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Sarkisian, Jones Manipulate Ohio State on Key Passing Plays

Alabama created a significant advantage by scheming up the Ohio State secondary on key plays in the first half, which helped them pull away from the Buckeyes.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Even as the dust, and confetti, settled on Hard Rock Stadium into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it wasn't easy to comprehend how Alabama blew by Ohio State for the national title. 

Mac Jones threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns in capping a season full of offensive showcase efforts with perhaps his best performance. 

A loss to this Alabama team isn't anything to look down upon, but it was the way it went down that should leave Buckeye fans scratching their collective heads. It was the known superstars of the roster, with wideout DeVonta Smith and running back Najee Harris that made most of the biggest plays in the passing game. 

The conventional big game thought of not allowing that big-name player to beat you went out the window the moment Alabama got the ball for the first time. Outside of Baron Browning's strip-sack of Jones, the Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on its first five possessions. The trio made up each of the five, including the final four of the first half through the air.

The game got away from OSU in those key early drives and there were common themes in dissecting each of the four passing scores that put Alabama up for good. 

Jones to Smith for 5 yards (Alabama goes up 14-7)

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian realized the run game wasn't going to be an easy task all night long (Harris averaged 3.6 yards per carry), he went deep in the playbook on third and goal from the 5. He aligned Smith staggered behind the tight end, near the end of the line of scrimmage. OSU corner Sevyn Banks shaded with outside leverage, 5 yards off of Smith, likely signaling a man coverage look. 

On the snap, Smith went into orbit motion as if he was to give the look of a reverse, only to stop ahead of the mesh point, allowing Banks to over pursue in anticipation of Smith moving towards the wide side of the field. Smith's quickness allowed him to clear back out towards the near sideline for as easy a score as one could have planned for.   

Jones to Harris for 26 yards (UA up 21-14)

We spent a lot of time on this play as a key point in Alabama's passing efficiency soon after it happened. Browning's big play versus Jones, in which he rushed from depth so quickly the kick out block wasn't on time, would become bait on UA's very next drive. Alabama motioned its sole outside receiver to the short side, John Metchie, before the snap and the Buckeye defense had Banks vacate that side of the field to play as a high cover man. 

On the snap, a look blocked and set up as a half-roll to the motion side, triggered Browning to again rush from depth with just one eligible receiver on his side of the ball in Harris, whom looked in position to pick him up off the edge. Instead, Harris ran right by him and Jones just needed to get the ball up over his arms and it was off to the races. Harris would adjust to the contested football with plenty of green grass. Then he made Banks and Tuf Borland miss on an over pursuit in front of the goal line. 

Jones to Smith for 5 yards (UA up 28-17)

Sarkisian used pre-snap motion with Smith aligned tight again inside the 5, just on the wide side of the field this time. Sometimes called yo-yo motion because it's back and forth appearance, Jones and Smith identified Banks traveling with Smith each way, signaling man coverage near the goal line once again. 

Banks mirroring Smith from 7 or 8 yards away created a lot of room once the ball was snapped and the Heisman winner just flared out flat down the line of scrimmage in order to get the ball in short order. At that point he just had to beat Banks to the pylon, which he did with ease.  

Jones to Smith for 42 yards (UA up 35-17)

The most troubling of the Smith scores was the last one, just before the half, when it appeared he wasn't a part of the primary reads. Aligned as the No. 3 wide receiver in a wide open look, Smith attacked the linebackers in the nickel look in what appeared to be a clear out route to occupy zone responsibility with the second and third level defenders. The moment Borland opened his hips in recognition of Smith's occupation of his zone, Jones was already on the third read and it just took some air on the football to hit the dagger throw on this night. 

Ohio State was in a one-high look against the four wide receiver set, in a clear passing situation, so Smith aligned as the most interior receiver provided the shortest path vertically. The two receivers outside of him stemmed outside routes to open up deep safety Marcus Williams' hips, widening the margin for error on Jones' throw in the most microcosmic play of the evening for the Buckeye back end. 

Sure, Alabama had to execute these plays thanks to another great showing up front and gifted, future NFL pass catchers, but the argument could be made that Kerry Coombs and company made it a bit easier on Sarkisian in the chess match that emphasized the margin more than the measure of each roster's talent may have.


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