Alabama Football News

Alabama coach looks to avoid “sophomore slump”

Photo by: Cedric Mason/TDAL Magazine

Alabama’s hire of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on Jan. 9, 2014 was met with mixed emotions. Head coach Nick Saban wanted someone to open up his offense, and despite half of Crimson Tide nation jumping ship upon Kiffin’s arrival, he achieved balance last season.

Alabama totaled 484.5 yards per game offensively, and pounded opponents’ for an average of 206.6 rushing yards. Kiffin’s play calling excelled in the red-zone 86 percent of the time in 2014, as the Crimson Tide scored on 55 of 64 opportunities. Seventy percent of Alabama’s scores in the red area were touchdowns (45 of 64). It accounted for 36.9 points per game.

Offensively, Alabama won’t have the same attack as last season, yet this year’s team possesses the capability to be dominant.

Kiffin’s niche in Alabama’s pro-style offense is to create matchup problems for opposing defenses, in which playmakers are isolated in space. He then proceeds to get them the ball on the perimeter and allow them to work on the edge. Ex-Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper benefited greatly from this scheme. He caught 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 scores.

Cooper became the program’s first Fred Biletnikoff Award winner (nation’s top wide receiver), and Kiffin’s second wideout to receive the award (Marqise Lee, USC). He was finalist in the 2014 Heisman voting, and was recognized as the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year.

In one season, Kiffin helped develop Blake Sims into one of most beloved quarterbacks in Alabama history. Sims recorded 3,487 passing yards, 350 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns as a starter. He guided the Crimson Tide to a conference championship and a No.1 overall ranking in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Former Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon tallied 979 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry last season. His diversity as a receiver was huge, accounting for 180 yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions. DeAndrew White finished second on the team in receptions (40), yards (504) and touchdowns (4) in 2014.

Kiffin has an opportunity to generate success again.

He won’t be able to replace Cooper, White, Yeldon, Christion Jones and Jalston Fowler; however, Kiffin recognizes the talent Alabama has returning.

This year’s receiving corps is young, but dangerous. Kiffin will look to get everyone involved, forcing defensive coordinators to put their corners on an island against four and five-star wide receivers.  Another year under Saban should give Kiffin a feel on how to manipulate defenses.

Urgency is the name of the game when it comes to locating a quarterback. Saturday’s press conference after Alabama’s first scrimmage unveiled a very frustrated Saban when little to no separation was made in the quarterback competition. “I can’t make it happen,” Saban said.

Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Matt Barkley and Jonathan Crompton were four quarterbacks that Kiffin nurtured into winners. He did it for Sims last season, and must prove it again.

Alabama abandoned its run game at times in 2014. Junior running back Derrick Henry has been named to multiple preseason award lists, and is on watch for the Heisman Trophy.

A heavy dose of Henry early on will help settle a new face under center. Coach Saban’s call at quarterback is a “game manager.” Alabama football wants Kiffin to maintain balance.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

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