Some quarterbacks are great. Some, inevitably, are greater than others.
No quarterback is great enough to transcend the first rule of football: The team that dominates the line of scrimmage will almost always win the game. A great defensive line that isn’t neutralized by a similarly strong offensive line on the other side will stop the other team from running the football. Once a team becomes one-dimensional, the passing game becomes harder to execute. The quarterback, if he’s elusive enough, can counter that in some ways but he can’t negate the pressure completely.
In the Alabama-Florida State game, both defensive lines did that, to some extent. Alabama never quite lost the will to run, but it was tough. Bo Scarbrough spent much of the second half in Atlanta pounding out 2- to 3-yard runs that made no highlight reels, but sustained the offense with his sheer juggernaut determination to move forward and keep the clock doing the same.
A great offensive line, one that can run block and protect the passer, makes an average quarterback look good and a good one look great. The only problem is that building a great offensive line – let’s use the Alabama 2012 unit as a recent standard – is one of the tougher things to do in college football. Chemistry and consistency are crucial. One weak link and the whole unit looks bad. This year’s Alabama team is still finding its way up front, but Nick Saban made a clear point on Monday: There isn’t really much sense in talking about how a quarterback plays until you talk about the offensive line.
“When you look at the film, there are probably seven plays where we have a hat on a hat (that is, blockers on the designated defenders),” Saban said at his weekly press conference. “If we finish one block, that play – those seven plays – would be significantly more successful, maybe an explosive, big play.
“Pass protection, the same thing. We had some throws called where we did not have time to execute. Do you blame that on the quarterback?”
Now, complaining about the offensive line is an Alabama constant. I’d rank it fourth overall in my Historic Complaints About Every Alabama Game Ever Power Poll, behind “Can’t Sign A Kicker,” “Backup Quarterback Should Play” and “Cornerbacks Don’t Look For Ball,” but just ahead of perennial power complaint “Throw It To The Tight End,” which wasn’t really an issue on Saturday. The Alabama offensive line is not a disaster area. No one has sacked Jalen Hurts 11 times in a game. Tackle Matt Womack was the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week in his second career start, for heaven’s sake.
As Saban says every week, it’s a work in progress, made more so by the problem any coach likes. There are talented young players competing for jobs.
Colorado State will be a good test in the upcoming game – not as powerful and athletic up front as Florida State, but better than Fresno State. Vanderbilt, the SEC opener coming up after that, has been very good defensively under Derek Mason. Those defenses won’t let Alabama score on every single possession and every time that Alabama has to punt (or turns the ball over, although that hasn’t happened yet), it will not automatically be the quarterback’s fault. But if Saban’s theory is correct, and the blocking is getting better, then some of those seven “hat-on-hat” situations should turn into explosive gains.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.