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Alabama Football: How Much Faster Can Lane Kiffin's Offense Be in 2015?

Marc Torrence@marctorrenceAlabama Lead WriterApril 8, 2015

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In a lot of ways, year two of Lane Kiffin is going to be more interesting than year one, where he caught lightning in a bottle with a lot of little things coming together for Alabama's record-setting year.

He installed a higher-tempo offense while Blake Sims turned into one of the SEC's best quarterbacks, Amari Cooper had a career year, and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry came together to form a terrific tandem in the backfield.

Oct 25, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin talks to wide receiver Amari Cooper (9) during the first quarter against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Year two, though, brings yet another quarterback battle among an unproven group. Gone is Yeldon along with Alabama's top three receivers and number one tight end. It's also replacing three offensive linemen.

The learning curve will be even steeper.

So it was curious when tight end O.J. Howard mentioned a "different" offense during spring break.

"Kind of more shotgun, more high-tempo, so you have to learn the plays really fast and get off the ball really quick," he told reporters on Monday.

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It's hard to imagine much more tempo for Alabama, a team traditionally known for running the ball and controlling the clock than scoring quickly. But Howard says it can be.

So how much faster can Alabama actually be in 2015?

For the first four of the last five years, Alabama more or less hovered around the same 65- to 67-plays-per-game mark under offensive coordinators Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, according to TeamRankings.com.

Alabama offense tempo and production
YearPlays per game (national rank)Yards per game (national rank)
201065.8 (93)444.1 (22)
201167.5 (97)429.6 (31)
201266.3 (114)445.5 (31)
201365.9 (116)454.1 (33)
201472.8 (72)484.5 (18)
teamrankings.com, cfbstats

But as college football got faster and faster, that meant the Crimson Tide fell further and further behind in national rankings.

Not that it hurt them all that much. Alabama won two more national titles in that span using a punishing ground game and a stifling defense to win instead of offense.

Oct 11, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin talks with quarterback Blake Sims (6) during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Alabama defeated Arkansas 14-13. Manda
Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, though, Kiffin came in and gave Alabama a noticeable shot in the arm on the offensive side of the ball in terms of tempo, and it led to the most prolific offense in Crimson Tide history:

Alabama's seven-plays-per-game jump is significant. Over a 14-game season, that's 98 more plays than it would have ran last year.

But on the national level, Alabama is still below the midline in terms of tempo. It’s far below the blistering 90.3 plays per game that Baylor ran last year.

So there is still plenty of room for improvement in the tempo department. How does Alabama do it?

It starts, like it always does, at quarterback.

Sims was suited to play at that tempo for a couple of reasons. He had an entire offseason to digest and immerse himself in Kiffin's new playbook. His experience gave him a rapport with his teammates to make calls on the fly. And his five years on campus meant Saban had a level of confidence in him already to trust him with all of that responsibility.

There isn't a quarterback like that on the roster right now.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Saban praised Jacob Coker after Friday's scrimmage and said he had been working in more shotgun than before. He has some mobility, too, so he'll be able to do a lot of things that Sims was able to do.

If not Coker, one of Alabama's other four options will have to prove he can step up and at least maintain what Sims was able to do.

Whomever the quarterback ends up being, he won't have a safety net like Amari Cooper to throw to. Cooper is gone along with DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, leaving a batch of talented but unproven receivers at Kiffin's disposal.

At running back, Alabama seems to be dropping guys like flies. But the top two options remain the same, with Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake assuming top-of-the-rotation duties.

But their usage and styles of play may result in a handful of more plays per game.

Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Henry is expected to be the No. 1 back, but behind him, Drake should be used in a myriad of ways, much like he was last season. Drake has actually taken some reps at wide receiver in practice, which you would expect means more passes coming his way.

It's a skill set that keeps a defense on its heels but also would seem more prone to explosive passing plays rather than the methodical clock-churning of Alabama running backs in the past.

So while it's a little strange to think of Alabama playing much faster, there definitely is room for improvement.

If a few things come together the right way again, Howard's prediction could become reality.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Note: Players are referenced by fall 2015 eligibility.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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