Each team in college football has three types of receivers: the deep threats, the short yardage gainers and the chain movers. The deep threats are self-explanatory. They are the individuals with the 4.20 or 4.30 (in the 40-yard dash) speed that can get on top of a secondary and score touchdowns off huge gains. The short yardage receivers are the ones that specialize in getting five to ten yards off bubble screens, short hitch or drag routes and slant routes. The chain movers are the most important ones because they keep drives alive. It is their job to locate the first down marker on third down and run a precise, crisp route that will move the chains and provide their team with a fresh set of downs to work with. If there is one thing we know as avid college football viewers, it’s that it doesn’t matter how many deep threat receivers you have on a team that can irritate defenses with speed, if you don’t have receivers that can convert third downs and keep your offense on the field, you are not going to win many games.
For the Alabama Crimson Tide, they have had their share of deep threat receivers in the past with players like Tyrone Prothro, DJ Hall and Julio Jones. They have also had their share of short yardages receivers with players like Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Keith Brown. Currently, the burners for the Tide are Amari Cooper, Kenny Bell, Chris Black and DeAndrew White. The dink and dunk receivers are Jones’ Boys, Christion and Cyrus. So what is Alabama missing? In the six seasons under head coach Nick Saban and prior, the Tide has lacked a true third down receiver. Marquis Maze gave it a valiant effort, but he was known more as a return specialist. With his height of 6 feet and 4 inches tall, Julio Jones makes for a wonderful third down target to find, but he was always known as a deep threat. Alabama found its true third down receiver in 2011, his name was Kevin Norwood.
Kevin Norwood may not be as physical as Julio Jones and he may not have the speed of Marquis Maze, Amari Cooper, Kenny Bell or DeAndrew White, but when it comes down to keeping a drive alive and keeping your offense on the field, No.83 is the player you look for. Norwood is not the type of receiver that gets all the hype and attention, but that’s fine with me because I’d rather see you do the little things right and help us win, than to lose focus on the task at hand. In the 2011 season, Norwood was used sparingly. He had 11 receptions for 190 yards (18.7 yards per catch). His break out performance that year came on the biggest stage, the 2011 BCS National Championship Game inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, La) against LSU. Prior to that game, Alabama faced LSU in the regular season in a game in which analysts called “The Game of the Century.” LSU QB Jordan Jefferson was the difference maker in that game. Alabama struggled in the red-zone and couldn’t capitalize on big drive opportunities. In a tightly contested defensive game, the Tide watched their desire to win slip away at home as they lost 9-6. The opportunities Alabama failed to cash in on in the regular season, they made up for it big time in the title game. Behind offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Alabama created a different scheme to attack LSU. The plan was to pass on first down and it paid off huge.
The receiver that led the attack was Kevin Norwood. He had four receptions in the game for 76 yards, including two key third down conversion receptions that he caught on top of LSU DB’s Brandon Taylor and Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu. With the contributions of Norwood, poetic justice of placekicker Jeremy Shelley and the defense completely suffocating LSU, Alabama shut out the Tigers and won its 14th BCS title 21-0. Norwood returned the following season to prove that his BCS heroics were not a fluke. In the 2012 season, Norwood got more opportunities to shine and showed his teammates and the coaching staff just how valuable he was. He had 29 receptions for 461 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. He had four big games last season: Western Kentucky, Auburn, Notre Dame and LSU. Against Western Kentucky, Norwood had three receptions for 92 yards (30.7 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. Against Auburn and Notre Dame combined, he had eight receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
I mentioned earlier that Alabama defeated LSU in the BCS title game in 2011. The game was played in New Orleans, Louisiana. For those you who are good with GPS navigation or Google maps, New Orleans is just one-hour and 22 minutes away from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The defeat that LSU took from Alabama in 2011 was just about at home, the defeat they took last year from the Tide was at home in their own backyard of Tiger Stadium “Death Valley” in Baton Rouge, La. Tiger Stadium is a very hostile environment. It is full of ruckus, passionate, screaming LSU fans that crave the defeat of the opposing team. It is bad enough for SEC opponents to play there in the daytime, but it at night all types of crazy elements happen in Death Valley.
Head Coach Les Miles coined the death trap stadium of the SEC as the place where opponents’ dreams come to die. Even scarier than his statement is the way the moon looks at night in Tiger Stadium. It is always something weird and ominous about the moon when opposing teams play in Tiger Stadium at night. On Sat, Nov. 3, 2012, Alabama took on the daunting task of trying to silence Death Valley and walk away with a win. The game took on the form of the 2011 regular season game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was filled with some huge plays, turnovers and self-inflicting mistakes. LSU had countless opportunities to put the game away in the fourth quarter, but failed to do so and left time Alabama with 1:34 remaining in regulation with two timeouts.
The stadium that Les Miles coined as the place where opponents’ dreams come to die backfired on him late in the fourth quarter. On the final drive, backed up on their own 20-yard line, Alabama showed the nation why shouldn’t let a team especially the defending national champs hang around in a game. In an 80-yard drive that consisted of five plays, QB AJ McCarron became a man and WR Kevin Norwood became the most appreciated player on the planet. LSU’s defensive coordinator John Chavis had the perfect game plan set up. He wanted his defense to play tight on the Alabama receivers and not give up a lot of cushion, along with not allowing any receiver to get behind you. Les Miles, on the other hand, thought the Crimson Tide would play it safe and go for the field-goal to tie the game at 17 and send it to overtime. He told the defense to play in prevent formation. The prevent formation is when defensive backs play 7-10 yards off a receiver. They will give the receivers a small cushion, but deny the big gains. For Les Miles and LSU the plan burned them. Kevin Norwood found holes in the formation and caught three passes for 10+ yards, including a critical third down conversion reception to move the chains. It was Norwood’s three receptions that helped set up the game-winning screen pass from McCarron to TJ Yeldon. The touchdown not only gave Alabama the 21-17 victory, but it shocked, dismantled, quieted and destroyed the hearts of the record-high 93,374 fans in attendance.
Alabama went on to win back-to-back national titles with the victory over the Irish, but if it wasn’t for Kevin Norwood this wouldn’t be possible. Kevin Norwood has established himself a consistent target for AJ McCarron. He returns as one of the leaders of this speedy and talented receiving core this season. The question for him is can he continue to be the chain mover and the third down target for Alabama?