The first caller on Nick Saban’s weekly radio show is almost always an Alabama fan named Peewee, and his question is almost always about the Crimson Tide’s offensive line play.
So it’s reasonable to think that Saban was ready for an offensive line question and had an answer in mind when Peewee was on the line on Thursday night. Saban’s answer goes in-depth about where the offensive line has come up short through four games, why that might be the case, and why some of it is to be expected as the offense adopts a new strategy this season. It’s a holistic answer that reveals some of what Saban likes from the group and why it still has room to improve.
Here’s the question and answer. If you’d like to watch Saban’s answer, you can click on the video. The question begins at about 41:26. If language offends you, there is a single profanity in Saban’s answer.
Peewee: The offensive line didn’t do a very good job of sustaining and getting some movement during the game last week, not being able to run the ball as effectively as we wanted to. When that happened on first and second down, it put us behind the sticks. How did they approach this week in what they did during the week to be able to correct that?
Nick Saban: “Right. Well, I think there’s a couple things at work here, and I’m not making excuses for the offensive line because there are times we have to be able to be able to run the ball in the game. Some of those times we have not done it successfully, even at this point. Whether it’s taking the air out of the ball at the end of the game when you go four-minute and you don’t give the ball back to the other team. We’ve consistently done that in games where the defense ends up playing a lot of plays in the fourth quarter. I don’t care who’s playing the game, if it’s a one-score game, that’s not something you ever really want to do. You’ve got to be able to run the ball in the red area.
“But let me take you back. I told everyone that we were going to have a different kind of team this year. When you have a quarterback like we have and you throw RPOs and you’re an offensive lineman and they call 25 runs in the game, and 20 times the quarterback pulls the ball and throws it down the field, aight, and you’re blocking your tail off up front, then all of a sudden he hands the ball off and you don’t block the play very well… So it’s not like the old days. It’s not like you and I, when we grew up and played where coach called 26 Power, we’re running 26 Power mud, flood, shit or blood, man. We’re going to run 26 Power. It don’t matter who’s there or what’s there, we’re going to run 26 Power and you knew you had to get a double team, you knew you had to get a kick out. It’s not like that anymore. If we run 26 Power and they’ve got an extra guy in the box, we throw X slant and make 25 yards and everybody says ‘Oh boy, that was great!’ But we didn’t block the Power very well. So then when we have to block the Power, we don’t block it very well.
“My point is, I’m not taking up for anything or anybody, but you’ve got to look at the whole thing from a thousand feet, aight? When you do that, you see there’s a lot of explosive plays that are created because of the style of offense that we have that make it very difficult for the defense.
“On the other hand, I want to agree with you that we need to be able to control the line of scrimmage better because there’s always times when you have to run the ball in the game. We have really good running backs, aight, so we have to be able to utilize their skill, and they’re all good receivers, so they’ve all contributed in the passing game as well at catching passes. This is a little bit of a philosophical thing. I even tell them on offense, ‘You can’t have an RPO this time. We’re in team run, you can’t throw an RPO, you’ve got to run the ball. They’ve got to know you’ve got to run it and we’re going to run it and the defense is going to play it and we’re going to see who wins.’ Gaining 3 or 4 yards is not bad. It’s not bad. We just don’t want to have negative plays. I think sometimes the expectation that we have, as a fan base, as a coaching staff, is that every play that we run is going to be hugely successful. We’re going to gain 20 yards on every time we run the ball and we’re going to gain 20 yards every time we throw it. And I think you have to give the other team a little bit of credit. Texas A&M had a really good front seven. They played physical, they played hard in the game. We never got to the point where they said ‘Uncle.’ They never game up in the game. I mean, they were calling timeout at the end trying to score another touchdown. That’s not a good thing from our standpoint in terms of how we want to physically control and dominate a game. But again, it’s not really the style of play that has been successful for us so far.
“So if we want to take all those big plays away… 11 explosive passes over 20 yards last week, and 600 yards we’re gaining in the game because we’re doing what we’re doing. If we want to take that all away and go high yucca ball, and play what I call ‘wad ball,’ when everybody gets in the box and we see if we can gain three yards… We can go back to that. If that’s what y’all want. We can do that. I mean, I’m fine with that. Peewee, is that what you want to do? Aight? Well then, let’s give the offensive line a little bit of credit.”
Alabama’s offense posted 524 total yards and a season-high 8.59 yards per play last week against Texas A&M but had 28 carries for 109 yards. It was the fewest carries for Alabama since posting 21 in a 2013 win over Colorado State, and the fewest rushing yards since a 2014 win against Arkansas.
Alabama also took the ball with 7:36 to go but stalled out after two first downs, punting to Texas A&M with 3:03 to go. Alabama had similar situations against Ole Miss, Arkansas State and Louisville. Against Ole Miss, UA started a drive with 4:09 before the backup offense went three-and-out to give the ball back to the Rebels. Against Arkansas State, the backup offense went three-and-out after taking over with 2:41 to go. Louisville got the ball with 3:39 to go in the game after forcing another three-and-out and scored a touchdown on its final possession.
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.