Alabama’s offense is traditionally known for its bruising running game, but a look at its recent history in big games shows that Nick Saban’s club has turned to the air in crunch time.
Starting with its decisive victory over LSU in the national title game in January, and continuing this season with its narrow win over the Tigers on Nov. 3, followed by last weekend’s loss to Texas A&M—Alabama put each game in the hands of quarterback A.J. McCarron.
Considering that Alabama is now back in control of its own BCS destiny following last weekend’s chaos, should Alabama go back to its roots as a smashmouth team as the stakes continue to rise (h/t, Barrett Sallee, B/R)?
With an experienced quarterback and the most explosive receiver group that Saban has had during his tenure at the Capstone, the answer may not be that cut and dry.
Saban has always preached balance on offense—with this season serving as no exception despite the increased production from the receiver unit.
The Tide has averaged nearly 40 rushing attempts per game this season, compared to just 24 passing attempts.
However, averaging the numbers from the LSU and Texas A&M games swung that ratio to a 30-28 margin in favor of the pass.
While facing a pair of top-10 teams with strong defenses may have had something to do with forcing Alabama to go to the air, there are a few reasons why continuing to stick with the ground game would prove helpful moving forward.
It’s no coincidence that the Tide lost the time of possession in both of those contests, which in turn led to its defense playing more than 75 snaps in back-to-back weeks.
The irony is striking considering that Alabama has pounded its opponents into submission in recent years using the ball-control formula.
With its combination of strength, talent and experience in the trenches, plus a stable of physical and explosive running backs—there is no reason for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to lose faith in the ground attack at any point in a game.
The tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon form one of the nation’s top backfield combos, having combined to rush for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging more than six yards per carry.
Plus, the argument can be made that McCarron is at his best as a passer when using play-action to hurt defenses that load the box in an effort to slow down the ground game.
While McCarron was able to rally the Tide to victory in Death Valley, Alabama’s offense failed to punch in the winning score against the Aggies despite getting four chances to take the lead from six yards away.
Almost immediately, the reaction from Tide supporters, media and even the Governor of Alabama was swift in questioning the decision to put the ball in the air in that situation (h/t, Matt Scalici, al.com).
Given the gift of a second chance to re-enter the national title picture, the Tide’s ground game may provide them with the best chance to run the table and capture yet another crystal football.