Alabama football's offense has shiny pieces, but can Nick Saban put them together? | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

There are certain problems the college football world at large refers to “Alabama problems.” Those are difficulties that arise, not from a lack of talent, but an inconsistency that doesn’t reach the Nick Saban standard. It’s probably a fair estimate to say that 70% of Power Five offenses don’t have multiple playmakers at their disposal. Alabama, as it annually accumulates top recruiting classes, has plenty. 

That starts with a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback, even if he seems to be a quiet one as Heisman contenders go. That’s not to say that Bryce Young doesn’t get his share of attention, but even in Tuscaloosa he doesn’t seem to have the fervent interest (or warm embrace) that surrounded Tua Tagovailoa or Mac Jones.

He is supplemented by a senior running back, Brian Robinson, Jr., who is having the best year of his career and steadily becoming more productive. There are two wide receivers who, if not performing at Heisman level, have game-breaking potential in John Metchie III, coming off his best game of the year at Mississippi State, and Jameson Williams, the Ohio State transfer who is rising up NFL draft boards.  

Alabama football mailbag:Bryce Young running, DB interceptions and Jahleel Billingsley

More Alabama football:Nick Saban put foot down when he called for Alabama to run I-formation in red zone | Hurt

There is tight end Jahleel Billingsley, who has been somewhat quiet in the past two games. The offensive line, while it might not have the elusive and often-cited chemistry, does have the top pro prospect in America, tackle Evan Neal, to build around. 

For all those pieces, Alabama coach Saban said on his Monday Zoom call that Alabama’s “offensive identity” was “still sort of up in the air.”

"If we continue to play like we did in the last game, I think that we can develop a real positive identity,” he said.

That probably incorporates the offense and defense in the 49-9 win over Mississippi State, with Saban seeing the two units as complementary.

 "We competed in the game the way I'd like to see us compete,” he said. “The question is, does this become who we are?"

Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) waits for the play against Mississippi during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

There is something remarkable in hearing a 40-point SEC win described as a starting point, especially midway through the season. That raises the possibility that this Alabama offense may never establish an “identity,” in Saban’s definition, but will continue to be a collection of gifted individuals.

That might be enough to get through the four remaining regular-season SEC games although each one of the opponents, even tumultuous LSU, presents just enough problems to be worrisome. Who knows, maybe LSU now has an identity since a little-used running back on a team desperate for a rushing attack suddenly put his name alongside Herschel Walker in the SEC record books. Ty Davis-Price, a former teammate of Alabama linebacker Christopher Allen at Baton Rouge Southern Lab High, may now be LSU’s offensive identity.

That doesn’t mean Alabama can instantly flip a similar switch, or that it can look past Tennessee, or that LSU might not go rat-trap against Ole Miss this Saturday. But Saban is still seeking some sort of certainty, which has to lie somewhere in all of those shiny pieces.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt