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How a Difference in Alignment Could've Tipped Off Ole Miss's Defense vs. Alabama

The Rebels could not to contain the Crimson Tide's explosive offense, but the secret to success comes from Bama's alignment in this go-to goal line set.

If Alabama is within a few yards of your end zone with seven players on the line of scrimmage combining to possess 29 recruiting stars worth of talent, your team is probably not going to stop it. Ole Miss didn’t stop it there or much of anywhere in the 42–21 popcorn-fueled loss that included this Cameron Latu short touchdown catch.

In fact, Florida’s the only team this season to mount a successful goal-line stand (defined here as Bama holding possession inside the 3-yard line), and it’s only because a penalty sent the Crimson Tide five yards backward and they opted for a field goal on fourth down.

Alabama does present various looks down on the doorstep. It will try to lighten the box a bit . . .

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Or if nothing’s working, it will even show a formation that’s downright spread in nature and more likely to be seen in the open field.

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But when it comes down to it, Alabama puts all the beef it can muster on the field in a classic school I-formation.

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Alabama calls this "black personnel," according to Nick Saban. The runs are simple. Plays hit so quickly in the low red zone that there often isn't much space or time to run something with elaborate pulling linemen once the ball is snapped. But Alabama will use pre snap motion with tight end Jahleel Billingsley in this go-to goal line set. Then it usually runs right down your throat like the Bama of old, just like it did with this early second-quarter touchdown against Ole Miss.

Billingsley’s alignment specifically makes things look different from the Latu touchdown later in the second quarter. You can see the subtle difference here in alignment after Billingsley finishes his pre-snap motion (Alabama’s running back is also deeper in the backfield behind the fullback).

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Here’s the look right before the snap for the touchdown early in the second quarter:

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And here’s the look right before Latu’s touchdown catch.

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Now, why does it matter?

You’ll notice that Latu’s touchdown was play action. He needs some space to sift through any trash that the Ole Miss penetration may cause so he can get out into the flat.

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Billingsley’s role is vital for two reasons: he can occupy a defender who may otherwise sink backwards and take away a possible throw to Latu, and he also could present an underneath option for Bryce Young to dump off to him if all else fails off the play-action fake.

Ole Miss bit on the play action, which is to be expected because Alabama scored on this same look from nearly the exact distance earlier in the game and it's obviously put the same run action on film. Even if the Mississippi defenders did notice the clear alignment tell, it’s one thing to see it and another to process what’s happening after a long drive getting your butt kicked. And to be frank, who’s expecting a pass here anyway? But that’s the point for the Tide.

Even if Ole Miss had picked up on the fact that it was coming, it would still have to stop it.

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