Alabama Football: Is Jim McElwain Really the Problem?

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Alabama Football: Is Jim McElwain Really the Problem?

Alabama's Jim McElwain has come under fire quite often in his stay as offensive coordinator--almost as much as quarterback Greg McElroy.

They both own National Championship rings, yet they are still not held in high regard by the Alabama faithful. What gives? Is it all McElwain's fault? Or can the blame be relinquished to the personnel on the field?

From a pure statistical standpoint, Alabama's offense actually improved in total yards per game, points per game and passing yards per game this season.

In fact, all three of those categories have improved each season with McElwain. His game plan is balanced, and its one that is not only difficult to stop at its peak, but demoralizing to opposing defenses as well.

It's frustrating for the opposing defense when they can't stop the run, even when they know exactly what's coming. And that's the way things have gone at Alabama for the past two seasons, with 2009 being the most dominant. 

Despite improvements in some areas, others are quick to point out flies in the ointment.

Some will say that McElwain is too predictable or conservative at times. And that may be true, but a lot of coordinators can get too conservative from time to time.

There have been missed opportunities down field in some instances, or just a failure to throw it deep entirely. It's difficult to say whether this is McElwain's fault, or McElroy not reading the defense correctly. I think it's a little bit of both.

Some instances of predictability can be seen when Alabama continually calls running plays on first down. I saw a running play lose yards or go for minimal gains on early downs with regularity this season. One thing I can say about McElwain is that he's persistent.

His refusal to abandon the running game is admirable. It is one of a few key ingredients to a successful ground attack. You can't abandon it, even after multiple unsuccessful attempts, if you want it to be effective.

Still, the running game has taken a considerable hit in 2010. There's no doubt that the ability to run the ball at will has been one of Alabama's mainstays and reasons for success the past two years, and it shows in the playcalling.

Here's a table chronicling the playcalling from the past three seasons.

Play Selection Run Pass Run % Pass %
2008 568 334 63% 37%
2009 601 346 63.5% 36.5%
2010 423 339 55.5% 44.5%

Even if Alabama matched 14 games played (as they had in 2008 & 2009), they still would not come close to their previous totals. They averaged over 40 running plays per game prior to the 2010 season. It dropped to 35 per game in 2010.

So I present the question once again: Who is to blame for this?

The answer lies in Alabama's poor offensive line play. They simply have not been able to control the game up front consistently, and that has led to a mortal running game for Alabama. They were held under 100 yards twice this year and barely eclipsed the mark two other times---something that had been done only twice in 28 previous games coming into 2010. 

In 2009, Alabama averaged 215.1 yards rushing per game. That total has dropped by 40 yards per game this season to 175.3 yards. While that's not a terrible number, it's not really indicative of a consistent running game.

Against rush defenses in the Top 50, Alabama has averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 110.4 yards per game. In the SEC, they have averaged 136.1 yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry.

The disparity is evident when they face weaker run defenses like San Jose State, Penn State, Tennessee, Duke and Georgia State. In games against rush defenses outside of the Top 50 (average rank of 87.1 for seven teams), they have averaged 221.6 yards per game.

When you compare the numbers to last season, you begin to see the difference. Even against solid run defenses, Alabama still produced on the ground. They averaged 225 yards per game against the Top 50, including two 200 yard performances against Texas and Florida. Alabama averaged 172.7 yards per game against SEC competition.

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Furthermore, Alabama is ranked 97th in the nation in sacks allowed at 32. Alabama quarterbacks were only sacked 20 times all of last season, and 25 times in 2008. In addition to the sacks, the Tide is also allowing 5.25 tackles for a loss per game, compared to 4.71 in 2009.

It was expected that Alabama would reload on the offensive line---just as they did the previous years when key starters departed. It is clear that losing Mike Johnson and Drew Davis proved to be too much for the offensive line to handle.

In addition to returning starters James Carpenter, Barrett Jones and William Vlachos, Sophomore Chance Warmack and Redshirt Freshman D.J. Fluker were added to the mix. The 2010 offensive line totaled 42 starts coming into the season, but the lack of a true veteran presence, or leader, has caused them to struggle at times.

The spoils of success may cause McElwain to pack his bags and leave. He's certainly trying to do so. Any coach who takes a position at Alabama knows it's a high pressure job. The fans will get frustrated as quickly as they will bestow gratitude.

The Alabama fan base is an insatiable one. A lot of Tide fans felt that the team was invincible--but can you really blame them after going 28-2? The simple fact is that it's very difficult to win the National Championship, much less to repeat.

For most Alabama fans, they will likely get their wish soon enough. McElwain will move on to a head coaching job or possibly another offensive coordinator position, but is this really the best solution?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at jtmcadams@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.

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