What’s behind Alabama is behind it. That is, UA coach Nick Saban doesn’t want to talk about the past, but he and his staff did spend some time during the bye week to self scout, to recognize tendencies and try to use that knowledge to be more efficient going forward in the remaining four regular-season games.
In that spirit, what follows is a two-third season report card for the Crimson Tide.
Any breakdown of first-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense must start with the running game. The offense ranks No. 10 nationally in total offense yards per play, averaging 7.01 yards. The majority of the damage has come via the ground game. Alabama’s 6.34 yards per rush ranks fourth nationally. UA has 2,390 yards rushing through eight games. That total is evidence that the offensive line is opening holes with regularity. Six UA players have at least 100 yards rushing on the season with junior running back Damien Harris leading the way with 697 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has six rushing touchdowns and is the second leading rusher with 572 yards. Bo Scarbrough hasn’t had a breakout game this season, but the split of carries between the running backs has kept all the backs fresh.
The passing game ranks 28th nationally in yards per attempt (8.3) and is 16th in quarterback rating (155.59). With just over 200 yards passing per game, Alabama isn’t going to turn many heads, but when you put it into context to what it does on the ground the offense comes into clearer focus. Saban wants more explosive plays in the passing game and rightfully so. With a talented set of wide receivers that goes six deep, more explosive passing plays is an attainable goal.
Overall, the offense has been among the nation’s elite. The 43 points per game ranks sixth nationally. However, it’s worth pointing out that the offense has gone against six defenses ranked 70th (Texas A&M), 86th (Tennessee), 94th (Vanderbilt), 100th (Colorado State), 104th (Arkansas) and 119th (Ole Miss). Florida State (37th) and Fresno State (23rd) are more similar to what the Crimson Tide will face in three of its last four games. Auburn ranks 11th in total defense (yards per play), Mississippi State 26th and LSU 35th.
What if I told you that Alabama would lose seven difference makers on defense from a season ago and still field an elite defense? Because that’s exactly what happened despite Jonathan Allen, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Tim Williams, and Eddie Jackson departing for the NFL.
The defense ranks No. 2 in total defense yards per play, allowing opponents just 3.93 yards per play. For comparison, the 2016 unit allowed 3.99 yards per play (tops in the nation). As always, the dominance starts up front with stopping the run. Teams average just 2.31 yards per run against UA, ranking second nationally. The defensive line has performed well despite losing Allen and Tomlinson. Da’Ron Payne sets the tone and Raekwon Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Josh Frazier and others have established a good rotation. Anfernee Jennings’ and Rashaan Evans’ return to the defense has been the catalyst to what we’ve seen of late. The defense isn’t 2016, but it’s plenty good in its own right.
The pass defense has been best highlighted by the play of the cornerbacks, Anthony Averett, a second-year starter, and former walk-on Levi Wallace. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned leader of the secondary and Ronnie Harrison has played to his usual standard. The 5.4 yards per attempt allowed is tied for fourth-best nationally.
Special teams: B
This grade would’ve been a B+ or an A- save for the recent punt return ball security issues. Over the last two games, UA punt returners fumbled/bobbled four returns and lost two turnovers. Otherwise, the special teams has played well for Alabama this season. Andy Pappanastos has been consistent for the majority of the season in field goals, JK Scott has only allowed one punt return all season and the kick return has been solid as well.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.