Nick Saban sent a clear message to his offense that it should remember for the rest of 2017
Nick Saban approached CBS sideline reporter Allie LaForce, looking expectedly displeased.
Everyone knew it was coming. Saban saved his expletives for the halftime locker room, but he said everything one needed to know about Alabama’s first half on Saturday.
“We didn’t do very well in practice all week so it’s a good lesson that you don’t prepare right for the game, you’re not going to play well in the game,” Saban said on the CBS broadcast. “You don’t have a lot of energy. We didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm. I’m not really pleased with the way we played even though the last two drives we looked better.”
And how do you get them to have that sense of urgency, LaForce asked.
“I don’t know. Use all of my psychological disposition I can at halftime,” Saban said. “I’m trying to be nice to you.”
By the way, Alabama was up 21-0 against rival Tennessee when he said that. Classic Saban.
Surely Saban wasn’t upset with his defense. After all, the Vols were held to zero points, five first downs and 66 yards of total offense in the first half. The Tide continued its streak of zero first-half touchdowns allowed in SEC play.
It definitely wasn’t the defense’s “fault” that Alabama “only” had a 3-touchdown lead at the break. Saban was calling out his offense. He saw what everyone else saw. There wasn’t a sense of urgency. Alabama didn’t dominate at the line of scrimmage. Jalen Hurts made atypically risky throws. The big plays weren’t there. The offensive enthusiasm just wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Was it another rat poison-like message from Saban? Perhaps. The result — a 45-7 Alabama win — was never in doubt. The Tide knew it was going to be leading at the break against a Tennessee that hadn’t scored a touchdown in a month. That was part of the problem.
More than anything, it was clear that Saban didn’t want his offense thinking it delivered a passable first-half performance.
Anyone could point at the numbers and think that this was just Saban being Saban. The Tide had a 252-66 total yards advantage when Saban blasted his team. It had 15 first downs compared to 5 for Tennessee.
But Saban was right. Those two touchdown drives in the final eight minutes of the first half washed away a sleepy start from Alabama’s offense.
Did anybody think that Tennessee should’ve been winning at any point? No, but that’s because the Vols never had a prayer against the Tide defense. Was that in itself some rat poison for the Alabama offense?
This looked like the Tide’s offensive mindset in the first half:
Alabama is playing like it knows there is no way it can lose. It's right, of course. But it has zero juice today.
— Chris Wright (@FilmRoomEditor) October 21, 2017
That’s a dangerous approach.
Saban obviously doesn’t want his offense to change even if the defense continues to shut out SEC opponents in the first half.
He’d rather see Bo Scarbrough running like his job is on the line instead of dancing behind the line of scrimmage. Saban would prefer Ish Smith Jr. held on to the rock inside the 5-yard line instead of watching a Tennessee defender pop it free. Surely Saban never wants to see Hurts throw across his body to the middle of the field, and in the red zone no less.
Did those plays end up hurting Alabama? No, but when the Tide actually faces a quality opponent, it could.
The question is if or when that will happen in the rest of the regular season. Alabama’s defense could easily stymie LSU and Auburn offenses that have had their issues in 2017. It’s hard for an offense to really be upset with itself when it leads by three scores at the break.
Alabama still has a formula that teams like Tennessee would do anything for. There’s nothing wrong with wearing down a team in the first half and pouring it on in the second half. With Damien Harris, the Tide still look like a team capable of doing that against almost anyone, especially one as inept as the free-falling Vols.
But there could still be that one week in November in which Alabama’s defense gets off to an atypically bad start against an inferior foe. We’re a week removed from watching four top-10 teams lose to unranked foes. Those teams were all more battle-tested than Alabama, too (the Florida State win might not have been that great).
The Tide hasn’t faced a Clemson or a Georgia, or anyone that made it play a complete game. If Alabama avoids one of those aforementioned letdowns, a Clemson or a Georgia will be ready and waiting. The offense still isn’t good enough to flip the switch against one of those teams. Well, we just don’t know if it can flip the switch against a quality defense yet.
Alabama did pour it on in the second half on Saturday against Tennessee. Maybe it was Saban’s “psychological disposition” that jump-started the offense. It shouldn’t have needed that.
It shouldn’t need it for the rest of 2017, either.