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Alabama Football: Have the tables turned?

Secure tackles. Create pressure. Force turnovers. Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban changed the culture with defense. Be physical. Impose your will. Make them quit. These are the words that fueled players to achieve a high standard each week.

It was Brandon Deaderick, Marcell Dareus, Terrence Cody, Dont’a Hightower, Rolando McClain and others that terrorized opposing offenses. Alabama struck fear at opposition with an iron fist. Under Saban, the Crimson Tide hasn’t allowed over 14 points to an opponent since 2008 (14.3).

Defense was its main course, but now Alabama’s offense is starting to exert its dominance.

Lane Kiffin was hired as the Tide’s offensive coordinator on Jan. 10, 2014. Alabama had three offensive coordinators under Saban, prior to Kiffin’s arrival. The Crimson Tide averaged 33.8 points per game before Kiffin. Alabama’s averaging 42.0 points and 594.2 yards per game in 2014.

Kiffin’s system is based on getting playmakers the ball in space. It worked for two seasons at Southern California (2005-06), and it’s paying off at Alabama. Kiffin works well with quarterbacks. Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Matthew Barkley can attest to that. All three quarterbacks tossed for 3,000+ yards at USC, and Leinart won a Heisman Trophy in 2004.

He’s worked with pocket passers, but Blake Sims is the first mobile quarterback to run Kiffin’s system. He slowly worked Sims into the rotation with short routes, but Kiffin opened up the playing calling against Florida. Sims had 242 passing yards in two seasons as a backup quarterback. He’s recorded 1,091 passing yards, 10 total touchdowns and a 190.8 efficiency rating in Kiffin’s system.

Run the ball. Eat clock. No turnovers. A methodical process that helped yet hindered Alabama’s offense.

Crimson Tide fans weren’t fond of Jim McElwain’s play calling, but a national title in 2009 pacified them.  McElwain was a run heavy offensive coordinator. Alabama was ground and pound, with sprinkles of play action passes to maintain balance.

McElwain’s four-year strategy (2008-11) guided Alabama to 33.2 points per game. The stat looks good on paper, but loses its appeal when compared against teams that average 40+ points per game.

Kiffin’s system is designed to spread defenses out and create mismatches on the field. Once this is achieved, a quarterback can decipher who it wants to target.

He loves explosive offenses, but Kiffin will throw running backs a bone. Reggie Bush. LenDale White. Curtis McNeal.  All three backs rushed for 1,000 yards at USC. Alabama’s averaging 258.5 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns. Kenyan Drake has six total scores. Derrick Henry leads the team in rushing with 320 yards and two touchdowns.

Receivers benefit the most from an explosive offense. Anytime a receiver can make their stat sheet look big; they will smile. Spreading the wealth is a staple of Kiffin’s offense. Each player has to contribute something in order for the scheme to work.

Steve Smith. Dwayne Jarrett. Robert Woods. Marqise Lee. All four players bought in at USC and recorded 1,000+yards receiving.

Amari Cooper called Kiffin’s system “player friendly” in the offseason. The junior has been a leader this season and a beneficiary of Kiffin’s offense. Cooper has equaled his output from 2013 (45 catches, 736 yards, four touchdowns), but his eyeing a second 1,000-yard season receiving. He’s recorded 43 catches for 655 yards and five touchdowns in 2014.

Coach Saban is defensive minded, but the 62-year-old isn’t anti-offense.  In Tuesday’s press conference, Saban said he’s been begging the offensive coordinators around Alabama to open its offense up since he’s been here.

“In my opinion, we have not arrived as an offense,” Saban said. “And he [Kiffin] would be the first to tell you that.”

He provided praise toward Jimbo Fisher, but Saban then tackled an obvious elephant in the room, a Lane Kiffin hire question.

“I got beat up like a drum for (the hire), but now it’s great,” Saban said. You guys [media] don’t have any consequences for what you say and do.”

Alabama’s offense has operated more under center this season than in previous years. Saban is finally getting what he wanted in Kiffin’s high-powered offense.

Saban said the chemistry between he and Kiffin has always been good.

“It’s not like we’ve fell in love and fell outta love,” Saban said.

The Tide’s offense is energized with Kiffin calling the shots. Here is table breaking down Alabama’s success offensively under Kiffin versus other coordinators.

Alabama’s offensive coordinators under Saban
Year Name Points (average) Yards (average)
2007 Major Applewhite 26.8 372.6
2008-11 Jim McElwain 33.8 408.1
2012-13 Doug Nussmeier 38.5 449.8
2014-present Lane Kiffin 42.0 594.2

The Crimson Tide made ends meet in the past with great defense and little offense. Regardless of tradition, it’s time for Alabama to adapt with the time. Offenses nowadays are scoring 40+ points a game. Defense is great, but it’s meaningless without an effective offense behind it.

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