O.J. Howard’s Implementation Was A Genius Move by Lane Kiffin
It came in the most important game of the season, but the performance from Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Game was one for the ages.
One of my longtime friends and myself have an ongoing joke when a team (specifically Alabama) throws the ball to the tight end. Saving you the explanation of the inside joke, it's basically him texting me immediately after an Alabama tight end makes a great catch, "Do I really even have to say it?"
Needless to say, this exchange happened five times on Monday when Howard finished with 208 yards and two TD's on five catches, and predictably, our text messages become a little more eccentric throughout the night. Alabama's tight ends have not been used like this in a long time, but what a time to interject Mr. Howard into the game plan.
It's become a running joke for many Alabama fans to give grief to offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin about not running the ball enough (yes, that pun was definitely intended), but when one element of the offense is working at maximum efficiency, Kiffin uses it to exploit the other team's defense. And the fact that they hadn't used the tight end all season as a serious weapon was about as good of a set up as one could have leading into a national championship game.
After 14 games of the 2015 season, the Crimson Tide had only thrown to Howard 33 times, and he had only gained 394 yards receiving. He wasn't an integral part of the passing game all season to say the least. Case in point, the most receptions that he had in a single game was seven (against Tennessee), and he was only able to produce 55 yards on those seven catches.
When a team has an elite athlete like freshman Calvin Ridley out wide, it's easy and obvious to shift your defensive game plan to contain him, especially given the talent of Clemson's secondary. And even given their highly touted defensive front (and possibly underrated), containing Derrick Henry for the better part of the second half was also in their master plan. They were able to do both. Ridley was held in check for just 14 yards on six catches, and Henry, while having a big first half, was not near as effective as he usually is in the second half of games.
So how could Alabama win a game against a team with the best quarterback in the nation? Throw it to the tight end, of course.
One of Howard's TD grabs was on a faked wide receiver screen, when he lined up out wide and acted like he was going to block the cornerback for a screen to senior Richard Mullaney. The corner bit on the fake screen (as was probably seen on film either during the prep time leading up to the game or from the booth earlier in the game), and Howard simply released and made one of the most wide open catches of the season.
Since he's a junior, Howard may or may not return for his senior season next year. But if he does decide to return to The Capstone, you know teams will be forced to take some time to prepare for him now, and that will only do Calvin Ridley and the Tide running game a really big favor.