NEW ORLEANS – The Alabama offense is forward-facing, Brian Daboll said on Thursday. Players didn’t want to talk about last year’s postseason swap from one offensive coordinator to another. Daboll didn’t want to reminisce about the Crimson Tide’s loss to Auburn in November.
“I’m so focused on Clemson right now,” Daboll said. “That’s a month ago. It would be a disservice to talk about anything but Clemson.”
Moving forward is an apt description for Daboll’s offense in his first year in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has improved from 38.8 points per game last season to 39.1 points per game in 2017. This year’s unit has averaged more points per game despite the tributary of non-offensive touchdowns that fed last year’s total.
Total yardage has ticked up, from 455.3 yards per game to 465.4. Yards per play is also up, from 6.47 to 6.92.
“I think that we are No. 1 in the country in limiting negative plays,” left tackle Jonah Williams said. “We’re also No. 1 in the country in run efficiency. So I would say that’s pretty impressive stats that zero people have ever said out loud or will say out loud. I think that says a lot for the consistency of the offense and the cohesiveness of it, as well as the execution on everyone’s part. And not a lot of turnovers.”
There’s no recognized stat for “limiting negative plays,” but Alabama does rank fourth nationally in tackles for loss allowed, at 3.75 per game. Alabama ranked 108th nationally in that same stat last year, allowing 7.2 tackles for loss per game. UA has given up 22 sacks this year, which is included in its 45 total tackles for loss allowed.
Alabama has also given up just eight turnovers this season, just six of which came on offense. Alabama and LSU are tied for the fewest turnovers surrendered nationally.
That’s key for any offense, but may be even bigger for Alabama. Nick Saban’s roster is unlikely to face a talent deficit in any game. That means if Alabama doesn’t make mistakes like turnovers or blown plays, its one-on-one matchups are more likely to give it an advantage.
“You have to stop from losing before you can win,” Williams said. “You have to stop from getting a negative play before you can create a positive one. I think that’s crucial. That’s something that we’ve kind of taken upon ourselves, to say we kind of have to eliminate mistakes and execute as cleanly as possible.”
Clemson’s disruptive defense will present a strength-on-strength matchup for Alabama. The Tigers lead the nation with 44 sacks and are fourth nationally with 104 tackles for loss. Alabama’s strength may be in moving forward, but Clemson can push back.
“It’s a challenging defense in terms of the personnel and the scheme that Coach (Brent) Venables (Clemson’s defensive coordiantor) runs,” Daboll said.
Steady progress has been the goal this season, from one drive to the next and one game to the next. That’s been Daboll’s responsibility.
Williams said it’s been good to have stability from Daboll this season. His four-year stint with the New England Patriots meant he was a good cultural fit at Alabama, too.
“He’s consistent. He’s organized. He brings some fire to the table,” center Bradley Bozeman said. “He’s very motivating when the time is right.”
Daboll was willing to entertain questions about the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday. But mostly, he was looking for a way to move forward.
“I’m really focused on this week,” Daboll said. “I don’t go back in terms of numbers or anything like that. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we weren’t concentrating solely on the task at hand with the team we’re about to play.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.