Alabama Football: A key point about ’20 Crimson Tide offense

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Steve Sarkisian will give Alabama football offense a new look in the 2020 season

Every Alabama football fan knows the history of the 2009-2019 seasons. The Alabama Crimson Tide exploded under Nick Saban, winning National Championships in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017. The recipe was suffocating defenses and balanced offenses that hammered opposing defenses with power and efficiency.

During the run, the Tide’s recipe for offensive success did change. The main reason was college football offenses were changing so rapidly, defenses struggled to keep up. Nick Saban knew the Crimson Tide needed to be more explosive. In 2014, Lane Kiffin was brought in to give the Tide a modern offense. Saban still wanted balance. He still wanted his offenses to minimize costly mistakes. He also wanted more explosive plays and when needed, enough points to win a shootout.

Kiffin and his successor, Brian Daboll (along with Co-OC, Mike Locksley) delivered. The Crimson Tide OCs played major roles in two more Alabama football National Championships.

That Crimson Tide history is strapped to the back of current, Alabama football OC, Steve Sarkisian. Such burdens come with the jobs of Crimson Tide Coordinators, but they are heavier for the OCs. The DCs are more shielded since their boss is, in many ways, the Defensive Coordinator.

In 2019, Sarkisian inherited an Alabama football, record-setting offense. With Tua at the helm, Mike Locksley’s 2018, RPO-heavy Crimson Tide attack became the first Crimson Tide offense to amass over 7,000 yards in a season.  The 7,844 total yards, 4,854 yards passing, 52 passing touchdowns and 85 offensive touchdowns are all Crimson Tide records.

Sark had little reason to tinker last season. Who knows, a healthy Tua throughout might have come close to matching the offensive output of 2018. What Sarkisian has now is challenge and opportunity. An offense built for Tua does not match Mac Jones’ skill set. Which is not to say Mac cannot trigger explosive plays. Except for two errant throws in the Auburn game, Mac looked good in 2019.

Alabama football fans are conflicted about Jones. The sun shines on Crimson Tide, QB2s, at least at the start of their careers. Bryce Young is seen by some Tide fans as too good to watch Mac Jones. Their argument is not, can the Tide win with Mac. Rather it is the Tide is better suited to win championships with the Tua-like skills of Bryce Young. Consider these realistic expectations for Bryce Young.

Time and the two young men will settle that argument. The greatest, predictable assets for the 2020 offense are the running backs, offensive line and arguably the nation’s best pair of receivers. More, power-running is warranted as well as throwing to the backs, coming out of the backfield. Sark has said RPOs will remain part of the attack. So will play-action passing that best utilizes Mac’s skills.

Saban will still demand the Alabama Crimson Tide have explosive offensive weapons. Sarkisian will not be reluctant to unleash them, but playing fast will not always be important. The correct mix could overwhelm opposing defenses, including Georgia and Clemson.

As to who starts as QB1 on Sept. 26, the Tide has another scrimmage and more practices to make that decision. Saturday’s non-scrimmage, game-like scrimmage was a good one for Mac Jones. In good vs. good situations, Jones reportedly delivered against the Tide’s first-team defense. One reason is the first scrimmage probably did not include the full offensive playbook. Mac was likely instructed to make quick reads and if nothing there, check down to the running backs.

The biggest challenge for Sarkisian is getting four QBs ready to play. Four QBs with differing skills, three of whom have little or no game experience. Bryce Young will have the full playbook, plus some special packages. Paul Tyson will engineer a more traditional offense. Slade Bolden will have a wildcat and possible emergency situation package. In total, the playbook will be large. Assuming Mac starts, Young will also get meaningful snaps. He must gain experience. So does Paul Tyson.

It is a big ask of Sarkisian, but he must prepare the Crimson Tide to win tough games with any of the four QBs under center.

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As Nick Saban says, the best player should be the starter. At quarterback, that might become Bryce Young. Before coming to that conclusion, a guess is the Alabama football staff will see how Mac Jones does with an offense built not for Tua, but for him.