After eight grueling weeks that included match-ups with three top 25 teams, five conference games in a row, and being one meaty Terrance Cody paw away from suffering it’s first loss, Alabama finally got a break this weekend.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. The Crimson Tide was obviously gassed both physically and mentally as it gutted out the final seconds of the Tennessee game while holding on for the win.
So, now the off week Coach Saban has been saying the team needed since before the South Carolina team is finally here. Now what? Obviously the most pressing issue concerning Alabama and its goals of winning the national championship, the SEC championship, or even the western division is improving the passing game.
As Coach Saban is fond of saying, it is not just the quarterback that is to blame when a team struggles in the passing game. Here are the five areas the team needs to focus on.
1) As is always the case, the first area fans look to when the passing game is struggling is the quarterback position. Greg McElroy does not seem to have the confidence he had during the first five games of the season.
He seems impatient in the pocket, often giving up on primary receivers and throwing to check downs before the downfield routes even have a chance to develop. The long ball, McElroy’s self declared specialty, has not been a threat since the Arkansas game.
2) Though McElroy has certainly struggled, the blame does not belong solely to him. There have been breakdowns in all of the offensive positions. The offensive line is not only allowing quick pressure, but it is allowing it right up the middle.
This causes McElroy to not be able to step in to throws, virtually eliminating the chance to throw deep. He is either forced to throw quickly or retreat to one side of the field. This, of course, cuts his receiving options in half. The offensive line must do a better job funneling pressure to the outside. If the unit can accomplish this, McElroy will be able to step up in the pocket and be able to throw to an entire field of options.
3) The receivers also shoulder a portion of the blame. More than a few of them have developed a case of the dropsies. Surprisingly, star receiver Julio Jones is the main culprit. He still doesn’t seem to be 100 percent. Not surprisingly, Mike McCoy, the only senior of the group, has begun his traditional late season fade.
Talented receivers such as Darius Hanks and Earl Alexander have been sporadic at best. It seems as if Alabama signs a great crop of receivers every year, but routinely sees little residual value. One has to wonder at some point how much the position coaching plays into this problem.
4) Colin Peek must get healthy. It was a huge blow to Alabama’s offense when Peek went down in pregame warm-ups before the Tennessee game. There’s little doubt that he was a key cog in the offense’s gameplan versus Tennessee.
He would have been counted on to roam the soft spot over the middle in Monte Kiffin’s vaunted Tampa Two defense. Without him, Alabama was forced to throw short to the sidelines. McElroy’s yards per completion were less than Ingram’s yards per carry. I can never think of a time when that would be considered a good thing.
Peek is the only tight end on the team at this point who is both a good blocker and a good receiver. Preston Dial, Brad Smelley, and Michael Williams have shown improvement, but none is the complete tight end on par with Peek.
5) Lastly, the play calling must improve. Red zone passing has been produced little more than trumped up PBU stats for opposing defensive backs. Third down passing has been so predictable that teams have now converged on passes to Roy Upchurch out of the backfield like they picked the right offensive play on Tecmo Bowl.
The good news is that none of these issues are beyond repair. However, if Alabama hopes to play a meaningful game after the Iron Bowl, these issues must be rectified.