Although Alabama could not blow out West Virginia as expected, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin passed his first test.
In the 33-23 win, the Crimson Tide totaled 538 yards of total offense with a quarterback making his first career start. This was thanks to Kiffin getting the most out of his talent. If he can continue this style of play-calling, he has a chance to have a very successful season.
Unlike most college coordinators, Kiffin enters the year with a lot of pressure after holding a number of high-profile jobs. The 39-year-old coach has already been in charge of USC and the Oakland Raiders, as well as a few other stops. He has not exactly been the most popular person when he left any of the teams.
As a result, there will be a lot more attention paid to the offense throughout the year. ESPN's J.A. Adande joked about how much he was being shown during the television broadcast:
They are showing Lane Kiffin on the sidelines even more than they showed the Kardashians in the front row at the VMAs— J.A. Adande (@jadande) August 30, 2014
Meanwhile, Colin Cowherd of ESPN was there to question the play-calling right away:
Nice first call by Lane Kiffin. The problem, as USC fans learned, he may call it another 27 times.— Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) August 30, 2014
However, it is hard not to be impressed with how the offense performed as a whole. He got the most out of his stars as Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon combined for 239 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Amari Cooper totaled 12 catches for 130 yards.
It is often difficult getting the ball to so many good players, especially two elite running backs who could be among the best in the nation, as Alex Scarborough of ESPN argued:
Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon stating their case for best RB tandem in the country.— Alex Scarborough (@AlexS_ESPN) August 30, 2014
Kiffin found a way to spread the ball around and keep both running backs fresh enough to be productive from the start of the game to the finish. Meanwhile, he was a big part of Cooper's success thanks to a number of short passes with plays directly intended for the No. 1 receiver.
Not only did this help the stars become productive, but it also took a lot of the pressure off inexperienced starting quarterback Blake Sims. The senior went 24-of-33 for 250 passing yards in his first start to go with 42 rushing yards.
Nick Saban credited Kiffin for helping to develop the young passer.
"He [Kiffin] did a great job," the head coach explained after the game, via Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee, "He really helped Blake manage the game. Very involved and even helped him with some of his checks on the sideline, which is what we thought and why we put him there."
While you can expect Sims to improve throughout the year, the game plan should not change for the Alabama offense. The system should continue to feature a lot of runs for Henry and Yeldon to wear out the opposing defense, while the short passes to Cooper create a chance for a big play.
Both of these strategies will be useful to keep the pressure off a quarterback who should not be overwhelmed on the field.
This brings us to a new problem in Tuscaloosa, a poor defense. Although you can be certain the Saban-coached team will improve as the year went on, the unit struggled against West Virginia. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was surprised by the struggles:
Very strange to see Alabama's defense for the 3rd straight game look so pedestrian. Looking fatigued and unsound at times!!— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) August 30, 2014
Even Saban called out his own squad heading into halftime:
Saban: "Defensively we made a lot of mental errors...we're soft" Alabama leads WVU 20-17 at half— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) August 30, 2014
Fortunately, the offense helped out by controlling over 37 minutes of possession. The less time the defense is on the field, the fewer points they can give up.
The main goal for any offensive coordinator is to score points. However, Kiffin has to use his head coaching experience to realize what is best for the team.
In each game, the offense has to control possession and run the ball to keep the pressure off the inexperienced quarterback as well as the defense. Kiffin made sure this happened in Week 1, and it is the perfect strategy to help in every game going forward.
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