Give It To Bo! Peach Bowl showing proves Alabama should keep feeding Bo Scarbrough
ATLANTA — Lane Kiffin knows what you probably spent a few hours asking on Saturday.
Why didn’t they just keep handing the damn ball to Bo?
It’s a legitimate question for the Alabama offensive coordinator in the wake of the Crimson Tide’s 24–7 win against Washington in the Peach Bowl. Sophomore tailback Bo Scarbrough carried 19 times for 180 yards—a 9.5-yard average—and was the lone offensive bright spot a day when Alabama’s defense scored as many points as Washington’s offense and combined with Scarbrough to carry the Crimson Tide into the national title game. To win that title game rematch against Clemson, Alabama probably will need to generate more consistent offensive success than it did against the Huskies. After beating Washington, Kiffin did get the Bo question—almost exactly the way it was written above.
“At the end of a game, when a guy’s got those numbers, you always look back and say ‘Give him the ball more.’ We just couldn’t get a rhythm going sometimes,” Kiffin said. “We had drives where we did, but then when you’re going fast, you can’t sub. They just stand over the ball, and then it doesn’t work. There were times when we were going and he wasn’t in and you want to get him in.”
What Kiffin means is Alabama’s offense worked best Saturday when it went fast. The rules dictate that if the offense substitutes, it must give the defense time to substitute. So if Scarbrough was taking a breather, coaches couldn’t put him in the game without giving up the advantage of brevity between plays. “When you saw us slow down and try to take time, we struggled more,” Kiffin said. “[Washington’s] defense does that. They diagnose the plays really well and do a good job of seeing your formations. So we felt like going fast was a little better.”
The only time Alabama found that consistent rhythm was on its second offensive possession. The Tide’s tempo would have made a Big 12 offensive coordinator jealous. At one point, only nine seconds elapsed between plays. On the nine-play, 78-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard Scarbrough touchdown run, the Tide ran seven times for 67 yards. The only pass attempt resulted in an 11-yard completion to O.J. Howard.
So why didn’t Kiffin simply feed the 6' 2″, 228-pound Scarbrough the way he used to feed 6' 3″, 242-pound Derrick Henry last season? Wouldn’t a 40-carry game have made things easier for the Tide? Maybe. And that may be what the Tide have to turn to in Tampa if freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to struggle throwing the ball. Saturday, Hurts completed seven of 14 passes for 57 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Kiffin said Hurts was told to eat the ball or throw it away rather than take risks downfield against a ball-hawking defense that led the nation in takeaways (33) during the regular season. “His numbers weren’t very good, but that was part of the plan,” Kiffin said. “Make sure every drive ends in a kick.”
Every drive did end in a kick, but the Tide will need more out of Hurts to win a second consecutive national title. He doesn’t have to turn into Dan Marino, but he does need to complete short passes to the likes of Howard, Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart in space and allow them to use their athleticism to gain more yards. “He’s got to make the easy plays,” Kiffin said. “We’re not asking him to win the game by himself—to throw the ball 50 times. There are just a few easy plays that he’s got to make for us to win the next one.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Huskies made adjustments after Alabama’s first scoring drive to bottle up the Tide’s ground game. “We went into this game thinking that we really needed to run the ball. And I think early on, we ran it effectively, especially on our first scoring drive, and then we started to see a lot more inside backer plugs. We started to see a lot more corner fires, pressures from the edges, and that made it much more difficult for us to run.” Saban was quite diplomatic after the game, but this moment—captured after the Tide were called for delay of game—summed up his feelings on the offense during the game.
Kiffin tried a number of motions and plays to loosen up a Washington defense that had loaded up to stop the run. “I understand a lot of people think that Kiffin is ‘finesse’ or whatever, but he sets up what we do with all the ‘finesse,’” said right tackle Jonah Williams, who made air quotes each time he used the word finesse. “I’d like to think we could line up and just plow them over, and I think we could a lot of the time. But it does make it easier when we have all those motions and sweeps built in.” Unfortunately for the Tide, Washington’s defense stopped most of those plays. What they couldn’t stop was Scarbrough.
Linebacker Ryan Anderson’s interception return for a touchdown just before halftime gave the Tide some breathing room, but they needed one more score to put away Washington. They couldn’t get that score in a penalty-filled third quarter, but Scarbrough finally broke through early in the fourth with a 68-yard run that started with Scarbrough running through three Huskies at the line of scrimmage before finally hitting the open field.
Toward the end of the 2015 regular season, Alabama leaned heavily on Henry because—at times—he was the only one who could reliably produce yards. That may be what the Tide need to do with Scarbrough in Tampa, even if he only has 109 carries on the season. Alabama’s defense will make sure the Tide are in the game, but victory will depend on whether the offense can score its own points. And if the passing game doesn’t improve dramatically, the Tide will have to do something its hated rival learned more than 30 years ago.
Just feed Bo.