Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quick Thoughts on the National Title Game

  • I said before the game that Bama would need to fin decisively for me to give them my #1 vote.  I’d say they achieved that aim, wouldn’t you?

  • If anyone else has any idea what LSU was trying to accomplish on offense, then please let me know.  They kept running screens against a team that was pressing them.  They kept running option with a quarterback who was indecisive in running that play.  (Kudos to Kirk Herbstreit for taking a break from discussing the emotions of college football to explain what a lousy job Jordan Jefferson was doing with that play.)  They waited until the fourth quarter to run the toss play that has been a staple of their offense, and then they didn’t go back to it after it produced one of their only good runs of the game.  Likewise, they started the second half by running a pair of plays seeking to get Odell Backham between the corner and the safety in Bama’s cover two, the first of which almost worked and the second of which did, but then they never went back to that pattern.  They never went to Jarrett Lee despite the fact that Jordan Jefferson was atrocious.  They punted on fourth and short down two scores in the fourth quarter.  In sum, LSU’s coaches seemingly approached this game with the midnset that they were going to minimize a losing margin. 

  • In contrast, Bama’s offensive plan made sense.  They gave AJ McCarron simple reads (“more Dick and Jane than War and Peace”), especially using flag routes to the sidelines that he consistently dropped in the bucket.  They were focused on great execution of simple passing plays.  It helped that the Bama receivers, which I viewed as a weakness going into the game, played their best game of the season.  Brent Musberger seemed confused that the Tide were able to have success throwing on Tyrann Mathieu, but Mathieu’s fame this year comes from everything but coverage.  It’s not that he’s a bad cover corner, but he isn’t elite in that department.

  • I wrote after the Sugar Bowl that Michigan's ability to avoid Virginia Tech's repeated mistakes was a skill, in and of itself.  Bama showed that same skill last night.  No turnovers, one penalty, and no hare-brained tactical decisions by Saban.  In the realm of stating the obvious, it's preferable for a team to be mistake-free AND outgain the opponent by almost 300 yards.  The score might not reflect it, but Bama turned in one of the all-time dominant title game performances in college football history because they were so superior in terms of yardage and yet were able to do so without sacrificing their ability to avoid mistakes.

  • My prevailing feeling at the end of the game was feeling wistful that college football doesn’t have a 4-8 team playoff.  I’m not the biggest playoff fan in the world because there is a tradeoff between the side of a tournament and the value of a regular season.  That said, I’m also a guy who is fascinated by history.  This Bama defense was one of the best defenses in modern college football history.  In an offense-heavy era in college football, they didn’t get to test themselves against a really good offense.  It’s not Bama’s fault.  Normally, you would think that a schedule that included Penn State, Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn would give several good tests for an offense.  This year, all of those programs were down, especially on the offensive side of the ball.  We’ll never get to see how the Tide would have done against Andrew Luck or Oklahoma State’s version of the Air Raid or Oregon’s version of the spread ‘n’ shred.  Imagine Andrew Luck trying to decipher one of Nick Saban’s shifting coverage schemes.  Imagine Dre Kirkpatrick covering Justin Blackmon.  Imagine DeAnthony Thomas in space against Donta Hightower.  One of the benefits of expanding college football’s postseason is that we would get more matchups like that, but we are denied that opportunity.  I hate ending the college football season on a note of frustration, but that’s how I feel this morning after having seen a truly great defense test itself against a mediocre offense.    


Uncle Mike said...

Fair play to Alabama for making the most of their opportunity. But they didn't deserve that opportunity, because they didn't win their Division, let alone their Conference. They should never have been in the National Championship Game.

Michael said...

Bama had one of the two best resumes at the end of the regular season. They deserved their shot.

Anonymous said...

The "didn't win your division/conference" argument only holds water, if at all, if you make the championship game over (i.e., instead of) the team that actually did win your division/conference.

And you conveniently omit Arkansas, who I would say has a pretty good offense.

Adam Malka said...

The problem with the National Championship being a game between Alabama and LSU was that it undermined the argument against a playoff: that the regular season was sacred. Indeed, one of the best arguments in favor of the BCS, and against the NCAA tournament, is that regular season matchups such as that between LSU and Alabama in Tuscaloosa are worth everything. Well, not this year. And that's why I like the smaller playoff scenario over what we have now. Leaving aside the very questionable metrics by which the "computers" assess the rankings, a 4 or 8-team playoff would actually strengthen a team's claim upon "champion." You'd avoid the degradation of the regular season that college basketball has suffered, but you'd allow non-conference opponents to, well, play each other for the title. We'll never know if Alabama's defense could have shut down the offenses of Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Oregon, and now we don't even have the comfort of knowing that every regular season game was sacrosanct. It just feels like a giant let-down.

As for whether Alabama had one of the two best resumes at the end of the regular season - I actually think that's debatable. Sagarin ranked the Big 12 higher than the SEC this season, and Oklahoma State beat more ranked teams than Alabama by a wide margin. There was an argument for Alabama, but there also was a good one for Oklahoma State. And that leads me back to the original point: in the absence of a larger sample size, it's frequently more speculative than objective to determine the top 2 teams. They need to widen the net a little. Even moving to a 4-team playoff would make an enormous difference.