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Overall Grade: D-
The one major point in the coaches' favor was the fact that they made adjustments faster than in other games. If not for the quick adjustments and the players' response to them, the Aggies would likely have gotten out to a lead greater than 20-0.
The bad news is that the coaches once again stuck to a game plan that wasn't working. They were calling passes when they needed to be calling runs. They made that mistake a lot. There were precious few screen passes called to the tailbacks, and there were almost no lateral passes to anyone in the backfield. Yes, those passes tend to attract attention and get tacklers to the ball faster than the team would want, but those passes also freeze the secondary for a second or two. That opens up the deep game quite well.
While McCarron was allowed to gouge the A&M defense with the two-minute drill late in the game, he was not allowed to truly enter that style of football until it was too late. Yes, I understand that Saban wants to control the clock. However, this Tide team is not currently built to do that. This Tide offense is built more like a Chip Kelly offense at the moment. That's due to the loss of personnel over the offseason.
We “get” that Saban has a system, and we “get” that he doesn't want to deviate from that system in any way. That system can yield a national championship every other year, assuming it's implemented to perfection. However, with a little deviation from the game plan (not the system in its entirety), the Tide could have had a perfect season this week.
No, Saban doesn't want to score quickly. However, if you aren't scoring at all, isn't scoring quickly still the better option? Given the defense's ability to stuff the Aggies, the answer to that question is “yes.” He's a great coach, and many teams all over the country would love to have beaten LSU and Texas A&M in the same season.
We were given hope that McCarron had been given more freedom under center, but it certainly didn't look like it. He was looking to the sideline for plays, and he was forcing plays to go where the coaches thought they should go. (It's not reasonable to think that he would avoid calling audibles that much if he didn't have to.) When he was given the opportunity to throw, he looked like he was going to throw regardless of how the play looked on the field. This is partially what caused him to toss two interceptions.
Yes, Doug Nussmeier is going to be a valuable asset to this team, but McCarron has spent two years learning the Alabama offense, not counting this year at all. Nussmeier just got to Tuscaloosa in 2012. While it is right and good to follow those placed in authority over you, there comes a time when you have to trust your lieutenants. They are in the battle every week, and they have seen more than you have.
The game is changing, and the “Johnny Manziels” will not stop coming to your doorstep. If you only have an answer for them in odd-numbered years, it's only a matter of time before you don't have an answer at all. Football will never stop being about who scores the most points. It's not about how those points are scored.
I just have one question for the coaches: When you have Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Jesse Williams on the same team and you're facing a 4th-and-Goal from inside the three, what should you do? (Hint: the answer isn't a short pass into one of the better defenses in the nation.)
There were a few “Whaaaaat?” moments in this game, but that potential game-winning play was the biggest one. Sticking to an unsuccessful plan is exactly what allowed Cade Foster to lose the game to LSU last year. Just pointing out some history repeating itself, that's all.