Alabama football: Nick Saban should let a few offensive records fall if they must, Sun Belt foe be damned
Let’s be real here about all this Alabama drama that might or might not be real.
For all the breakdowns defensively last Saturday in Austin, the stupid penalties that extended Texas drives and the way Quinn Ewers controlled the flow of the game before he was injured, the Crimson Tide only allowed 19 points all afternoon. It might’ve seemed like more. No, it did seem like more because Bama trailed a lot and a stunning loss was becoming a very real thing.
But it wasn’t more. At the end of the game, it was indeed 19 points. And at the end of the day, giving up 19 points in a true road game against a team that is now ranked in both polls isn’t so terrible. If someone had told you last Saturday morning that the Tide were going to allow 19 points, you’d have taken it in a heartbeat, and you know it. It said here in last week’s prediction that Bama would win 38-20, so the 19 was almost exactly on target.
What does all this tell you? That the real shortcomings last Saturday, the real reason an upset almost happened, was because the Tide only managed 20 points. Almost halfway through the fourth quarter Bama only had 10 points, which was inexcusable and alarming frankly. Bryce Young prevented Bama from paying the ultimate price, and this Saturday he’ll be at the helm of an angry and motivated offensive unit against a Sun Belt team, in a game it’s favored to win by 50 points.
The confluence of all this — a ticked-off offense, an overmatched defense and a ton to prove — could make for some record-breaking stuff from Bama this Saturday at Bryant-Denny against poor Louisiana-Monroe, if Nick Saban leaves Young and the starters in for long enough. After all, this is the same Warhawks defense that allowed Texas to roll up 52 points in the season-opener 2 weeks ago in the same stadium the Crimson Tide just left.
After Louisiana-Monroe had a chance to take a big breath last week in a 35-7 home victory over Southland Conference foe Nicholls, the Warhawks will visit another blue-blood lions’ den, where the lions are angry and want to score about 100 points before halftime. How Saturday goes exactly will depend on how long Saban gives Young and his offense a chance to get their frustrations out before calling off the dogs.
Two weeks ago in the opener against Utah State, Young tossed 5 touchdown passes in the first half alone and added a scoring run early in the third quarter, and that was it for him. It was 48-0 with 13:37 left in the third quarter, barely over a half in, and Saban had seen enough. The starters were filtered out, and it was Jalen Milroe’s show for basically the rest of the way.
The SEC record for TD passes in a game is 7. Tua Tagovailoa holds the Bama record with 6 against Ole Miss in 2019. Young could’ve probably led the offense to 70 points against the Aggies if he really wanted to and if Saban really wanted to be a rude host. But 48 was enough and basically 1 half was, too.
But what about this Saturday, coming off a win that felt a lot like a loss and left a ton of questions unanswered? Will Saban stick with his starters far longer than he usually would because they need the reps and the overall confidence and swag and cohesiveness that clearly isn’t there right now?
Will Saban want his 2 high-profile transfers — Jermaine Burton and Jahmyr Gibbs — to play a whole lot deeper into the game because they really need to build a rhythm with Young, because Burton was solid in the opener and invisible against Texas?
Or because Gibbs has been spectacular at some moments but ordinary at others, rushing for 93 yards in the opener but just 22 against Texas?
Or because Saban needs Gibbs to build off what he and Young were developing last week in the passing game, when Gibbs led the Tide with 74 yards receiving on 9 catches?
These next 2 weeks amount to somewhat of a training camp, or training ground, for the Alabama offense, going against 2 far lesser foes in La.-Monroe followed by a visit from Vanderbilt in the SEC opener on Sept. 24. It’s a real chance for some real chemistry to be developed before the Tide face its next stiff test on Oct. 1 at Arkansas.
It’s a chance to go back to the drawing board after what happened last Saturday so that Bama doesn’t have to go the rest of the season depending on the Bryce Young Magic Show to will it to victories in its showdown games. That’s not how you win national championships or even SEC championships, and Saban knows that.
He knows his offense is going to have to advance multiple levels, from an offensive line that wasn’t good at all against Texas to his inconsistent running backs and receivers, if it wants to be truly complete and ready to beat Arkansas, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Ole Miss and, just maybe, Georgia. And the only way for Bama’s offense to advance to those next levels it needs to is to play a whole lot of series, no matter how ugly the score gets.
The Warhawks will be just fine. They’ll take their fat paycheck back to Monroe, La., and look forward to happier Saturdays in the Sun Belt. For a guy like promising freshman receiver Kobe Prentice who is trying to build a bond with Young and get his feet under him at the collegiate level, games like this Saturday are crucial. He needs to be in there as long as possible.
They all do.
This needs to be one of those Saturdays where if some gaudy offensive records fall at the expense of a Sun Belt team, so be it. The same thing will be true next Saturday against Vandy, but we’re not there yet. This is a Saturday where Bama needs to surpass its point total for the entire Texas game in the first quarter alone. A Saturday where Young needs to flaunt his stuff, where Burton needs to re-emerge, where role players like running backs Roydell Williams, Trey Sanders and Jamarion Miller need to get in the end zone once or twice.
This is a Saturday where Milroe and Ty Simpson should have to wait a few series longer to get in there.
A Saturday where if the Tide doesn’t have at least one 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver, there’s something wrong.
A Saturday where Jase McClellan should have at least 2 highlight-reel runs, even if neither one is a touchdown.
A Saturday where preseason All-SEC selection Cameron Latu, who broke the school record last season for TD catches by a tight end, can build on what he did last week after missing all of fall camp and the opener with an undisclosed illness.
A Saturday where the Tide defense has plenty of high-flying plays to watch from the sidelines and not a whole lot of time to rest because the latest extra point is getting kicked.
Because while the Bama defense has issues to resolve Saturday and in the coming weeks, this particular Saturday is all about what the offense can begin to do to get itself off the canvas.
It can be a day when some offensive records fall, too, if Saban will allow it.
He really should. It’s not a day to be a classy host. It’s a day to keep it real and keep scoring.
And by the time it’s all over early Saturday night, the Bryant-Denny scoreboard should be all tired out and read something like: Alabama 66, Louisiana-Monroe 14.