The 2018 Orange Bowl was the most appealing contest of the two playoff games. The matchup put the greatest defensive mind in college football (Saban) with arguably the greatest offensive one (Lincoln Riley). It also had one of the more intriguing QB matchups of the bowl season. The efficiency at which both Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa play it is astonishing. Both are built completely different as well, with Murray listed at 5’10 and Tua 6’1″.
Murray is an absolute legend in the state of Texas, finishing his high school career at 42-0 while competing in the highest division in the state. Tua has become a legend in his own right, taking over for Jalen Hurts in last years Championship Game, and seemingly never looking back. The Tide’s offense is just different when he is in the game and has been steamrolling ever since. Overall, the game was a matchup of the two most efficient offenses in the country and one of the best defenses in the country. There was only one thing that didn’t fit into the game, Oklahoma’s defense, as I pointed out in this pre-game tweet:
One of these is not like the other ⤵️
Defense Efficiency: #1⃣ & #9⃣8⃣#OrangeBowl
— Cody Alexander (@The_Coach_A) December 29, 2018
Alabama’s defense has dominated the last decade of college football. Outside of Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa (#36 in Defensive Efficiency), the Tide have been a mainstay in the top 10 defenses in the country. The only outlier being the 2010 team that finished #13 in defensive efficiency. Defensive efficiency is a great way to monitor how well a defense is playing overall because it accounts for every down and judges a defense on whether they stay ahead of the chains. One player that stood out over any during the game was Alabama’s interior lineman Quinnen Williams. He consistently was camped in the backfield and early on made it hard for Murray to step up into the pocket. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman Center, Creed Humphrey, played valiantly, but there were multiple times Williams did whatever he wanted and single-handedly blew plays up.
On the other sideline, one could argue, Lincoln Riley is building the Spread of the future. I saw an interview where Bud Foster, long time Defensive Coordinator for Virginia Tech, stated that 12 personnel is the new 21 pers. Except it is much more versatile because of the two TEs. I agree with the 4-2-5 legend. The addition of multiple TEs into the game is something the NFL has been doing since Bill Belichick went to it in early 2000. The major colleges are moving towards it too as defenses are getting “smaller.” Hybrid TEs are a completely different animal, and Oklahoma has two of them.
The Sooners offense looked dominant all year, only stumbling to the Texas Longhorns in the annual Red River Rivalry (it’s hard to beat a good team twice). Only Army and their slow-paced Option offense were able to keep the vaunted Sooner offense under 30 points. The Iowa State Cyclones and their three-safety Broken Stack were able to even keep Oklahoma under 40 points in Big 12 play. Something no one else did. Needless to say, the offense in Norman was electric all year long. The Sooners based out of 12 personnel for most of the game against the Tide. Riley’s combination of Air Raid pass concepts with a power run game has been devastating for defenses. Below is a basic 3×1 look for the Sooners offense, which they ran numerous times versus the Tide defense.
For several years now, Riley has been staying in a 12 pers. look for better parts of most games. This allows the Sooners to have a hybrid TE in #80 Grant Calcaterra (So./6’4″ 220) and a blocking TE in #45 Carson Meier (Sr./6’5″ 254 and is actually listed as a FB). Both can catch the ball, but Riley uses Calcaterra mainly flexed out at WR (what is referred to as a “Joker” TE). Both accumulated over 300+ yards of receiving throughout the 2018 season. By having two larger hybrid players on the field, Riley doesn’t have to sub and can use timely tempo to challenge defenses that choose to go small versus the high powered Sooner offense. As stated prior, the Sooners lived in 3×1 for most of the game and mixed in different 2×2 looks as well as some 12 pers. Wing Twin to load the box.
Last year (2017), Riley used two current NFL players in the same way, current Jacksonville FB Dimitri Flowers and Ravens’ TE Mark Andrews (who had 500+ yards receiving). This is a trend that is probably not going away. Riley’s adaptation of the Air Raid offense to one that has a power run game has paid dividends for the Sooners since his arrival on campus. This year alone, Murray and RB Kennedy Brooks (#26) both had 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Trey Sermon (#4) would accumulate just under 950 yards for himself as well. To see the Oklahoma offense as one that is pass heavy is to miss the mark on what Riley is doing in Norman. In the passing game, Murray threw for over 4,000+ yards and Marquise Brown (#5) and CeeDee Lamb (#2) both had 1,000+ yard seasons. The former in Brown was hurt during the Big 12 Championship and looked off all night against Alabama, being held to ZERO catches on the night.
Limiting Brown (who was averaging over 100+ yards a game) to no production was a coup for the Tide and hindered the Sooners ability to attack through the air early in the game. Riley chose to attack the Tide with multiple 3×1 formations using several different personnel groupings (10/11/12) and moving his “Joker” TE, Calcaterra, around. Lamb would end the night with over 100+ yards receiving, picking on ‘Bama’s freshman CB in Patrick Surtain II. The Tide would also stifle the Sooners run game, only allowing Murray over 100 yards rushing (Brooks – 35/Sermon – 19). Needless to say, Bama forced Murray to beat them passing, and it paid off in the first half.
Take away the abysmal first quarter for the Sooner offense and the game was evenly matched. A team cannot spot a Saban team 28 points and figure to win the game. This is why the game is played a full 60 minutes! Riley adjusted to the lack of explosion from Brown and a nonexistent run game starting in the second quarter. It was too little too late.
The Sooners couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch on defense and lost 45-34. Overall, the game was a look into the future. Riley’s hybrid Air Raid scheme and Saban’s masterclass in adaptability highlighted where football is headed. As I wrote in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, the pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth between offense and defense. As defenses get smaller to counteract the high powered Spread attacks, offenses will eventually get “bigger” to push them around. The Sooners are the epitome of this cat-and-mouse game. The use of two hybrid big-men is evidence that the top offensive minds are beginning to go back to a power game.
The basis of this MQ Film Study is to see how the greatest defensive mind in college football (Saban) chose to attack the vaunted Oklahoma offense (#1 or #2 in O. Eff since 2016). Outside of the first quarter, the Tide really didn’t stop the Sooner offense. One thing the Tide did well all night was inhibit the power run game of the Sooners, forcing Murray to do it all by himself. Below is a breakdown of every play the Sooners offense ran during the first half of the Orange Bowl (outside of the last drive of the half). The Orange Bowl was a look into the future of football and how modern defense will defend the “Power” Spread going forward.
The Sooners chose to open the game from an unbalance Trips formation and a Jet Motion by the #2 WR. The play is a nice BAsh, or “back away,” concept using Oklahoma’s staple run in the Counter (GT). The play reads the DE to the RB’s side and the quick motion is used as an arc block if the QB decides to pull it. Bama’s DE charges down the line for the RB giving Murray a “pull” read. The play is run exactly as it should be, but the alley running safety (#14) flashes into the vision of Murray and makes him bounce it to the sideline for little gain.
Bama starts the game in a four-down look and putting the ILB to the TE in a “solid” position, or outside shoulder of the TE (on the line). The Mike is playing the “A” gap, while the backside CB is responsible for the “B.” As the motion comes across, the two safeties rotate and the CB works outside of the quick motion, keeping his outside arm free. Saban has numbers on either side. The sign of an effective defense.
Mesh had a big comeback in 2018 and could be seen all over college football. Mesh is a tricky pass concept when used in different ways. Whether it be to pick an ILB that has to push with the RB or to get a crossing WR open away from a half-roll, the Mesh concept was used quite a bit in 2018. Below, the Sooners run Mesh out of a nub-Trips formation. The nub-TE looks as though he is going to block, to occupy the CB, then darts inside as the over route. A simple Shallow concept is run from the Trips side. #80 runs the under route and the #3 WR runs a post route to the opposite hash.
Pressure killed the Sooners all night, and Bama’s ability to get heat on the QB from a four-man rush allowed the Tide to flood the passing lanes and keep a spy on Murray. In the clip above, the RB appears to be open, but the CB zones off the post route by #1. The Mesh is distributed and the backside safety is poaching the #3 WR as he comes to the opposite has. Every man is covered and Murray has no choice but to step up and scramble. The DE makes an excellent play to grab Murray for a sack. Below is the distribution of Alabama running “Clip” (Cover 2) and the backside safety “poaching” #3’s vertical.
Saban chose to heat up the Sooners on their first 3rd Down. This is a simulate pressure because it looks like the Tide are going to bring the house, but only end up bringing four. Saban has always done a great job of mixing up his blitzers to keep the offense on its toes. Below, Saban gives the look of 2-man with a four-down front. The Mike is “mugged” or aligned in a gap on the line of scrimmage (LOS). This forces the offensive line to account for him in the blocking and can create issues when he vacates his gap into coverage.
The Sooners use motion to get the three WRs into a Bunch set. One thing some defensive coaches do when they get Bunch formations is to check out of pressure. Because Saban is still only bringing four, his distribution doesn’t change and he can stick with the simulation. Post-snap, the defense morphs into a Cover 3 look and the DB who appears to be responsible for the #3 WR charges into the pocket. The dropping DE away from the pressure forces Murray to sit on the over route allowing the frontside DE to fish-hook the Tackle and make a sack. Three-and-out to start the game.
The pressure shown below is a great way to simulate a five-man pressure only to cut the backside DE and Mike back into coverage. The Dime (Di) hits the vacated “B” gap pulling the RB to his side. The use of what I refer to as a “Jet” front, or two 3 tech’s, allows the Tide to use movement to waste O-linemen. The 3 tech. to the single-WR side pulls the Guard and works to box the edge. The 3 tech. from the front side gets in the vision of three O-lineman, with the right Guard stepping back to help the RB. The pressure forced Murray to step up to the defense’s right because of the line movement. Simple and effective.
Riley uses orbit motion from the boundary to try and get the Tide to over rotate. The Tide lock onto the motion with #15 and bring him across the formation, leaving the rest of the defense static. Saban chooses to attack the Sooners with a five-man edge pressure on 1st Down. The read by Murray is the correct one. There is man-on-man blocking to the front side and the read defender (#5) blitzes. The result is a hurried throw by Murray and an incomplete pass. Had the throw been on the money, the RB at least had a chance.
The second play was nothing more than #92, Quinnen Williams, being a dominant force. The Sooners run a Draw for a loss. With the Center pulling to long trap the away-side DE, the left Guard has no help and is bowled over. The play is dead from the get. Not a great start to the Sooners second drive.
On 3rd and Long, the Sooners take their first real shot downfield. The Tide drop eight and force Murray into a long throw. The Sooners run a Divide scheme. In a Divide scheme, the offense runs a vertical route in each of the three sections of the field. This pushes the secondary vertical and the QB looks for the weakest matchup. Riley tagged this route combination with a Switch-Go to the right (fake screen) and a Stutter-Go (Double Post) to the left. The result is an incomplete and another three-and-out.
Here’s a look at the huge discrepancy between OU’s offense and Alabama’s offense after the first two drives of the game (not a good sign for the Sooners):
The third drive saw Alabama stick with the Tite Front against the Sooners Trips Slot look. Much like Todd Orlando at Texas and Kirby Smart at Georgia use the Tite Front with an attached hybrid DE, Saban follows suit against the Sooners. Though it is the Tite Front (three-down), it really functions as a four-down defense. The use of a hybrid DE that can wall the edge of the box, rush the passer, or fold into the box with flow away, gives a defense a flex defender that the modern offense has to account for near the box.
Even though Oklahoma can give away what they are doing by back alignment, below the RB is even with the QB meaning it is most likely Stretch or pass. Riley does a good job of breaking tendencies too. Later in the game, the RB will be deep, signaling a Zone or Gap run scheme, except the Sooners attack the Tide with a Speed Option. Here, the even RB signifies a Stretch play, which the Sooners run for a large gain.
The Sooners don’t run a Buck Sweep (pin-n-pull), but they use the proximity of the TE in the Trips Slot look to cross-block with the TE and the “H” who is slotted up. This frees up the play-side Tackle to work all the way out to the CB. Riley does a great job of mixing the splits of the WRs in order to gain leverage on blocks or natural rubs in his pass concepts. As I discussed in my article on how Big 12 teams attacked Texas’ Tite Front defense, which is similar to what Saban runs, one of the main plays utilized was Stretch to attack the soft edge away from the hybrid DE. What the Sooners have done is add two hybrid blockers to the mix on the edge. The result is a large gain.
One thing to notice in the clip above is the leverage of the ILBs. The Will is leveraging the RB to the single-WR side. He can easily fit into his “A” gap and thus can widen (especially with the RB even – outside run/pass). The Mike on the opposite side of the box is responsible for the inside shoulder of the slot and is aligned in a 50 (or stacking the OT). In the diagram below, the Sooners cross-block scheme is used to create a lane for the RB between the two LBs.
The next play in the drive saw the Sooners stay in the same formation, but placing it into the boundary. The Tide go with a similar Ni pressure as shown before (first clip). The Tackle in charge of trapping the Mike couldn’t get to him. This is a nice pressure versus teams that run Zone and Arc Reads because it essentially makes the Mike a free player. His only duty is to take the QB and make sure the sifting Tackle can’t get to him (keep outside arm free). In the clip below, Mike’s presence makes Murray bounce it around the H-back’s block where he trips and falls. Another negative run play for the Sooners.
Saban chooses to use another “drop-eight” to force Murray to stay in the pocket. A Buck Front (505) is utilized to hold the edges of the pocket. #30 mugs his gap and actually puts his hand down to simulate a rush, he is in charge of the RB and peels with him. The Tide’s #47 will play the “spy” and engage the Guard then work back to mirror the QB. This engaging technique by #47 allows the Nose to work to his right because he knows the Guard is going to attempt to block the Mike (#47). This is a clever trick to counter the Sooners’ pass pro.
One trend I noticed in 2018 was using “drop-eight” simulated pressures to bait QBs into throwing the hot route near the middle of the box. Below, it appears Alabama will rush four and play coverage. The rusher to the Quads side will engage and then cut to the hook. This baits the QB because he sees the open space in the middle of the formation. Below, #47 takes a couple steps upfield and then drives back into the middle hole. This forces Murray to throw into a tight window. The result is a turnover on downs.
In my article on defending Quads, I talked about how the backside safety (BS) can be a “poach” player and can insert into the box versus QB Draw. In the clip above, you can clearly see the BS trigger into the low hole to help with any over routes. In this case, the Sooners’ #2 WR darts into the middle of the formation on the snap of the ball. The Di will fit over top the crosser while the BS will cut it off.
Triangle coverage is used to the Bunch. The CB will take the first out and the Di the first in. The Ni takes the point man, the TE, in MEG coverage (Man Everywhere he Goes). Saban also utilizes what I call “Match” coverage. You see this used a lot in the NFL. This ensures that a LB takes the RB allowing the defense to not waste a coverage man (CB/Safety) on a target that is probably not going to get the ball. The coverage is demonstrated below.
As stated, Mesh was back in a big way in 2018. Oklahoma needed an answer on their fourth drive and got one on this Y-Throwback from a Mesh scheme. The half-boot play-action pulls the defense away from the TE running the under on Mesh. The RB wheels out of the backfield to ensure there is a window for the crossing receiver to the boundary. Defensively, Saban is in a Bear Front and latches the Jack on the U-TE (nub). This concept allows the CB to stay at home for the RB, which he does. The play-action pulls the LBs play-side and the TE does a great job of engaging the edge defender before he releases on his crossing route. Alabama’s #33 “robots” or spins into the over route by the “U” and doesn’t see #45 crossing underneath. No one is home and the Sooners have their first explosive play of the night.
The “surf” technique is a great way to close down an open gap versus a Read play, but still, give the QB a false read. Below, #47 surfs down to take the RB. This “slow-play” action makes Murray give the ball to the RB. Murray should have pulled it. #47 is the “Dive” player versus an option scheme. The DE has an open “B” gap and will need to close it to take the dive. The OT arcs to trap the Mike, who is a little too aggressive on the Zone. Had Murray pulled the ball it would have gone for a decent gain. The secondary clearly bailed to defend the simulated vertical routes. The Mike, who defeated the sifting Tackle would have been trapped by the arcing H-back.
In an Option offense, QB’s are taught to read the shoulders of the read defender. Square (“surf”) shoulders mean to give the ball, parallel shoulders (run the heel line) indicate a pull and go. Kirby Smart, a Saban disciple, discussed how you can’t live in one D-line technique when taking on the Zone Read in his 2018 THSCA lecture. Sometimes a defense has to charge the mesh or switch responsibilities. “Surfing” the DE works, but if you do it to often, the offense will figure it out and take advantage, especially a team that bases out of Zone and Arc Reads like the one shown above. The Sooners don’t live on the legs of Murray running option concepts and would like to not use him as their primary runner. Regardless, the surfing action of the DE forced Murray into the wrong read. Here’s how the play should have looked:
The Sooners clearly changed their tone on the fourth drive and chose to attack Alabama from “bigger” sets. The first two plays utilized either a 12 pers. or 21 pers. look. On 2nd & 9, the Sooners stayed with a 21 pers. grouping and aligned in Wing Twin, throwing a Slot Fade for a large gain. ‘Bama went with the same Over Solid as shown in the previous clip. The secondary gives the illusion of Match 3 (Rip/Liz). The Jack to the Wing side latches on and the safety is responsible for the TE. To the two speed (WR) side, the CB works inside the #2 WR on the snap.
Saban and his tree have different hot words to get into coverages post-snap. This helps the secondary look static pre-snap only to switch to something else post-snap. Here, the pre-snap alignment looks like Rip/Liz. The CB is clearly outside leverage on the #2 WR. In Rip/Liz, the overhang will funnel the slot to the MOF safety. In the clip, the CB moves inside on the snap. This indicates man coverage and the WR fades out to the sideline and away from the MOF safety. The result is 1st and Goal for the Sooners.
The Sooners get on the board with a Wildcat Spit Zone. Murray flares out of the box forcing the safety to work with him. The Mike charges the strongside “A” gap on a “pop” blitz. The issue is in the Will who works over to the Mike’s side. With Sam and Will on the same side, there is no one in the back door. The RB is patient and finds the vacated hole. Alabama runs a stunt with the Nose, who works to the “B” gap. What looks to be a double “A” gap pressure gets walled and the result is a TD for Oklahoma.
Saban runs Special to 11 pers. Trey and Oklahoma throws right into it. Saban has two ways to run this coverage, Stubbie (CB plays MEG on #1) and Stump (CB plays MOD on #1). The Ni does the same job in both coverages, take #2 up or out. Below, the Sooners run a Bubble screen to the #2 WR, using #80, their hybrid TE, as the main blocker. The true TE, #45, runs a vertical to pull the Mike and the safety to him. The safety midpoints #2 and #3 working to whoever comes vertical, in this case, the TE (#3). The Ni traps the out by #5 (Bubble) and the play is dead. Either the Sooners thought they could catch the Tide in a different coverage or that Brown could win the open-field tackle. The result was an incompletion for the Sooners.
On 2nd & Long, OU pulls out all the stops and tries to hit #80 on a Flea Flicker. The end result is a huge gain by Murray on a scramble. This time, there is no one to spy the QB and Murray finds the opening for an explosive run. ‘Bama has a perfect call for this play too. Both safeties bail deep for what looks to be a 2-man scheme. Even though #5 loses track of his man, #80, the high safety negates the throw.
I alluded to the fact that you can pick up some tendencies with where OU places the RB, but Riley also does a great job of changing up the looks and running plays that break with tendency. For instance, in the clip below, instead of a Zone Read, the offense runs a Speed Option. The depth and alignment of the RB is the same as though he would run a downhill Zone.
On the defensive side, Bama is in an Over Front and blitzing the Mike through the “A” gap. The DE to the option side surfs and slow plays the QB. The field safety sinks over top of #3 as the backside safety works to the MOF. As you’d expect in a typical Saban Rip/Liz, the Ni stays outside leverage of the #2 WR and walls the boundary. The main issue here is the Mike blitzing the “A” gap can’t read out. This gives man-on-man blocking to the edge and luckily #33 is a beast and runs down the RB along with the CB folding in to help. OU is now ahead of the chains on 2nd Down.
On 2nd Down, the Sooners run a Spread variation of the Midline. Many Spread teams that choose to run Midline from the gun use stretch flow from the RB to get the 3 tech. to chase. If the DT vacates, the QB pulls and inserts in the open gap. This is a clever adaptation and reads a defender that is not usually read in modern football.
To the two speed side, the CB is in MEG coverage while the Ni and FS will bracket #2. With an outside release, the Ni turns and runs with the simulated vertical. On the snap of the ball, the FS turns and walls the MOF in case the play is a pass. In the box, the 3 tech. does a great job of surfing down the line forcing Murray to give the ball. The most impressive part of this play is the Nose, who runs all the way to the sideline to make the play.
Over the Wing set, the secondary is running a Cloud coverage. this makes the CB “hard,” or sit in the flat (squat). The BS will take any vertical by the two. This is a typical coverage call to many stack sets that are reduced to the box. Even if an offense runs two verticals, the Cloud (2-Read) concept is naturally designed to adjust to high-low and switch schemes. Plus, you have a hard edge by the CB. The play is shown below.
The clip below is a great example of why a defense needs a “Stay” call for its DEs. Against smaller QBs, especially ones that can run, a DC can give his DEs a “Stay” call to have them sit on the edge of the box and in the throwing lane. #33 (field DE) doesn’t charge upfield on a pass rush. Instead, he engages the OT and waits for the ball to be thrown. This technique is great on short yardage downs when a defense knows the ball will come out quickly. For instance, the clip below is on a 3rd and 2. Alabama did this serval times throughout the night to get batted balls on the edge of the box. The result is a 4th Down.
OU ran a ton of 3×1 formations throughout the game, and as stated before, Riley did a great job of moving guys around. On a huge 4th Down, Saban sunk the BS into the box in what appears to be 1 Rat (man-free with a free/spy player in the low hole). The Mike never moves from the middle hole and can act as a spy or poach any crossers. The safety is responsible for the RB. Murray, seeing the safety move down knew he had man coverage on CeeDee Lamb (#2), who had a great game against the Tide’s freshman CB in Surtain. Murray throws a great ball to hit Lamb on the back-shoulder. Impressive throw and a big-time play.
For their first play in the Red Zone, OU turns to their staple play in the Counter GT. Saban turns to man coverage and blitzes the backside safety off the edge. Not a bad way to attack that formation, especially with the RB to that side. The issue is there is no line movement and the Tide are a man short to the front. The Mike comes off the edge and boxes the kick-block. The 4i gets doubled by the Guard and Tackle to open up the gap. The Will works over and the play side Tackle comes off. This also eats the puller. Luckily the MOF safety sees run and inserts from depth making the tackle for a four-yard gain.
The Sooners come back to a Counter play, but this time run a Q Counter Draw. The front side is taken care of with four-over-three. The DE to the flare side sees the RB go and works laterally, the numbers on not in the Sooners favor. Murray tucks it and runs with the Counter. #33 for Alabama does a great job of boxing the kick-block and taking him out. The key is he didn’t wast himself and forces the looping Tackle to take him. That leaves the CB, who came off of the crack block, for Murray and no gain.
One thing to note in the above clip is the way Saban was able to keep numbers to the front side by sinking in the backside safety versus Trips. This allows the Di to work head up on #3 and not worry about being in the box. With pullers, the BS triggers and is taken up by the crack block. That leaves the CB to crack-replace. Numbers to the field and to the boundary.
This is an interesting concept, shown below, by Saban in the Red Zone. The CB and Ni (over #2) give the illusion of MEG coverage. When the #1 WR runs an out, the CB cuts to the corner of the end zone assuming a Corner route is coming. I’ve talked about a variation of this in my Quarters Red Zone article, but this variation is different. The Di (#5) and the FS (#15) look as though they are going to bracket #3, but on the snap, #5 turns and pushes with the out of #2.
A big play in the Red Zone out of 3×1 is the Double Stop/In, or in this case, out with a Corner by #3. Riley opts to run almost a Slot Fade concept with the #3 WR. Murray tries to back-shoulder the throw because of the leverage of the safety, who walls the MOF. To the backside, the “X” is bracketed by the CB and the BS. The result is an incomplete and a FG. A definite win for the Tide.
Alabama did a great job early of negating the run game for OU. Though you could argue the Sooners inability to get stops on defense forced them into passing early, there wasn’t much going for OU on the ground. The biggest run play early was actually a scramble. Eventually, the Sooners would settle in and adjust the lack of Brown (#5) being a factor. You just can’t spot the Tide 28 points and expect to win.
Defensively Saban chose the use of timely simulated pressures and drop-eight schemes to force Murray into difficult situations. One thing I noticed was the “stay” calls by the Tide’s DEs. All night they hung around the edge of the box versus the pass and forced Murray to step up or throw into the hands of the Tide’s lengthy DEs. This was a great way to contain a mobile QB and make him one dimensional. The use of the Tite Front allowed Saban’s Mike to be free most of the night and created predictable situations when the Sooners would run Read plays. Like Texas and Georgia the year before, Saban used a hybrid DE to the boundary and the Tite Front to challenge the Sooners run game.
Offensively, the Sooners stayed most of the night in 3×1 formations, sprinkling in 10 pers. 2×2 and a 21 pers. Wing Twin looks. Riley used timely tempo plays to keep Saban in certain personnel groupings, but overall, the Sooners didn’t go ultra fast. The end result was a decent offensive output, but a horrendous first Quarter.
Overall, Saban stayed relatively bland when pressuring the Sooners, choosing to use simulated blitzes and five-man pressures. This was probably due to the ability of Murray. The dominance of the Alabama D-line helped to stay passive as well. Saban used a four-man rush for most of the night. Coverage wise, Saban chose to stay in a two-high shell for most of the night as well, something he has done versus elite spread teams. This allows him to manipulate the coverage post-snap and ensure he has leverage on either side of the box. This is not to say he didn’t run any single-high coverages, he did, but usually with some kind of disguise. The end result was another trip to the National Championship and a win against a markee Spread offense.
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