College Football Can Only Blame Itself for Unleashing Alabama's Offensive Potential
Be careful what you wish for.
That's the message college football should take in this season as it watches offensive powerhouse Alabama cut through defenses seemingly at will.
Yes, Alabama. The program known for punishing running games and stifling defenses might have the best offense in college football. The Crimson Tide is averaging a jaw-dropping 561.3 yards per game, and 48.5 points. It's doing so while playing an SEC-only schedule.
Granted, it's a bit of a perfect storm in a way, with four returning offensive linemen, top-end running backs, elite wide receivers, a veteran quarterback who knows the system and a returning offensive coordinator (nowadays a rarity in Tuscaloosa).
It scored 52 points against No. 13 Texas A&M, picked by some to be the second-best team in the SEC West.
Against Ole Miss, it scored touchdowns on its last eight possessions, and nine overall. It was a foot away from a 10th, only to have a fumble at the 1 (when the ball carrier was stacked up while playing in a rainstorm from a hurricane).
“This is probably the best team coach [Nick Saban] has had, as far as being balanced and not having any holes anywhere," said Lane Kiffin, now the head coach at Ole Miss.
When the Georgia game was on the line, Alabama scored on three-straight possessions against the No. 3 Bulldogs, and then ran out the clock as a 24-20 halftime deficit turned into a 41-24 win.
"We couldn't stop them," said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who had the SEC's top-rated defense.
Overall, Alabama has scored at least 35 points in 17 straight games, the longest streak in major college football, dating back to the 2018 national championship. It's topped 500 yards three times this season, on top of nine times in 2019, and 12 out of 15 games in 2018.
The offense appears to have no limits. It can pound the ball, be methodical in the passing game, and essentially score anywhere on the field as evidenced by the three touchdowns of 78 yards or longer this season.
“I think through the first four games, this is probably the best Alabama offense that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been alive,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said.
Remember, this is what college football wanted.
Go back to 2014, and the NCAA rules committee was considering making a change to slow down hurry-up offenses. It proposed allowing defenses to substitute players in the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. If an offense snapped the ball before the 29-second mark it would be flagged for delay of game.
Steve Spurrier dubbed it "The Saban Rule."
First, though, a little perspective.
Even though Alabama had won three national championships in four years, Saban was already looking ahead and for ways to improve the offense. In December 2013, when the Crimson Tide had just experienced the Kick-6 and was preparing to face Oklahoma, a game that would end up a 45-31 shootout in the Sugar Bowl, he brought in Lane Kiffin to evaluate the offense.
The Crimson Tide lost, coordinator Doug Nussmeier left for Michigan and Kiffin was hired.
Meanwhile, Saban and some other coaches had raised concerns about the direction of the game. Not only did non-stop play make substitution extremely difficulty, but coaches couldn't do any teaching on the sideline. The game had become all react and move on.
"I personally think it is a player safety issue," he said at the time. "We are the only game that the college game is longer than the pro game. An NBA game is longer than a college basketball game.
"In the NFL, the lowest team averages 59 plays, the highest team in the 70s, 75, 72, I don't know what it is for sure. And in college, the lowest team is, like, 62 plays a game, and the highest team is 90. Not only are there more plays in college, there is a greater deviation in the plays."
When the NCAA committee was considering the issue it asked its most successful coach to weigh in on the issue. Saban's suggestion was for the college game to do something similar to what the NFL does, have an official stand over the ball prior to each snap.
"They used to stand over the ball for 10 to 12 seconds when we had a 25-second clock before they chopped the clock to start the 25-second clock," he continued. "So they figured why not do the same thing with the 40-second clock. And when they actually studied the no-huddle teams, they only snap the ball an average of four times a game inside of 10 seconds. So you're not really affecting how they play."
They claimed Saban wanted to ban no-huddle play, was lobbying to help the Crimson Tide, and being a defensive coach wanted to create an advantage for the defense.
None of those things were true, but the outcry carried the day.
The proposal ended up being tabled and dismissed.
"It is an advantage to go fast, and I can understand exactly why coaches who go fast want to do it," he said. "It's an advantage. There's no question."
Alabama, meanwhile, changed direction as if to say, "Fine, if that's the way you want it ..." and is now beating those same teams and coaches at their own game.
There's a famous quote about Paul W. "Bear" Bryant by Bum Phillips, that "Bryant can take his'n and beat your'n, and then he can turn around and take your'n and beat his'n."
This is kind of the same thing on a grander scale.