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Keys To Win: Alabama Crimson Tide

Let’s take a look at three things that Louisville will have to do to beat Alabama.

NCAA Football: Murray State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

One positive of the season starting with such a big game is that it gave me time to watch almost every snap from the previous season. Alabama is coming off of a National Championship so it’s obvious that it will be really tough for Louisville to find ways to exploit weaknesses. It will be hard enough just finding those weaknesses. Throughout last season there were a few things that stood out to me when teams had success against the Tide. I used the championship game against Georgia to find to show some of those things that will help Louisville have a chance to pull the upset.

Louisville receivers have to make plays on their own.

I’ll go ahead and make it known that the point above will be a running theme for me this season. Not because I’m trying to be critical of the receivers but because Louisville has to find ways to replace Lamar Jackson’s big plays.

I watched the video below of all of Lamar’s touchdowns at Louisville and it stood out how many passes were into the endzone or going into it. A lot of other throws were to wide open receivers. I think that Louisville will need more plays from their receivers where a guy can turn a short gain into a big one.

So with all of that being said, I don’t expect Louisville’s receivers to be able to create those big plays after the catch against Alabama. However, I do think the clip below is the type of play that Louisville can make against the Tide and through the season. Back shoulder throws and jump balls should be there for guys like Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins. Dez Fitzpatrick also has shown the ability to use his great body control to come down with contested balls. It’s not always about a “big” play that ends with a touchdown. I look at it as making a play with your skills outside of just running a good route or getting open. Sometimes those things are taken away by a good defense. They will have to make those some plays on their own.

The defensive line for Louisville has to own the line of scrimmage.

Everyone knows that Alabama likes to pound the football on the ground, so finding a way to stop that is a key in any game. How you go about actually making that happen is the big question. Alabama likes to use double teams a lot and that helps create lanes for their talented running backs to hit. Obviously, once you give those guys space to work with, you probably feel pretty good with their talent against whoever they’re going to see at the second level. The running backs are the “X-factor”. Plenty of defenses depend on their second level guys to be their run stoppers and plenty even use their safeties in that way. Alabama will force that on you, which is a different thing.

What you have to do is control the line of scrimmage to create bottlenecks and squeeze holes. Your defensive linemen also have to pursue the ball from the back side on outside runs. Alabama keeps their running game pretty traditional, so you have to defend it that way. It all starts with the defensive line not getting pushed around. The two clips below show how that is done.

The first clip shows Bama running a off tackle run to the right with the backside guard and tackle pulling. On the Coaches Film Room broadcast of the game, Matt Luke from Ole Miss pointed out that the center should block down here but another thing stood out to me. Tyler Clark (52) at left end gets off the line and kills the blocking scheme on the left side. The outside linebacker takes on the pulling tackle behind the line of scrimmage as well. The back side pursuit looks like where the play is made but even if the center blocks down, the front side of the the play is blown up by the play of the defensive line.

I searched pretty hard for the goal line view of this play but I couldn’t find it. But, it’s still pretty obvious how this play works out for Georgia from this view. David Marshall (51) takes on a double team perfectly. He gets low and sticks his foot in the ground. The nose tackle stands up the center and doesn’t get pushed back before the double team gets there. That’s key because it shrinks the hole for the running back. That’s it. The play is supposed to go between those two guys but they hold their ground and there’s no hole there. If you can keep a team to 2-3 yard gains instead of 4-5, you can mark that down as a big win.

The clip below is another perfect example of what Louisville needs to do to control the line of scrimmage. Watch Raekwon Davis (99) blow up this play from his left end spot. He gets below the block and anchors his leg into the ground. He then sheds the block and wraps up the running back. Davis is 6-7 and he still gets under the blockers pads and stands him up.

Brian VanGorder has to make the Alabama quarterback uncomfortable.

As Kirk Herbstreit pointed out in the national championship game: “Jalen Hurts, when he gets pressured, sees any flash of an opposing color his instinct is to get out.” Jalen Hurts just does not handle pressure in his face very well. The offense moved the pocket a lot for him last year so that he can get out in the open and have easier decisions to make. Moving the pocket also made it harder to bring pressure in passing situations. Interior pressure was more likely to be picked up with the line moving and Hurts could outrun backside pressure most of the time.

The clip below shows how important it is to keep outside leverage when the pocket moves as well as playing downhill when Hurts gets out of the pocket. He doesn’t look to run as much as his rushing numbers would make you think. He wants to run the play as designed even when it leads to a poor outcome.

Hurts sees Lorenzo Carter bearing down on him here and it’s a wasted down. At the very least you would like to see him tuck the ball and try to make a play in space. But, the big takeaway for me throughout the season was that he rarely found the open guy in these situations.

In another clip, you can see the lack of pocket presence from Hurts. Not only does he not feel the backside pressure, but he also waits for a blitz in his face to get to him and delivers a late throw on a curl. He has a window to throw this earlier and hit Calvin Ridley as soon as he turns around. Instead he gets hit as he throws and the pass never makes it to a wide open receiver.

If Tua Tagolaivoa is the starter, there will still be opportunities for BVG to make him uncomfortable. Tua is a pocket passer who can run and sometimes those types of guys hang in there too long and wait a little longer than they should for things to develop. We saw that a few times in the championship game. Tua is also more of a gunslinger than Hurts. If VanGorder can confuse him with some of his zone blitzes, he might just throw it to the wrong team.

The clips below show that desire to hold onto the ball even when there’s nothing there. Also, if you watched the ending of the national championship game you know that he took an absolutely terrible sack before he threw the game winner.