Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: The ones that drive you crazy
What is Bill Clark doing on the weekends now that he's rehabbing after back surgery and not coaching football for the first time since his freshman year in college? He's watching games like a coach. Every week, he shares his insight and observations on what caught his trained eye.
Week 7: A deep dive on Tennessee 52, Alabama 49.
Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt had six catches, five of them for touchdowns. Nick Saban said the Vols were able to isolate Hyatt on Alabama's safeties, resulting in one-on-one mismatches. How did Josh Heupel and his staff make that happen?
BC: I've always talked about making people cover down on your receivers. That means you can't be 10 yards off a receiver because they'll just raise up and throw it to them. That's what they do. They spread you out horizontally with screens and bubbles. You've seen this evolution. Once that happens, we have to widen out, and they go to the run game. How many people do you need to stop the run game? Plus you have a quarterback who can run so you have to have people in the box. As the defense widens, the run game becomes more of a factor.
Sometimes I'll play with a third and a fourth cornerback. You still have to have a safety out there, and he's not as good a cover guy. That's when you motion a guy in, you stack receivers. A lot of times, that No. 3 receiver is so critical. Tennessee did a good job of getting their best guy on a safety.
Go back and look at it. There's a guy pressed up on one receiver, and there's a guy that's off. Usually it's the safety that's off, and that's a hard place to be in man coverage in an off position against a great receiver.
Alabama had 13 quarterback hurries the week before against Texas A&M but only one, which contributed to an interception, against Tennessee. What did the Vols do against Alabama's elite edge rushers Will Anderson and Dallas Turner to keep Hendon Hooker clean?
BC: A lot of things go into that. First, start with the offensive line. Give those guys a lot of credit. But let's talk about play action. There's one thing that slows down a pass rush when they're playing run gaps. Secondly, they did a good job with a tight end or a back in there in protection. Third, and this is probably the part that people don't really understand, when your quarterback can take off at any time …
It's one thing when I can tee off and the quarterback can't really move. As soon as I create a rush lane against Tennessee's quarterback, he's going to take off. So they start rushing a lot more under control. They don't want to rush upfield because of runs, or they're afraid to rush upfield and create lanes because he can take off for 10, 20, 30 yards. Now you're trying to rush and contain the pocket.
When the guy can really throw it and really run it, it's (like having) 12 people on offense. It's so hard to defend. So hard.
Let's look at Alabama's last offensive possession. The Tide drove to first-and-10 at the Tennessee 32, threw three straight incompletions and missed a 50-yard field goal. There's been a lot of blowback about calling three straight pass plays there. Why didn't you run the ball, run clock, force UT to burn its timeouts? Although people seem to forget that Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs dropped the second-down pass in that sequence on a ball he usually catches. What's the thinking there and how much does the defense selling out to stop the run play into the offensive decision-making?
BC: How many plays are there in a game when the ball goes off a guy's fingertips or he makes a fingertip catch or a penalty is called that changes the game? All we all do is go to the outcome. So there's that.
One, if he catches that ball, we've got a different outcome probably. Secondly, if he misses the field goal, people say why didn't you attack? I probably would've run the ball on the last down. They were being aggressive. I get it. Me personally, yeah, I wouldn't have liked to have left them any time. I see the point of trying to score a touchdown and trying to get it closer so it's a 30-yard field goal instead of a 50-yarder.
On the other side, Tennessee got the ball back at the 32 with 15 seconds left. They could've taken a knee and gone to overtime. Instead they attacked, completed an 18-yard pass to midfield and called their second timeout. They then completed a 27-yard throw and called their last timeout to set up what became the game-winning 40-yard field goal. They worked that sequence to perfection. There was risk-reward as well in Heupel's decision to go for the win. What is the thinking there?
BC: He's got a lot of faith in his offense. He's an offensive coach. He's also seen what Alabama's offense has done, what Bryce Young does. He knows, "I've got an opportunity here (to win the game). I've got to take advantage of it." All of the above was probably his reasoning there. They couldn't have worked it any better. I don't know what happened on that field goal. It looked like it got tipped. You're living right when that one goes across.
Penalties again plagued Alabama. They had a school-record 17 penalties against Tennessee after being flagged 15 times earlier in the season at Texas. How do you as a coach try to cut down on penalties, and how much do you focus on the type of penalties? For example, Alabama had six false- start or delay flags at Tennessee.
BC: You look at every bit of it. Pre-snap penalties drive you crazy. Now people who have never played in that stadium or in any SEC stadium have no idea. I told you earlier this season you've got speakers on the field at Tennessee. You've got 100,000 people in one of the biggest games in the history of the school. You're going to have some pre-snap penalties, to be honest. You just are. As a coach, you know the ones that are just a part of it and the ones where someone just didn't do their job.
The pass interference calls, as a defensive coach, as a former secondary coach, there's a technique we all teach. There are things that get called sometimes and sometimes they don't. Then there are the stupid penalties, late hits or personal fouls.
Or the one where the Alabama player on the punt return team tried to jump on a bouncing ball, thinking it had been touched, which Tennessee then recovered to set up a short touchdown drive.
BC: Those are the ones that will drive you crazy. You lose your mind. I do think there's a mindset that, hey, this team got a lot of penalties the week before, they're just not disciplined. All of a sudden it becomes an officials' thing. I have heard it from officials. There's a mindset there. This is something we can talk about all day. We know as coaches what's undisciplined. We all want no penalties, but you also want your guys to be playing on the edge and hard. Sometimes it's where you're playing. Sometimes it is undisciplined, and you've 100 percent got to look at those.
Alabama loses so seldom that when they do, it becomes a catastrophe in the eyes of their own fans. They want to fire everybody but Nick Saban. When you consider the overall, one of the biggest games in Tennessee history, their best team in years, the hot start with three first-quarter touchdowns, it looked like it could be a blowout. Instead it came down to the kick Alabama missed and the kick Tennessee made. You dealt with expectations you created at UAB. Do you have to coach your fan base?
BC: You've got to be the voice of reason in all the madness. We've created these expectations, really unreal expectations for our program, just speaking in general. All of a sudden, this other team maybe has its best team in years, they're at home, oh and by the way maybe a few penalties went against us. You've just got to go, OK, well, maybe the Texas A&M game we got a little lucky and won it. It just balances out. We're looking at the body of work. The one good thing for a coach, the terrible thing and the great thing, you've got to turn around immediately and get ready for the next opponent. If you feel sorry for yourself, if you lick your wounds, you're going to get beat again. A coach is forced to move on. As I've always said, and this is one of my favorite things, we're not going to get beat twice. The way to lose twice is to let it linger after 24 hours. You hope to learn from your mistakes, but you have to move on because there's plenty of football left.