Back to basics: Ground game essential to Crimson Tide’s success

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Alabama

Alabama’s a team that can line up, run between the tackles and pummel you at the point of attack. So why hasn’t that worked the last two weeks for the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide? It’s simple. Alabama has partially abandoned the run game if favor of more throws from A.J. McCarron.

And the results — outside of the final minute, game-saving drive at Tiger Stadium — haven’t been favorable.

Getting back to the power football mentality behind one of the nation’s top offensive lines must be a top priority. The Crimson Tide are good when they run downhill and do what they do best, but beatable when they don’t.

Against A&M, Alabama rushed 31 times for 122 yards. The previous week in Baton Rouge, the Crimson Tide picked up 166 yards on 25 tries but threw it 27 times. That makes back-to-back Saturdays that run-heavy Alabama preferred the pass, the first time that has happened all season. Looking at the bigger picture over the previous eight weeks, Alabama’s passing game averaged just 22.9 attempts per contest while the ground game had at least 40 attempts six different times. Alabama won all eight games in convincing fashion by an average of 32.5 points with dominant destruction at the line of scrimmage.

Tailback T.J. Yeldon has enjoyed a solid freshman season, but recent fumbling problems have made coaches second guess using him as the 1-2 option along with Eddie Lacy. Obviously, Alabama was forced to throw more than it intended on Saturday afternoon in a 20-point hole, but neglecting the steady punch behind the blockers didn’t turn out well. McCarron threw his first two interceptions of the season, the second coming on a late 4th-and-goal that would’ve given the Crimson Tide a narrow victory. Nick Saban shot down the thought of running in that situationa and said a usual call designed for a two-point conversion was there but not executed well. Could A&M have stopped Lacy or Yeldon off-tackle from two yards out? We’ll never know but with Barrett Jones and Co., maybe the Crimson Tide should’ve took their chances.

Statistically speaking, Alabama is vulnerable when the game plan doesn’t center around the plethora of talent in the backfield not named McCarron. The last two games have proved the Crimson Tide are better off handing the ball off than taking out the opposition through the air. In fact, throwing the football more often than not plays right into the defense’s hands and may have cost Alabama another national championship.

Statistical breakdown of offensive playcalls this season

vs. Michigan — 42 run, 21 pass (20 first downs, 431 yards of total offense)
vs. W. Kentucky — 31 run, 20 pass (17; 328)
at Arkansas — 45 run, 20 pass (22, 438)
vs. Fla. Atl. — 47 run, 26 pass (25, 503)
vs. Ole Miss — 34 run, 30 pass (17, 305)
at Missouri — 47 run, 21 pass (21, 533)
at Tennessee — 45 run, 22 pass (23, 539)
vs. Miss. St. — 40 run, 23 pass (22, 414)
* at LSU — 25 run, 27 pass (18, 331)
* at Texas A&M — 31 run, 34 pass (17, 431)

It’s no coincidence that the Crimson Tide went over 500 yards of offense the three times they ran the ball the most this season (Florida Atl., Missouri, Tennessee). And when the offense has a near balanced mix of run and pass, total yardage falls (Western Kentucky, Ole Miss). When Alabama moves the chains with success (six games with 20 or more first downs this season), they do so with ground-and-pound. Of Alabama’s 202 total first downs, 102 have come via the run, 95 through the air and five from penalties.

Prior to the LSU game, Alabama had only trailed a few seconds of game action this season in the first half against Ole Miss. Utilizing a steady diet of draws, counters and toss sweeps, the Crimson Tide offense found success in the passing game when the offensive line established an early stronghold on the ground. The statistics prove McCarron is one of the nation’s best in play-action situations, but isn’t nearly as successful when Alabama gives up on what it does best.

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE



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