Is Brian Daboll to blame for Iron Bowl loss, offense's recent struggles?
Lane Kiffin hasn’t always been the most popular coach in college football (or even Tuscaloosa), but there are very few people who would question his ability to call an offense. His three years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator only furthers that belief.
The now Florida Atlantic head coach did a lot of great things at the Capstone, including helping Alabama achieve a 40-3 record with three Playoff appearances and a national championship.
Most memories of Kiffin’s tenure are good, but the sudden split before the 2016 rematch against Clemson still leaves some Alabama fans befuddled.
We all know that Steve Sarkisian took over for Kiffin in that game, and we also know about the offense’s struggles that night.
Sarkisian eventually left for the Atlanta Falcons following the season, and Nick Saban brought in former New England Patriots’ tight end coach Brian Daboll as the third offensive coordinator in only a two-month span.
Overall, Daboll has done a nice job running Alabama’s offense. The team had a historical stretch to start SEC play this season, and a big part of that was Alabama’s No. 1 scoring offense in the SEC.
It seems like things have been slowly regressing since the team came out of a bye week prior to the LSU game in Week 10. They did total 444 yards of offense against Mississippi State the following week, but it just hasn’t been the same dominant performances that we had seen early 0n.
Things came to a head against Auburn in the Iron Bowl Saturday when the offense struggled to find any consistency. The passing game was atrocious, the players produced too many penalties — while also having an uncharacteristic turnover — and it didn’t seem like the right guys were getting the ball enough.
Alabama fans seemed to take notice to the anemic offense, and they made their concerns known on social media.
Daboll if you want Hurts to run it more than any player on the team move him to RB. Otherwise hand the damn ball off to the RBs a little more. Got the WRs running deep routes all night against against a stacked box and we couldn’t even block their front 4. Smh how about a slant?
— Bam (@BigBam3) November 26, 2017
Brian Daboll is the worst offensive coordinator we’ve had since Major Applewhite.
— I WAS NOT REALLY PREPARED FOR THAT AUBURN WIN (@LBRhoden) November 26, 2017
There’s no chance we keep Daboll for next year, right? Could you imagine what @Lane_Kiffin would have done with this team?
— Nick Saban’s Statue (@SabansStatue) November 26, 2017
So, has Daboll really been the issue with the Tide’s offense lately and the Iron Bowl loss specifically? I thought so at first glance, but studying further led me to a different conclusion — at least to some degree.
Alabama’s poor performance in the Iron Bowl wasn’t exactly a result of Daboll’s poor play-calling. Poor execution and unnecessary mistakes deserve as much to blame for them constantly being in bad position.
If you don’t include the last play of the game, Alabama had 10 drives against the Tigers. On seven of those, Daboll called a run on the first play that mostly consisted of zone reads and QB draws. The other three drives included a swing pass to Damien Harris, a false start to make things first-and-15 and came on the last full drive of the game — down 12 points with only 5:25 remaining.
It’s clear that Daboll wants to establish a run game early on in drives, but one critique is that he could do a better job of making sure he gets the ball into the hands of his running backs — only one was a guaranteed handoff and the other six were QB draws or zone reads where Hurts had the option to keep it.
Another thing is how often Daboll is calling run plays on first-down. Going into the fourth quarter before they got down two scores, the offense had run the ball on 12-of-18 (66.7 percent) attempts on first down.
Having a 2-to-1 run-to-pass ratio further proves that he’s committed to the run. The issue is that he is relying on Hurts for zone reads and designed QB runs too often in most of these situations.
Once Alabama got down two scores in the fourth quarter, the amount of pass plays that were called obviously increased, but he still chose to run the ball on first down 3 out of 8 times (37.5 percent).
So, let’s look at how each of Alabama’s drives ended.
- Drive 1: Failed to convert on 3rd-and-3
- Drive 2: Penalty resulting in a 1st-and-23, Hurts concedes a 4-yard loss, fumble by Hurts
- Drive 3: 3-and-out
- Drive 4: Touchdown
- Drive 5: 3-and-out (no success on first-down)
- Drive 6: Touchdown
- Drive 7: 3-and-out
- Drive 8: Delay of game made it 3rd-and-9 instead of 3rd-and-4
- Drive 9: Communication issue on snap on 3rd-and-4, Foster didn’t get upfield on 4th
- Drive 10: False start on Womack, Hurts takes a sack, Hurts throws past line of scrimmage
As you can see, there were several drives that were stalled due to mistakes — either by penalty or mental lapse.
The most surprising part was that most of the mental error came from Hurts. He gave up four yards instead of throwing the ball away, he fumbled, he had a delay of game and he took an unnecessary late sack.
He was far from the only problem, however. Matt Womack allowed Jeff Holland to bring plenty of pressure — Holland didn’t have any sacks, but he registered at least 3 QB hurries. To be fair, Jonah Williams wasn’t much better.
Auburn’s defensive tackles also got a consistent push upfield on a lot of Alabama’s zone reads, making things even more difficult.
To sum everything up, as easy as he is to criticize, Daboll isn’t the only problem.
In fact, his main issue is making sure that the running backs see more touches. Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs each saw six carries apiece (18 total), and that’s unacceptable with the amount of success they had running the football — 6.7 yards per carry.
Fewer penalties and better execution would go a long way in helping Daboll as a play-caller.