By Larry Burton
Last week Alabama won a game but they didn’t cover the spread or meet Alabama fans expectations. The fact that Alabama couldn’t convert third downs was the subject of most of this weeks questions and many are justifiably worried over this week’s game with Ole Miss. So without further delay, we’ll jump right in to the questions.
I’m going to answer two similar questions with one answer.
AJ McCarron completed on one third down conversion all day and that was at the end of the day. What was the problem?
AJ McCarron seemed upset in his post game press conference and said the inability to do better was based on “Bad communication”. What did he mean?
Coach Jim McElwain of Colorado State knows AJ McCarron from being his former coach and exposed his biggest weakness, he doesn’t do well with pressure in his face. So on third down, McElwain sent pressure from the cornerback, Saban calls that guy the “cat” in his press conference. This man is supposed to be picked up either by a tight end, a tackle or the running back. For whatever reason that wasn’t being done.
McCarron is saying that he’d come to the line, see the “cat” lining up in a position where he could blitz and call out a warning to the team to pick him up and it was being either not heard or not acted on properly. I think he was upset that our first year center didn’t pick up things quicker and change or adjust the line calls either.
In McCarron’s terse post game press conference, he said the problems on third down were due to “Communication” problems. This is what he was talking about. Well that and the fact that his receivers were supposed to change to a “hot read” and be ready to catch the ball on shorter routes than initially called and that wasn’t working well either.
McCarron must have felt a bit ignored. He won’t throw his mates under the bus publicly, but come film room, he’ll be heard very loud and very clear and that problem will be worked out.
Then there is the fact that Alabama only ran three offensive sets this past Saturday when they have a couple of dozen. Can you say, “Don’t show Ole Miss anything?”
Plus, most of our third down conversions were too long to trust to running plays, especially on a day when we were only averaging 3.1 yards a carry. Graduate assistant William Vlachos is working with new center Ryan Kelley on these issues and I can’t think of anyone better that both Ryan and the offensive line would relate to and pay attention to. The problem will be fixed.
This was Colorado State, not nearly as good as a mediocre SEC team, so why were we unable to run against them Saturday?
True, against Texas A&M, we rushed for 164 yards and averaged 6.1 yards a carry, but then Alabama had problems against Va. Tech in the first game, rushing for just 96 yards and averaging just 2.5 yards a carry. Against Colorado State, Bama ran for 66 yards and just 3.1 yards a carry.
So why could we run against A&M and not Colorado State? Well first of all you have to realize that against A&M we had 66 total plays on offense and just 48 against Colorado State. That’s one-third less plays. Against A&M we ran the ball 37 times and against the Rams we ran just 27, so of course you’re going to run for less yardage in total.
Now for the low yard per carry total. Why was the yards per carry half of what they were against A&M? Lots of reasons, Drake’s TD run was from three yards out, so that brought down the average. Also when you have so few rushing opportunities, McCarron’s three sacks for -2.3 yards that also counted in the rushing stats hurt the average. Take that out and it brings the average up to just over 4 yards a carry.
But basically, when you abandon the run, as we did in the third quarter with only one rushing attempt, it’s hard to get things rolling. Factor in the fact that Steen, Alabama’s starting right guard was held out of the game with headaches, that the passing game was working so well that they didn’t think they’d need the run as much and it all adds up to a bad day average wise.
But had Alabama sold out to the running game as they did the passing game in this contest, they would have been able to run successfully, so if you’re worried that they can’t run when the time comes, just look at the A&M game and see the difference.
Why is Alabama so inconsistent? We all thought this was going to an offensive juggernaut but it’s done badly in two of the three games against struggling teams and looked like a million dollars against a top 10 team. What gives?
If I could answer that question I’d be Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, but my best guess would be they play up to the level of the level of their competition and down to the level of their mediocre competition.
And there lies the reason that Nick Saban has that look on his face and heartburn in his chest. His philosophy is dominate everybody, everyday or every play in every game the same way, but this year his team is doing that.
Were the players just not up for beating on their old coach? Were they looking ahead to Ole Miss, a game they know could be trouble? Were they still getting over the big win over Texas A&M? Did the fact the three offensive starters didn’t start the game and many more were banged up have something to do with it? Were they just complacent playing a team Las Vegas thought they should beat by 35 points?
Ok, maybe all of those things had a little to do with it in this last game or maybe they just had an off day. Who knows?
But if you get anything from this answer to console you, let it be the part that said they can and do play up to the level of their competition. I fully expect Alabama to play up to the big games and big situations. There are few teams with the manpower, confidence and most importantly history to march down the field when the game is on the line.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter