A common metaphor in football involves the game “slowing down” for a player. It is typically applied whenever a player enters a new, more competitive league, whether it is stepping up from high school to college or from college to professional football. The game doesn’t actually slow down, but as a player gains familiarity with the level of sport, they stop thinking and start reacting.
One of the pillars of the game slowing down for any player, aside from repetitions and experience, is film study. Watching how opponents play on tape gives a window into what they are good at, as well as what makes them uncomfortable. It creates a “cheat sheet” so that instead of having to spend moments thinking about an event on the field, the well-studied player will gain a split second by reacting properly to the developing play.
There’s a rarely seen wrench being thrown into the works by the Ohio State Buckeyes as they match up with Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st, and it is that it is more difficult to create a cheat sheet since starting quarterback Cardale Jones has only played in one full game.
Multiple Alabama defenders talked about this unique kind of adversity and how they are trying to overcome it. Many, such as Tide defensive lineman Xzavier Dickson, defaulted to the rhetoric about how even with the lack of film, it is on the defense to come out and dominate.
Defensive back Cyrus Jones, known among media members for excellent quotes, gave a more nuanced answer when the Cardale Jones conundrum was posited to him. He said, “I think you prepare for him just like you were playing Braxton Miller or JT Barrett. They’re (Ohio State) not changing what they want to do as far as offensive scheme, so we have to stick to what we’ve been gameplanning on and been taught about how to attack them.”
Linebacker Reggie Ragland exuded confidence when he was asked about Cardale Jones by multiple media members, though he took a wait-and-see approach to his answer. Where Cyrus Jones pointed to similarities between Buckeye quarterbacks to quash some doubts, Ragland stated the lack of film does affect some preparation, but that the Alabama defense “will see what type of quarterback he really is in the first ten minutes of the game and see what we need to see and make the necessary checks that we need to in order to play against him.”
Ragland’s response does a great job encapsulating the problem, and its solution. While the cheat sheet will be more generic since there isn’t as much source material to pull from, once Alabama sees Jones through a series or two at the beginning of the game, the test will reveal itself. Once it does, it will be on the coaching staff to come up with effective counters to Jones.
The most interesting response came from cornerback Eddie Jackson. He felt that the Tide simply had to use the resources at their disposal and study Wisconsin in-depth to try to learn his (Jones’s) strengths and weaknesses to formulate something to affect him. The response is interesting since it completely sidesteps the film problem.
Adversity like preparing for Cardale Jones without the usual bank of film isn’t unknown to this team. The 2014 season has thrown multiple curve balls at the Crimson Tide, from a loss to Ole Miss to a track meet in the Iron Bowl. If the worst comes to pass, and Jones manages to catch Alabama by surprise early on, Reggie Ragland’s words will prove prophetic.