Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bama is looking for a new co-OC

If you follow Bama football at all, you know that they now need a new offensive coordinator after their QB coach and co-offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite, has decided to leave the program to take the running backs coach position at the University of Texas.

Honestly, I thought his hiring was questionable from the beginning, and I don't think he did anything to help his wunderkind reputation while in Tuscaloosa.

I think the hiring of Major Applewhite to be an OC was a close cousin of the hiring of Mike Shula to be head coach. I thought Shula was hired for 3 reasons: (1) his name was Shula, (2) he was a former successful quarterback at the school, and (3) he had great hair. Other than that, I didn't see any real qualifications he may have had for the job, having never coached in college nor ever being a head coach at any level.

Applewhite at least had been a college coach, and was even successful as an offensive coordinator, at Rice University. But mainly, I thought he was hired because (1) he was named for Bama hero Major Ogilvie, (2) he had been a really good quarterback, though at Texas rather than Bama, and (3) he has boyish good looks. I thought these three qualities simply meant he had risen too far too fast, and well beyond his abilities.

In a profession where most 28 year olds are still grad assistants somewhere, Major Applewhite had quickly risen to coordinator level, which is usually reserved for 40-somethings who have been around for a while. What's more, Applewhite was a coordinator at the highest level of college football at a traditional SEC power. This, in only his 3rd year as an assistant coach, and he was already getting talked up for open head coaching positions at smaller schools.

I thought it was a stunt-hire then and I still think it was a stunt hire. What's more, I don't think his playcalling was particularly good. I can't and won't go into an exhaustive study, but I will go into the one play I think ultimately defined the season: the interception returned for a touchdown at the end of the first half of the Mississippi State game. Here's the play:

Allow me to recap the scene. It is 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line. Bama has no timeouts. There are less than 20 seconds to play in the half. As a result, everyone in the stadium knows that Bama needs to pass, to avoid risking the clock running out without them being able to get a field goal try. This play was poorly called, and its poorness directly led to its failure.

If you watch the play, it calls for John Parker Wilson to fake a handoff to the running back, then bootleg to the right side, looking for a tight end. It calls for him to turn his back to the defensive end on that side of the center before running in that direction.

MSU defensive end Titus Brown didn't respect the run and instead went right to where the QB would be bootlegging. It was exactly the right move for Brown, who had no reason to respedt the run. By the time Wilson completed the fake and turned his body back towards the line of scrimmage, Brown was already on him. He had no chance to get anything on a pass, and he couldn't take a sack or the clock would expire. So, he just threw it. It was intercepted by the cornerback. Bama had 4 tight ends and 1 running back on the field, which means there was only one player wearing crimson who had any chance of catching a speedy corner, and he was hung up on the line of scrimmage.

It was simply an unnecessarily risky play, and it was poorly chosen. There was no reason to fake a run, because there was no reason to respect it. There was no reason to have 4 tight ends on the field because no one thought Bama was running the ball. Those play action rollout passes to the tight end are often very successful plays, but only when the other team has to respect the run. Due to the circumstances with the timeouts and the game clock, there was no reason MSU had to do that.

The proper play call here would have been to have 4 or 5 wideouts in the game, with maybe a running back kept in to help with protection. Start the play in the shotgun and let your receivers run routes. If no one breaks open or if the pass rush breaks free, the QB should then throw the ball through the uprights and the team should bring out the field goal unit. If the worst happens, and the ball is intercepted, at least you have a bunch of receivers on the field who have a chance of catching the defensive player who has the ball.

Instead, they ran a play that did not have any receivers on the field, and that called for the quarterback to turn his back on the most dangerous rusher while wasting time faking a handoff to the running back.

And this play call came out of a timeout where they had plenty of time to think about it.

I think this was emblematic of the problems having a playcaller who was too inexperienced to really be doing this at the level he was at. Bama will ultimately be better off with him moving on. But on the other hand, what's he doing coaching out of position? His background is with quarterbacks, not with running backs.


Anonymous said...

I see your point Richard but that was a bonehead decision to just throw it up there. The side line was right there. He could have thrown it out of bounds and taken the penalty but of course it happened really fast.

Totally spoiled

gerry dorsey said...

i don't harbor any hard feelings towards major over his single season performance in t'town, or towards saban for giving him a shot. that being said, m.a. didn't do anything to cause me to beg him to stay either.