Alabama wasted no time pouncing on opponents last season, scoring on the first possession in 10 of its 15 games.

It also wasted no time earning new sets of downs, often doing so on first down through the air.

There is reason to believe Alabama will be even more prolific as first-down passers this season.

Last year, Alabama was one of the best in the nation in gaining a first down on 38.07 percent of its first-down pass attempts. With a loaded wide receiver corps, returning quarterback and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s track record of strong first-down passing, the No. 2 Crimson Tide could be lethal in the season opener against Duke.

“We’ve added some things to the offense, but we kept a lot of the things that were good for us last year,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think when you have the kind of skill guys we have and the capabilities that we have with the quarterback, I think we need to make explosive plays. I think it’s going to be important for our offense and it’s going to be important for our team.”

In getting a first down on 38.07 percent of its first-down attempts, Alabama was eighth in the nation in 2018 (sixth among those that threw at least 100 times on first down) and well above the national average of 28.19 percent. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had the nation’s third-best quarterback rating on first downs, among those with at least 100 such attempts, and 19 times gashed defenses for 25 or more yards on first down.

It was far from an individual effort. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was also efficient on first down, taking 12 of his 24 first-down catches for 15 yards or more. Fellow receiver Jaylen Waddle was not far behind, moving the chains on 13 of his 23 first-down catches.

All of those pieces returning suggests even more first-down fireworks in 2019. Sarkisian’s track record suggests he can continue the trend.

In Sarkisian’s first year as USC’s head coach (2014) the Trojans were top 30 nationally in moving the chains on 31.84 percent of its first-down attempts, 24th among teams with at least 100 attempts. When he was fired five games into the 2015 season, USC was up to 38 percent, which would have been eighth in the nation that season if maintained over the full schedule.

Sarkisian also had some success in this department at Washington, finishing above the national average in three of his five years there and as high as 13th in 2011, when the Huskies moved the chains on 34.13 percent of their first-down pass attempts.

How exactly Alabama goes about potent first-down passing remains to be seen. Sarkisian has made it known he intends to incorporate more pro-style concepts into the offense this season, yet perimeter talent as good as this roster has lends itself to the run-pass option game that last year’s team ran so well.

Tight ends also have a role in this. Irv Smith Jr. was used on first down nearly as often as Jeudy and Waddle, 22 catches to Jeudy’s 24 and Waddle’s 23. He was just as effective, too, taking 11 of those catches for first downs.

One thing is certain, whoever can produce the first-down big play will get that opportunity.

“Why wouldn’t we?” tight end Miller Forristall said. “If we keep scoring points because you can’t cover our four receivers, put in four receivers. I’m not saying we couldn’t do the same thing as tight ends. I think it’s going to be a personnel thing: 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.”