ATLANTA — Miller Forristall knows the score when it comes to offensive usage on this year’s University of Alabama football team. It is a team with deep talent at both wide receiver and tight end; thus, the junior tight end won’t look at any one game’s stats as an indictment of his position group or the other one.
“I think it’s going to be a personnel thing,” Forristall said. “If they struggle lining up against four receivers, I would argue we’d see more four receivers; if they struggle with two tight ends, you’ll probably see more two tight end sets.”
Saturday was a day where both were useful options.
Yes, Jerry Jeudy had Alabama’s first 10-catch game since the 2016 Iron Bowl and there was still enough room for Jaylen Waddle to go for 90 yards. UA coach Nick Saban even mentioned the deliberate decision to get the ball to wide receivers on first downs. Still, tight ends were prominently featured in No. 2 Alabama’s 42-3 win over Duke, two of them catching touchdown passes and two-tight ends sets being deployed as the offense came to life.
Forristall was the beneficiary of the usage with his second-quarter touchdown reception. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith Jr. crossed the formation from left to right, drawing the attention of second-level defenders. Forristall crossed the opposite way underneath him and got vertical up the left seam, wide open.
“We talked about it all week and had it put in,” Forristall said. “I knew there was a shot of it getting called. We were trying to score a touchdown and the protection was pretty good and it worked out well.”
Forristall had two catches for 33 yards. Major Tennison had two catches for nine yards, one of them going for his first career touchdown.
Putting tight ends on the field, incidentally or not, directly correlated to Alabama’s offensive success.
In the first quarter, Alabama used two-tight sets on only two of its 19 plays. The Tide gained 90 yards in the quarter, 4.73 yards per play in a quarter that was lackluster by any standard. In the second quarter, two tight ends were on the field on nine of UA’s 30 plays, a 20 percent increase in two-tight end use; the Tide gained 160 yards (5.33 yards per play) and scored twice.
“Well they’re a 4-2-5 team, which means they play Nickel all the time. Sometimes when you have the ability to play bigger guys on the edges, it is helpful,” Saban said. “But that’s something we’ve always done. I think that’s an area of our team that we definitely need to continue to improve, the tight end position, because we don’t really have much experience at that position. So hopefully we’ll be able to continue to utilize those things and play a physical style up front that we’d like to be able to play.”
The way those tight ends were used makes it clear there is more to come. Forristall was seen in the slot at times, and in two tight end sets, sometimes they were used in a double-wing setup that presents nearly limitless options in both running and passing. UA also used them on the same side of the formation to create leverage that way.
It’s another weapon the Crimson Tide can use, and likely won’t show any hesitation exploiting.
“It’s really fun,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “I think it’s really fun for any offense when you’re scoring continuously. When you get in a rhythm and keep doing it, I think that’s really fun.”