Alabama Football: What New OC Doug Nussmeier Must Do to Keep Tide on Top
Alabama's newest offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, has his work cut out for him, as he is taking over one of the three biggest positions in the best coaching staff in the nation. Keeping the Alabama Crimson Tide on top is a big job, but Nussmeier will have a lot of tools to work with.
Believe it or not, Nussmeier's predecessor, Jim McElwain, was quite good at what he did. He was sorely underrated by many critics and Alabama fans alike, though some of the criticism was well-deserved.
While he was with the Tide he kept the Alabama offense in the higher tiers of the SEC, including placing third in scoring offense (the only offensive statistic that really matters) in 2010 and 2011.
In his first season, Nussmeier will have more to work with than McElwain ever did (yes, that includes Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Trent Richardson). He has a powerful stable of running backs, an army of top-notch receivers and a veteran national champion quarterback with the best offensive line in the country.
So, the tools are there, but what must Nussmeier do to utilize them all properly and keep the Tide on top?
Improve the Playbook, Not Reinvent It
You know how it goes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's Alabama's playbook.
However, like anything in perfect working condition, it can be improved. Even well-oiled machines could use a tuneup.
Alabama relies on a strong running game, cramming the ball down the opposing defenses' throats until they bend and break. The Tide control the clock and throw to keep the defense on its toes and the chains moving.
And there's no reason to stray from that, especially with the talent of the Tide's running backs.
There are plenty of things that Nussmeier can do to improve the playbook without completely reinventing it. He just needs to add a bit of personal touch without getting too carried away.
Learn to Call the Shots
Calling the offensive plays in the heat of the ball game against SEC defenses will be something new to Doug Nussmeier; he did not call the plays while working as the OC for the Washington Huskies.
Nick Saban is the perfect kind of leader, though. He delegates responsibilities to his subordinates with the just right amount of oversight and no micromanagement.
It's the same way the military operates.
This task is likely the most important for Nussmeier, as he must now own the success and failure of his choices from the booth.
Can he accept disappointments and stick to the game plan, even when the perfect play fails to produce? Nick Saban wouldn't have hired him if he didn't think he could.
Continue to Develop A.J. McCarron
Whatever deficiencies Doug Nussmeier may have, developing quarterbacks is not one of them.
In his first year as the offensive coordinator at Washington he worked with quarterback Jake Locker and improved his quarterback rating by more than 20 points, and they both had to work with inferior talent on the offensive line, running backs and wide receivers.
A.J. McCarron is a much different athlete than Locker, however. He is a pocket passer that won't throw much out of the pocket. On top of that, Alabama doesn't do designed quarterback runs, other than the occasional sneak.
McCarron proved his potential last season, especially in the national title game. He just needs a bit more coaching to climb the next plateau, and Nussmeier is just the man for the job.
At least Nick Saban thinks so.
Throw on First Down More
Throwing on first down often was something Nick Saban's crew seemed wary of for the past several years.
That changed in the national championship game against LSU. Time after time Jim McElwain called a passing play on first down, and it shredded the LSU defense (relatively speaking). It gave the LSU defense pause when it wanted to load the box against Trent Richardson, and McCarron's confidence went through the roof.
In tough contests, Nussmeier will need to be brave enough to call passing plays on first down, at least when the team is trying to move the chains.
The red zone, however, is a different matter.
Make the Red Zone Count
Despite Jim McElwain's success at Alabama, he was utterly ineffective when calling plays in the red zone.
Alabama's touchdown percentage in the red zone was dismal compared to what it should have been at a top-tier school contending for a national championship.
- 2008: 57.41 percent, eighth in SEC
- 2009: 47.46 percent, 10th in SEC
- 2010: 61.82 percent, sixth in SEC
- 2011: 55.17 percent, eighth in SEC
When you consider the talented running backs that McElwain had available, especially during the '09-'11 seasons, it's easy to understand why so many Alabama fans were frustrated with McElwain. It's like he completely forget he had Heisman-caliber running backs when his team reached the end zone.
The red zone is the toughest place for a quarterback to complete a pass as the field becomes so compact and defenders have to cover only a sliver of turf. Even the slowest linebackers become dangerous pass-defenders.
Nussmeier needs to do what McElwain couldn't and remember how reliably the Tide's running backs pick up yardage and how forceful the offensive line can be in the trenches.
Win a Championship
Isn't it obvious? If Doug Nussmeier wants to keep the Tide on top he needs to help the team win a championship.
It's the ultimate goal of all teams in college football, but for Alabama anything less than a championship is a failed season. At some schools they celebrate conference championships or receiving a bid to the Capital One Bowl. At Alabama they celebrate national championships.
Well, that and Iron Bowl victories.