Even Without Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Has Most Returning Offensive Stability In SEC

Christopher Walsh

Something very strange happened in the Southeastern Conference during the offseason.

There are five new head coaches in the league with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss, Eliah Drinkwitz at Missouri, Mike Leach at Mississippi State and Sam Pittman (B-R) at Arkansas.

But that’s not unusual.

Among the teams that didn’t make a change at the top, many have new coordinators including Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Auburn and Vanderbilt on the offensive side.

That's also not unusual.

The pillar of coaching staff stability was … Alabama?

Ok, that's different. 

After a couple of years of extreme turnover on the coaching staff, Nick Saban only replaced one assistant coach after the 2019 season, bringing in former Crimson Tide player Freddie Roach to handle the defensive line. 

With Steve Sarkisian sticking around, Alabama will have some continuity with the play-caller for the first time since Lane Kiffin departed during the 2016 College Football Playoff.

The man who replaced him for the national championship game? Sarkisian, who then left to be the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.

Here’s a taste of how Alabama’s biggest offensive changes compare to some other teams in the SEC this year:

Alabama: The Crimson Tide’s biggest change on offense is obvious, no more Tua Tagovailoa. But losing him to an injury in early November caused Mac Jones to step up earlier than expected and he also ran the offense through bowl practices. It’ll surprise many to learn that Jones finished third in the SEC in passer efficiency with a 186.8 rating, behind only Tagovailoa (206.9) and Joe Burrow (202.0). Overall, he was 97-for-141, 1,503 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. A lot of fans will clamor for freshman sensation Bryce Young, but he’ll still have to clearly beat out Jones to start, and the junior has a huge head start in terms of experience and familiarity. Alabama’s other major departures on offense were right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, but the Crimson Tide has solid replacements ready to step up. Every other offensive starter is back. …. The Crimson Tide has had eight players test positive for the coronavirus, which each subsequently quarantined. Alabama players went through their first workouts under David Ballou and Dr. Matt Rhea, who are heading up the sports performance department, and are already raving about them.

Florida: The biggest change offensively for the Gators entering the 2020 season is undoubtedly the loss of four wide receivers to the NFL. While Florida returns plenty of offensive firepower, namely in tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney, starting quarterback Kyle Trask surely will miss the presence of four professional-caliber pass-catchers who maade his job easier. As Trask enters his first full season as a starter following an impressive breakout campaign, the hope is that his veteran leadership should offset those losses a good bit. — Zach Goodall, AllGators

LSU: The Tigers are undergoing many offseason changes on offense, starting with the departures of Joe Burrow and Joe Brady. The two were the catalysts of LSU’s historic offensive output last season and are being replaced with Myles Brennan at quarterback and Scott Linehan as passing game coordinator. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger knows this offense inside and out now, so Brady’s departure is a little easier to stomach. The real question is what will Brennan look like with four new starters on the o-line, a new running back and slot receiver. Still plenty of unknowns in Baton Rouge as camp approaches. —Glen West, LSU

Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin is in, replacing head coach Matt Luke and defacto play-caller Rich Rodriguez. Following Kiffin to Oxford on the offensive staff is Jeff Lebby, the former offensive coordinator at UCF who led the Knights to 536.6 yards per game one season ago, a number that ranked fourth nationally. Then there's the biggest question any team has offensively – who in the hell is going to play quarterback for the Rebels this year? Both (rising) junior Matt Corral and (rising) sophomore John Rhys Plumlee started in games and played valuable SEC snaps one season ago, sometimes even swapping who was under center mid-game and other times playing on the field together. It was a bizarre set of circumstances under Rich Rod that ideally won't be replicated. Kiffin is going to pick a quarterback, but the big question is which one? Another name at the position that many have been overlooking is Grant Tisdale, a former four-star dual threat recruit out of Allen, Tex. who started two seasons after backing up Kyler Murray in high school, winning a Texas 6A State Championship in 2017. Tisdale redshirted one year ago, but is very much in the running for that starting spot.— Nathanael Gabler, The Grove Report 

South Carolina: The biggest change on offense was the hiring of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. He obviously already has a familiarity with the SEC from his time at Georgia (2007-14). The Gamecocks were one of the few teams that were able to get several spring practices in before the shutdown, giving Bobo a chance to get an initial glance at what he has to work with. He's looking to bring a balanced attack to South Carolina and has a history of developing NFL talent at the running back position. He may just have that in freshman MarShawn Lloyd, who is already drawing comparisons to former UGA running back D'Andre Swift. With the passing game, Ryan Hilinski appears to be the favorite to win the starting quarterback position and Bobo said he is focusing on the fundamentals with him. Waiting in the wings is local standout Luke Doty, who has drawn praise for how quickly he's adapting from both Bobo and head coach Will Muschamp. - Chaunte'l Powell, Gamecock Digest, @chauntelpowell

Vanderbilt: Where to start? The Commodores have undergone an almost total makeover since 2019. The biggest change though has to be the addition of offensive coordinator Todd Fitch who comes over from Louisiana Tech to replace Jason Tarver, who was released following the season. Fitch directed an offense that won four consecutive bowl games and averaged 47.5 ppg in 2019 for Tech. His addition has brought some excitement to a fan base that called for the firing of head coach Derek Mason after last season’s 3-9 finish. The Commodores must also replace their best running back, receiver, and tight end (all in the NFL this season) and quarterback along with three offensive linemen. Fitch must oversee an almost total rebuild on offense, which isn't the worst thing considering how poorly they were there last season. .... Vanderbilt fans are itching to get back to football, even though it was a very uneasy week for college football. - Greg Arias/Commodore Country, @gregAriasSports 

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Joey Blackwell
Joey Blackwell

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