Published October 10, 2012 - 2:55pm
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The clear cut #1 team in the country, Alabama, has an abundance of things going for it, namely a veteran quarterback in AJ McCarron and a stout and veteran-laid offensive line. The Tide roll with a top-tier defense that is currently ranked #1 in the country, again. We know all of this.
However, if there are two weaknesses of Nick Saban’s bunch of world-beaters, it is the need for a more consistent running game and more use of the tight end in the passing game.
The Running Game
When Jalston Fowler went down earlier in the year and Dee Hart two weeks ago, it left only one veteran running back on the roster who has been injury prone throughout his career in Eddie Lacy. Behind Lacy are two true freshmen TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. Yeldon looked studly against Michigan but hasn’t made much noise since. Drake has played mostly in mop-up duty in fourth quarters.
Last season with Trent Richardson toting the rock every game and chewing up yardage and would-be tacklers, the Tide were 16th in the country, averaging over 214 yards per game on the ground. This season, Alabama is hovering around 39th in the country, with the yardage dropping to 188 yards per game. While Lacy is a drop off from Richardson, the offensive line is bigger and better than it was last season.
The Tide are currently 6th in the SEC in rushing offense and 10th in passing offense. So, it’s not like the lack of a running game is because they rely primarily on the passing game. AJ McCarron has been efficient in what the Tide have asked him to do. Twelve touchdowns and 999 yards passing is nothing to slouch at, and McCarron hasn’t thrown an interception yet. He’s playing efficient football, surrendering no turnovers, and is second in the league in touchdowns, with predominately no star wide receivers.
Eddie Lacy, who is primarily the featured back, has rushed for 314 yards on 64 carries and four touchdowns.
TJ Yeldon has carried 50 times for 292 yards and two touchdowns.
Kenyan Drake has tallied 13 carries for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
Saban builds his championship teams on the running game and defense. The defense is arguably the top in the country, but the running game is running behind schedule.
Tight End as a Pass Catcher
Alabama fans now know what a luxury it was to have a tight end like Brad Smelley in 2011. He was the second-leading pass catcher, tallying 34 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns and often bailed out McCarron and the offense in third-down situations. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier hasn’t targeted the tight end as much as Jim McElwain a year ago. Smelley was a major weapon late in the season.
Michael Williams is the primary tight end, and he needs more action in games, especially if the running game is less consistent. He’s caught 16 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns through five games. Williams is sixth in receptions for the Tide, as compared to Smelley, who finished second on the team. We’ll see if Williams can turn it on like Smelley did at the end of 2011.
Whether tight end will be a priority or not for McCarron or Nussmeier, the Tide have to find more consistency in establishing the ground game. This could be the key to whether Bama runs the table and plays for another championship. We’re hitting the halfway point of the season, and maybe the running game will get cranking coming off the bye week against Missouri.