't a football geek — like, OK ... me — understands exactly how much professional talent was on the field in last week's BCS Championship Game. Do me a favor: when the NFL draft is over, check the list of draftees and count how many Alabama or LSU names you see. You may be surprised.)

One other note, and only because we're now entering championship weekend in professional football: All season long, the national consensus was that the top-4 teams in football, in some order, were Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and Pittsburgh. But, throw them into a single-game elimination playoff, add a few key injuries and ... well, their regular-season play amounts to basically nothing — only one of that group will get a shot at a championship.
Does it mean that playoffs are bad? Probably not: from a pure entertainment standpoint, it's probably the best for everybody. But, if nothing else, we can that the BCS did match the two best teams in New Orleans. And the better man won.

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