The saying goes numbers never lie, that saying is inaccurate. Numbers won’t necessarily lie, but they won’t tell you the full story.
For example, take the Newton vs. Tucker game and look beyond Tucker’s dominant performance by the numbers and you’ll see Newton was closer than ever and yet still far behind.
The game started out well, at least on offense, for both teams. The Rams elected to receive the ball and after five plays, Newton punted the ball back to Tucker and the Tigers quickly capitalized. On the fourth play of the drive, Raquan Rush took the option handoff and found himself in the endzone on a 57-yard run. (This same play, continued to be a problem for Newton throughout the first half.)
The Rams quickly answered on the ensuing drive. On their first play from scrimmage, the Rams QB Romario Johnson found Deandre Huff speeding past the defense for 58 yards and Newton had the ball at the Tucker 13-yard line. Johnson eventually found Huff for a five-yard score. The Rams planned to go for two but a penalty (another problem the Rams faced Friday night) forced them to take the PAT instead, and it was good. Early showings made it seem as if this was going to be a shootout, which it should have been.
The Tigers made their money on the ground, the numbers say Tucker ran the ball 40-plus times and finished with over 420 yards. But the story behind that powerful rushing attack is far more interesting.
The eye test will tell you even before the game started, you could see the difference in size on both teams. Tucker looked bigger mostly, and they were, but they were faster too. The Tigers were the far more physical team, which is to be expected from a team that plays ground and pound, smashmouth football. The Rams are more finesse, but still a tough team, just not as a physically intimidating as the Tigers.
On offense, when the ball was snapped the Tigers’ offensive line was immediately off the ball and in the Rams’ defensive line’s face. Tucker got an excellent push in the trenches all night, the Ram’s defensive line just wasn’t big enough. However, Newton didn’t just get ran through completely. A few times the defense made some excellent stops, but it just never was enough. Both A.J. Palomino and Nuka Yobo made some great tackles on the night.
Credit the Tigers’ play calling for a lot of their success against Newton. If the option run to Rush wasn’t successful, the Tigers’ brought in a stacked line that Newton had no answer for. The Tigers were already physically imposing their will on Newton, but when Tucker stacked its line with either multiple tight ends and one wideout or no wideout and multiple backs, all you could see was Rams’ players getting pushed downfield and Tiger running backs strategically following their blocks downfield. Some of the backs were small and hard to see behind their big blockers up front, a huge plus for Tucker.
When Newton did get stops they were quick and off the blocks, filling the gaps with bodies to bring down the ballcarrier quicker than the disappearance of Lebron James’ new hairline. Which would lead you to believe they could have been doing that all night, and that may be true but it’s highly improbable.
What is perplexing or well promising is Newton’s passing game, as Johnson threw for over 250 yards. Johnson got off to a blazing start going 10-12 for 199 passing yards in the first half as Newton trailed 29-15 at the break. The Rams’ exposed Tucker’s defense through the air. Davonta Jones had a field day on Newton’s second scoring drive, which saw him catch multiple passes including the touchdown and the two-point conversion.
Huff and Johnson made great catches on the night that went for big plays downfield. Leaving one to wonder why they didn’t attack the defense through the air more? The Rams ran the ball 11 times for 18 yards in the first half, getting nothing going on the ground against Tucker’s stout run defense. That’s not to say Tucker didn’t put pressure on Johnson when he dropped back to pass, because they did, but mostly the big plays were there for Newton. Obviously, you don’t wanna become one-dimensional and abandon the run completely but the Rams could have used the passing game more, to possibly open up the run.
After Tucker went up 29-15 in the second quarter and Newton got the ball back, the Rams turned the ball over on downs after getting into Tucker territory on a 43-yard pass to Johnson. After the completion, Newton ran the ball four straight times ending their drive on fourth-and-two when Johnson called his own number on the option. Had the Rams thrown the ball once or twice on that drive, it might have changed the game for them. A score there could have put them within a touchdown. When the Tigers got the ball back in the second half, they fumbled it almost immediately. Who knows what could have happened with the Rams down 29-22 with the ball in the third quarter. It might have been a different game, but that’s something we’ll never know.