Why this Alabama offense is the best Nick Saban’s ever had
Much has been said about Alabama’s defense in 2016, and its place among the other dominant ones Nick Saban constructed. While that is an interesting debate, there is no question that this year’s Crimson Tide offense is the most dangerous Saban has ever had.
For starters, this Alabama offense is putting up some numbers not seen during the school’s string of four championships during this decade of dominance.
The Crimson Tide are averaging 41.2 points per game, which is the first time an offense has averaged over 40 points per game through the first 10 games under Saban. Alabama has always been known for having a strong running game, but this year’s ground attack, averaging 255.2 yards per game, is the most diverse and lethal.
That diversity is gained, in part, by the emergence of freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. He is Alabama’s second-leading rusher and has 735 yards and 11 touchdowns. Four players have gone over 350 yards, but Hurts offers a unique challenge for defenses.
As Hurts continues to progress, Alabama’s offense will follow suit. After a string of games against tough defenses, Hurts put on an incredible passing display in the Crimson Tide’s 51-3 blowout against Mississippi State. The freshman completed over 75 percent of his passes and became the first Tide quarterback to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 more in the same game.
Numbers only tell a part of the story, however. Watching Alabama play, it’s easy to see the resemblance to Crimson Tide teams of year’s past and, at the same time, identify the striking differences that make this group so dangerous.
Alabama again has a physical offensive line, a patient running back in Damien Harris and an all-around star at receiver in Calvin Ridley.
None of that is out of the ordinary, but the new schematic wrinkles show Saban’s willingness, and Lane Kiffin’s ability, to adapt to a new form of college football.
Hurts’ abilities as a dual-threat quarterback are unlike anything we’ve seen from the Crimson Tide. He can run a read-option offense that stretches a defense from sideline to sideline and helps open up the power running game.
Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart is another explosive threat who can make plays out of the backfield or spread out wide. His 67-yard touchdown “catch” on a jet sweep in the win against Mississippi State proves is further proof of Alabama’s explosive versatility.
Last year’s national championship game was an incredible affair between a defensive powerhouse and a Clemson offense that found ways to exploit it. Less than a year removed from Clemson’s 550-yard performance against Alabama, Saban and Kiffin have engineered an operation that bears a passing resemblance to that Tigers’ offense.
Hurts shows remarkable similarities to Deshaun Watson and has the Tide on pace to set an SEC scoring record for most points in a season. Alabama has 68 plays of 20 yards or more this season, which is sixth nationally. If the Crimson Tide once again reach the national championship and play in 15 games, they are on pace to have 102 explosive plays, which is more than Clemson accrued last year.
Since 2010, Alabama has averaged 72 plays of 20 yards or more each season. This offense has nearly matched those totals in only 10 games.
Once one of the strongest opponents of a fast-paced style of play, Saban now has one of the fastest and most dynamic offenses in college football.
The Crimson Tide’s defense has earned its abundance of praise, but it’s Alabama’s offense that might be the most dangerous part of this team.