It started with Greg McElroy and though he hated the phrase, it fit what Saban wanted, game manager. McCarron continued the streak even though deep down he wanted to be a gun slinger and from there several players filled the role. Mostly older, wiser guys who wouldn’t make a lot of mistakes.
It was all about ball control offense with someone at the helm who wouldn’t make a lot of mistakes. To a large part, even Jalen Hurts fit that category. But once Saban made the decision that despite super effort and results that the Hurts era was over, so was the game manager.
Now Saban is an excellent recruiter, he usually knows what he wants and what he’s getting when he signs a player. But Tua is a talent that surpassed what Saban had hoped for. This was a guy who could absolutely see the whole field and sling the ball anywhere on the field, to anyone and put it in places where even though covered, it looked easy.
Saban’s average margin of victory went way up. Scoring went way up. Now Saban’s famous “Make their ass quit” quote meant simply burying them so quickly that they just quit. It used to be his dominating defense that made them want to quit. Not anymore.
So why did Saban make the switch?
First of all, he could see some grey hairs on his offensive philosophy and he was seeing teams giving him problems with quick striking, hurry up offenses and he saw his offense not built for quick comebacks and winning track meets. Then there were those games like in 2010 where the offense couldn’t score more that 21 points and lost to South Carolina and LSU. Speaking of LSU, remember the 9-6 loss the following year? Saban sure did. In 2014 it happened again when they only scored 17 and lost to Ole Miss and struggled in a win the following week beating lowly Arkansas 14-13. He needed a team that could score more than that on a consistent basis.
Alabama needed to change things up and come up with an offense that put some points on the board, big points.
So he brought in Lane Kiffin and Kiffin paid off. The offense got quicker, he had some quarterback runs that helped with the unpredictability and he had quarterbacks who could throw the deep ball to stretch the field and keep the running game going. As a result, the scoring went up.
But that was just the beginning of the metamorphosis. Hurts brought the true dual threat to the team, but there were too many times when his legs did what his arm was unable to do. While Hurts did improve his passing, Tua was just doing unbelievable things that Hurts just couldn’t mimic and the last of the game managers was gone and the game changer took stage.
This season Saban wants the best of both worlds, running the ball a little more, controlling the clock a little more, but still turning the game changer loose enough to keep the defense completely at odds over what to do.
He’s hoping this keeps his defense on the bench a little more as they develop into a world class unit and when they face an equally talented offense.
And it’s not a decision he’s going to go back on anytime soon. Even though Saban has said publicly he wants to go back to a more ball control offense that will keep hi defense on the bench a little longer. What Saban really wants is to maximize each offensive drive into being a scoring drive and not just go for the home run all the time.
With Mack Jones and Taulia Tagovailoa on the bench, when Tua’s gone, this offense won’t be gone. Alabama went from averaging 35 points a game in 2015 to over 45 points a game last season. But the real difference was that during the regular season they averaged 31 of those 45 points a game in just the first half. This truly was just burying them quickly and making them want to quit. His 2018 team was scoring about the same number of points in just the first half of the game as his 2015 team did in the whole game.
In his heart, Saban will always be a defensive coach and he always will be, but he’s learning that it’s ok to play good defense while you’re up 28 or so points. This is a change he can live with.
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Larry Burton has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter