Alabama and its coaching staff will obsess this offseason on what went wrong in the final two games, specifically the final six quarters. Nick Saban and his staff were outcoached against Auburn and Oklahoma, and several areas have shown to be reoccurring problems for the Tide.
For nine months, Saban and his players will work tirelessly and obsessively to get Alabama back on top after losing two straight games to close the season. Through all the turnovers and poor play by both sides of the ball, there are bigger problems than the Tide just having ‘an off night’.
Here are four deficiencies Saban has to address this offseason:
Cornerbacks: The biggest area of need is at corner. Of course, the corners there now are great athletes, are quick enough and smooth enough to be deemed four- or five-star prospects, but they don’t play the ball well. Many teams don’t have corners that have the skill set to play the ball well while it’s in the air, but Alabama is a team that has, especially with Saban’s baby being the secondary. Cyrus Jones, Jarrick Williams, Deion Belue, Eddie Jackson, John Fulton and Maurice Smith, among others, aren’t Dre Kirkpatrick or Dee Milliner. And teams took advantage of it, namely Texas A&M and Oklahoma, two teams that sliced and diced the secondary to pieces. There’s talent on the team, but Saban hasn’t felt good about both corners all season. They’re lean and athletic, but they lack the biggest key ingredient that makes Alabama’s defense so dominant: ball skills.
Pass rusher: Now, going hand-in-hand with poor corner play is the lack of a pass rush. Had Alabama had more of a pass rush, the corners likely wouldn’t have given up as many explosive plays. There’s not a Courtney Upshaw or a specific type of pass rusher as an outside linebacker or rush end that makes the Tide’s defense scary. We thought Adrian Hubbard had a chance to be that guy; he’s not, or he hasn’t been thus far. Is he on campus and we just don’t know about him yet? Maybe, but that type of player hasn’t been there for the last two years.
Teams with tempo: The biggest reoccurring theme for Saban’s defense comes against teams with tempo, and it’s proving to be the Tide’s Achilles heel. Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma all out-executed the defense, and they all used one word Saban hates: tempo. Saban can’t sub players in and out of the game to create matchup problems because offenses aren’t huddling. Saban and Kirby Smart love bulkier linebackers and defensive ends, and teams have found a way to combat that with the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme. Saban is going to have to recruit specific types of lighter defensive players at defensive end and outside linebacker while maintaining stout line of scrimmage play. OU’s tempo had Alabama’s defensive line huffing and puffing throughout the first half, and that had an effect on the second half conditioning. How Saban defends and combats the hurry-up will be one of the most fascinating things to keep an eye on in the near future.
Tight end: The offense misses a tight end like Michael Williams, a road grader who fits in the power running game. Yes, I thought Alabama went away from the running game too early against OU, but there are deficiencies at tight end; it’s shown the latter portion of the season. I know OJ Howard is a total freak and is going to be a great player, but he isn’t exactly the type of tight end I’m talking about. And while the current tight ends with Howard and Brian Vogler are poised to be bigger offensive threats as a whole, the Tide need a road grader at the position. That’s an area where the offense can improve in 2014.
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