Saban and Begging

From Cecil Hurt:

If you’ve listened closely during Saban’s tenure, you know this is the truth.  During Saban’s early years at Bama, the team struggled to maintain intensity, especially on offense for entire games.  During the last couple of years, there’s been a struggle to keep the gas pedal down to keep up with certain teams.

The Jim McElwain offensive era sparkled primarily because the team won three national championships.  Don’t forget the 9-6 loss to LSU in 2011 came on his watch.  Last year’s team, in particular, seemed to under perform based on the offensive talent that it had.  That’s why, in my humble opinion, why last year’s offensive coordinator isn’t this year’s offensive coordinator.

This year, it appears, many of the problems have been solved with the addition of Lane Kiffin.  Many think he earned the job during bowl practice last season when he diagnosed several of the offense’s problems.  Then the Tide went out and stunk it up in New Orleans.  Then there was a spot to fill on the staff, and he filled it.

For the most part, I’m sold on Kiffin as a coordinator.  The offensive success so far – especially against Florida, leads one to believe that the guy can coach.  I don’t care who you are playing, when you can rack up points and yards as the team has done this year, that’s definitely a good sign.  When you can use the vast talent on the team in a plethora of ways, that’s definitely a good sign.  And when you can take what the defense gives you and beat them over the head with it, that’s a good sign.

There are more tests to come, though.  The season is only a third over and bigger, more important games to come.  There are still challenges.  But for now, Saban has what he’s wanted: an offensive coordinator that will open it up.

 

More Saban vs. HUNH

CB Cyrus Jones

Yesterday, there was this post discussing Nick Saban and some more of his comments about his defenses vs. hurry up, no huddle offenses.

In a nutshell, Saban believes his defenses played better than the scoreboard and stats sheets may indicate, but there’s also loads of room for improvement.  I know this will mean a lot to Nick Saban, but I concur with him.  And I believe the Tide defense will play a lot better this year.

Statistically speaking, at least in terms of order of finish, it will be hard for the Tide D to improve.  Last season, the unit ranked first in the conference in total defense and scoring defense.  Even in the age of so much offense, those are impressive feats.  Stats are for losers, I know, but those stats do tend to prove part of Saban’s argument as well.  For all of the sky-is-falling talk, the defense, at least on paper, was impressive.

But we are left with the impression that is wasn’t.  Why is that?  I think, in part, it’s because of the blood-letting at Texas A&M, the loss at Auburn and the implosion against Oklahoma.  Again, this matches up against what Saban said.

So what what will be different this year?  Why do I think the D will be better?  And how can it be better than finishing first statistically?

I think so because of the following:

* Johnny Manziel plays for the Cleveland Browns now.  For me, this is a good thing and it’s not because I like the Browns.  Johnny Football was an amazing talent, the kind that hopefully only comes along once in a while since he plays for a conference rival.  Yes, Alabama won last year and barely lost in 2012, but the kid could play.  Like his Heisman brother Tim Tebow, he was the kind of college player that could ring up huge numbers, make plays and cause trouble.  I’m glad he’s gone.  The Aggies will replace him with another talented player, but the odds that the replacement can play like Manziel are rather slim.

* Alabama should have better defensive line play.  A’Shawn Robinson and his gang on the D-line can play and will provide a talent upgrade over last year’s unit which could hardly generate a pass rush.

* Alabama will have better defensive backs.  Though it wasn’t unexpected for him to leave, the loss of Dee Milliner hurt.  Deion Belue had talent, but it was nowhere near the level of Milliner’s.  That meant we had no shut down corner last year and that hurt.  Nick Saban’s defenses aren’t at their best with no shut down corner.  Eddie Jackson, Maurice Smith, Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve are very talented players, but most of them were too overwhelmed to play freely and contribute meaningfully.  That should change this year with another year of experience under their collective belts.  Oh yeah, newcomers Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey can play, and they will, even as freshmen.

* The leadership dynamic will be different.  Sometimes a leadership change brings better results, even if the previous leaders were good players and good leaders.  I think that will be the case this year.

* The HUNH offense isn’t new anymore.  Defenses have had to adjust to the pace hurry up offenses for a couple of seasons now.  That part of the fad is over.  Hopefully, now will be more used to the pace and can improve upon making defensive calls and adjustments on the fly.

 

What Saban is Looking for in a Starting QB

Last week, we took a look at what to expect from Alabama’s next starting quarterback, either Blake Sims or Jacob Coker.  Here’s the nutshell version:

  • Minimal turnovers;

  • High completion percentage; and

  • Being the game manager.

After the Tide’s first practice of the season last Friday, the actual coach of the team, Nick Saban, voiced his opinion on the subject:

1. “…the guy that can basically have the best judgment, decision-making, relative to doing what we need them to do.”

2. “…the guy that is most accurate in throwing the ball to the right place at the right time to give guys the opportunity to make plays.”

3. “…their leadership to affect other people.”

 

For the most part, I think these line up pretty well.

I think you can easily coordinate “decision-making, relative to doing what we need them to do” can translate into “don’t do something stupid and turn the ball over.”

The comments on accuracy line up pretty well, and, in my humble opinion, this can be overstated enough.

And I think “their leadership to affect other people” can, with a particularly loose interpretation, somewhat correlate to game manager.  “Game manager,” in my mind, equates to “being the QB and getting the job done,” and I think that includes on the field and off.

I don’t post this to create some vague associations in order to enhance my blogging cred, but rather to point out the obvious as to what the new quarterback needs to do.

It will be interesting, obviously, to see how this race unfolds.

New QB = Title?

Blake Sims in Action

Nick Saban’s first two title teams at Alabama had at least one thing in common:  both had brand-new starting quarterbacks.  Greg McElroy’s first year as a starter was in 2009 and AJ McCarron took over for him in 2011.

Conventional wisdom would say that teams with experienced quarterbacks would have an advantage, but lately that hasn’t been the case.  Auburn’s 2010 team was also led by a first-time starter (Cam Newton) and last year’s winner, Florida State, featured a brand-new signal caller (Jameis Winston).

So normally, the departure of a three-year starter and Heisman finalist would dampen expectations a bit, but that’s not the case for Alabama this year.  The SEC media is again predicting another SEC championship game appearance by the Tide and many of our faithful are expecting Nick Saban to bring home the new trophy.

But does this make sense?

Saban was asked about this recently:

“Well I think it is a little bit unrealistic because basically what you’re talking about is two guys that are untested,” said Saban who won national titles with first year quarterbacks in 2009 (Greg McElroy) and 2011 (AJ McCarron). “And when you have an untested player at that position, you can be pleasantly surprised with the way they develop and how they do and how the team sorta rallies around them and the impact of their leadership, decision-making, those things are critical at the quarterback position.”

Saban knows it can go the opposite direction with a new passer.

“They can also go to where they turn the ball over and do some things that make it hard to overcome,” Saban said on ESPN Radio. “Because quarterback is such a critical position to me. Football is a great team game, but then there’s the quarterback. And most successful teams have a guy that, at least in their system, is functionally successful for the other players on the team. And in our case, because we have good skill guys, it’s important that our guy can distribute the ball to those guys and make those guys effective players for us.”

In McElroy and McCarron, we had quarterbacks who did what was necessary to win: decent decision-making, good leadership, limited turnovers and good ball distribution.  They also had great offensive lines and very talented skill players.

Oh, and one other thing:  the 2009 and 2011 teams had nasty defenses.  Except on rare occasions, McElroy and McCarron weren’t asked to go out and win games.  In most cases, the defense had locked down the other team and the offense was free to execute its game plan without encumbrance.

Who will be the starter this year?  At this point, who knows?  Most folks would bet on Jacob Coker.  But regardless of who the starter is, the factors mentioned here will determine how successful the season will be.  The game plans, at least early on, won’t be for Coker or Blake Sims to win games by themselves.  The plan will be to run the ball, limit turnovers and play lights out on defense.

Saban Hitting the Reset Button at ‘Bama

In the aftermath of the Nick Saban-to-Texas non-event, I saw this article on ESPN.com:

This just in: He’d like to win a few more … at Alabama. But he also knows that this next stretch will present some daunting challenges.

“I’m looking at it like we’ve got to start all over again, that this is 2007 again,” Saban told ESPN.com Saturday after agreeing to a long-term extension with Alabama.

“We’ve had a lot of success here, but we’re going to have a new quarterback next year and lots of challenges. Some of the issues on our team this year had to do with complacency and winning too much. We have to get back to having the kind of character, attitude and competitive spirit that we need to have.

“So there are plenty of challenges here. I’m going to spend my time trying to fix those.”

So what’s the deal here?  If I had to pick a place to go back to in the Saban era in Tuscaloosa, it wouldn’t exactly be 2007.

Does he mean there are a few players with character and work ethic issues that are undermining the program?

Is he setting us up for a multiple loss season because of losses at key positions at quarterback?

Or is he simply saying it’s time to put all of the trophies on the shelves and get back to “the process?”

My guess would be there’s some of all three to be handled.

The last four years have been a special time in Alabama football history.  Three national championships in four years.  A nineteen game winning streak.  Two conference championships.  A Heisman trophy winner and multiple finalists for the award.  Banner recruiting years.  We’ve definitely been blessed.

But at the same time, so much success builds pressure and expectations that can be unbearable.  You get every opponents best shot every week.  You’re in the media glare all the time.  The game becomes more about not losing than about the joys of winning.  To some degree, that’s why players want to play for Alabama.  But the pressure can takes it’s toll.

I won’t be surprised if 2014 is a down year for the Tide.  A new quarterback.  The loss of a leader like C.J. Mosley.  Playing in a super-tough division (likely with the defending national champions) and conference.  There are definitely a lot of challenges ahead.

But it just may be that 2014 is like 2007 and sets the stage for another golden era of ‘Bama football.

“I never considered going to Texas”

For several of us, the Nick Saban-to-Texas story never really gained traction.

Why?  I think because it never really made sense.  Saban doesn’t lack anything in Tuscaloosa.  There’s not a sense that he’s missing out on something.  Short of a Lombardi trophy, he can accomplish everything he wants to right where he is.

But this point of view never made sense to others, media included.

Why?  I think for several reasons:

* Many want to see the ‘Bama dynasty toppled and the easiest way for that to happen is for Nick Saban to go somewhere else.

* Many – or at least more than should – have the idea that Saban is disingenuous.  He’s not really happy.  He’s a rolling stone.  He did it to us, he’ll do it to you.  He “lied” in Miami.  Whatever.  Some just want to think that Saban isn’t telling the truth so, therefore, he must be headed to Texas.

* The media loves a good story.  They don’t necessarily love facts, but they do love a story.  And the above two items – couple with running Mack Brown out of Austin, were the perfect mix to fill part of the lull before bowl season.

Because of all of the above, it really didn’t make sense for Saban to comment earlier than he did.  But when he did, he cleared the decks:

“The way this sort of got spun, it was a little bit more like, ‘OK, he got a new contract at Alabama, so he’s going to stay at Alabama instead of going to Texas,'” Saban told ESPN.com on Saturday. “I never considered going to Texas. That wasn’t even a conversation.”

The same folks probably won’t believe this, but who cares?