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Masterclass: Tommy Rees’ playcalling vs. LSU wonderfully turned an opponent’s strength against them

If Alabama can get that version of Tommy Rees on a weekly basis, then his reputation evolves from much-maligned to downright hot commodity.

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been perhaps the most vocal critic of new Alabama Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees since the decision was made in February. That’s hardly any secret — I’ve written easily 20,000 words describing his offense, his offensive philosophy, his scattershot playcalling, inability to develop the quarterback position, and the demonstrable lack of results over a nearly 50-game run in 4+ seasons.

To recap those flaws — most of which were warned of and became manifest again in Tuscaloosa at various points:

  • Lack of coherent scheme: no plan — just plays
  • Inability to remain aggressive throughout the game
  • Surrender plays and drives in bad (and even mediocre) field position
  • Lack of productivity — not once at Notre Dame did he devise an offense that could hit 38 points on quality opponents. He was 0-fer-9, and in four of those, his teams didn’t even hit 20 points
  • Inability to adjust to the flow of a game or make adjustments on the fly
  • Heedless of analytic playcalling and wasting drives
  • Very predictable series
  • Tendency to turtle up to a dive play after a negative event.

But, just as I have criticized him, I am more than willing to publicly praise Rees when he does a good job. And Saturday, he did not do a good job. He did a great one. It was such a masterclass, in fact, that it may have been his magnum opus, the summa of an underachieving career at the OC position — at the least, it is by far his best day in a crimson polo.

Let’s see why.

Lack of Wasted Drives and Bad Analytical Calls

Second and long runs are the killer. By far and away, the worst analytical playcall on standard downs in football at any level. They are also ones that Tommy has been addicted to throughout his career. An incomplete first down pass is immediately followed up with a 2-yard no-hoper on 2nd and 10. That requires the Tide to make impossible to convert 3rd and longs multiple times throughout the course of a single drive. And the odds are simply against you. At Notre Dame, Rees averaged 5.5 such series a game, and they almost always resulted in punts, turnovers, or lost points on the board.

At Alabama, it has been a bit better, but the Tide still does so on 4.1 series per game — and, as at Notre Dame — you can get away with it here and there, or torch a defender over the top, but it is impossible to become an efficient offense, because you repeatedly hamstring your offense.

And it has not been an efficient offense this season. The Tide has its lowest drive efficiency numbers since 2016 (51st), it is just 28th in per-play efficiency, 39th in negative drives, 19th in per-rush efficiency, and 61st in opponent-adjusted per-pass efficiency. Even where it looks good, there is some ugliness beneath. It is 19th in the country in 3rd down conversions. but that is buoyed by MTSU and LSU — the two worst defenses the Tide played. In four other contests, Alabama was well below 40%. And inn SEC play Alabama is 3rd. But, pull out that LSU game, and the Tide plummets all the way 8th, just 39%.

The reason? Those “surrender drives,” as they are known, because you may as well just punt after running on 2nd and 8 or longer. Not only is it bad football, it’s also a tendency that has been scouted ruthlessly.

What happened on Saturday night? He simply didn’t do it.

Alabama was on its fourth drive of the night before it ran a drive-killing 2nd and long run and 2nd and 15. And LSU, the second worst run defense in the SEC, was there for it. They snuffed it out for no gain. Alabama would lose its valuable field position, and force Reichard into a much longer kick — his first miss of the year. (There’s that turtling thing).

It only happened two other times on the night across every new fresh set of downs — a game-ending kneel down, and a Milroe keeper inside the redzone, which he broke free for the score.

Well done mixing it up. Keeping LSU off-balance on second down, even long ones, left the Tide in far more manageable situations. It was the first conference game of the year where Alabama’s average to-make on 3rd down was under 5 yards.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Diverse Playcalling


Alabama was remarkably aggressive on the night. Remove the junk drives at the end of the half and game, and do you know how many times in the Tide’s remaining 8 series that it did not aggressively throw the ball on non-standard downs?

Just once, the opening drive.

In all 8 of those other possessions, Alabama hit the gas, kept its foot on the gas, and was aiming for the endzone. LSU was not ready for this iteration of Alabama either. They were prepared for — and played a game built around — the usual ‘Bama offense: conservative playcalling and deep heaves.

Alabama hit some deep shots, but it drove the field on all three of its TD drives in the second half and Will’s missed FG drive: There was not a single big play over 20 yards in those three scores. It was, in short, an efficient offense that got ahead of the chains and was able to march down the field.

Adjustment On The Fly

We’ve grown used to Alabama’s offense coming out of the gates slow, and it did so again on Saturday. However, its usual routine is to clean up the issues at halftime, then try again.

On Saturday, Alabama did no such thing. Rather, the Tide made an adjustment on the second series. It decided to move with a bit more tempo, to give Jalen quicker intermediate routes with one read, to give him less time to think and process, and it gave the Tide a much more dangerous offense.

This is most evident by giving the ball to Milroe in triple option looks once Rees noticed LSU was not spying Jalen. And since LSU never got around to putting a dedicated defender on the best athlete on the field, he kept going to that well...and to the jugular of the Tigers.

Using LSU’s Strength Against Them

In our preview last week, we noted that LSU’s defense is statistically bad but that it does some things very well — the same they did last year. They are aggressive underneath and take risky gambles at the corners, while generally dropping two deep to prevent shots over the top. Because of that, they force a lot of turnovers. It was clear that to beat these Tigers, the ‘Bama passing game would have to use that aggression from the corners, and the cushion from the two-deep, against the Tigers.

Perhaps the best way Rees turned the tables here was his repeated calling of an intermediate post-corner route. The receivers made hard charges to the post and then outstanding cuts to the sideline, just under the safeties, and it was there basically all night. In one series, Tommy called it twice, once to each side of the field, and it was a first down both times.

Some more instances of that included: the Tide running misdirection off of the triple-option to take advantage of LSU’s over pursuit, targeting Perkins in the running game since he is so light in the ass, and the use of jet sweeps. As we saw against the Volunteers, Rees used all 53 horizontal yards on the field.

Rather than preordained playcalling to Bama’s perceived strengths, the Tide found its strengths through targeting LSU’s weaknesses. That night, it just so happened to be that Alabama could find itself running the ball — 46 of its 69 plays were rushes.

Interesting Play Calls

The Crimson Tide called some genuinely interesting plays this game...and it began early. We’re not going to recap all 69 plays, but here were a few of our favorites.

  • Drive 1, Play 1 and Drive 2, Play 1 — Run by McClellan, with Law in backfield. Coupled with drive 2, play 1. Same formation, with Jam Miller, but this time Law swings out and Milroe hits in the flat. On the same drive Jam would get the carry out of this formation.
  • Drive 1, first 3rd down Attempt. Nice trips route combo with a delay to get Dippre open.
  • Milroe’s first TD on a designed run was a beauty of a blocking scheme.
  • 2Q, Drive 2. 3rd Down — swing pass to Jam Miller for a huge 33-yard gainer.
  • 3Q. Drive 1. 3rd Down — Fake QB sneak with handoff to Jam on 3rd and 1 yielded 10 yards. It was a thing of beauty after the Tide had already successfully run a normal QB sneak earlier in the game.

And so many more.

You really will just need to watch all of those snaps for yourself again.

Was it a perfect game for Rees? No, of course not. There are always going to be plays you want to claw back. But, what was striking, in all of the outstanding things Rees did that night, is what he did not do. He did not call surrender plays that killed drives, he rarely got conservative after a mistake, he was not predictable, he did not wait until halftime to change the scheme, and he did not call plays that were ran right into the teeth of LSU’s strength — preventing the deep ball. Alabama instead manufactured those big passing plays, and did so without busts and air yards: Screens, wheels, flares, double moves, etc.

Now having watched literally every play that Tommy Rees has called in five years, we’re comfortable saying it was truly his brightest moment as an offensive coordinator and gives us much hope that he can be this Tommy Rees going forward. IF we get this guy, then odds are good he won’t be in Tuscaloosa much longer, he’ll be carrying the whistle and coaching his own program.

Well done, and Roll Tide


How are you feeling about Tommy Rees now?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    He’s the GUY
    (51 votes)
  • 72%
    I’m cautiously optimistic
    (464 votes)
  • 9%
    (62 votes)
  • 7%
    Still down on him. LSU’s defense is just an aberration
    (47 votes)
  • 2%
    Please stop playing around and just fire him already
    (15 votes)
639 votes total Vote Now