Alabama coach Nick Saban has a reputation for toughness, but that doesn’t mean he is inflexible. He also has a reputation as being a defensive coach, but he is also responsible for the offense.
Last year, Alabama rode the rushing strength of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to a 14-0 season and the national championship. So is Saban locked into that ball-control philosophy?
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“Our philosophy is we want to utilize the players we have on offense,” Saban said following Alabama’s second practice of Fall camp Friday. “We start with that. There were times at LSU (Saban was coach at LSU 2000-04) when we led the [Southeastern Conference] in passing and there were times when we led the league in rushing. There were times when we scored a lot of points and there were times when we were hard to score on.”
Saban pointed to the strength of the 2009 Alabama team as being its defense and its ability to control the ball on offense. Bama ranked third in the SEC and 12th in the nation in rushing offense at 215.1 yards per game. The Tide led the SEC in time of possession, 33:31 minutes per game, about seven minutes more than opponents. On defense, Bama was first in the SEC and second in the nation in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense, allowing 11.7 points per game.
“We had a relatively inexperienced quarterback and we didnt want to put the ball in his hands,” Saban said. “We were good enough to control it with some very good players like Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and a good offensive line and good enough skill guys outside to keep people honest.
“But we probably didnt make enough explosive plays passing.”
Quarterback Greg McElroy, who returns for his senior season, completed 198 or 325 passes (60.9 percent) for 2,508 yards with 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
This year’s team may be a little bit different, Saban said. “We probably don’t have the experience on defense to have the expectation we are going to give up only 11 points a game, like we did last year.”
“We may need to score more points. We may need to make more explosive plays. We have a little more experienced quarterback, we have three receivers who have gained a lot of experience in the last two years. Those guys need to be a little more productive and we need to make them more productive.
“I think from last year to this year, we still have two pretty good runners. I think if the right tackle progresses, we’re going to have a decent offensive line. I think the young players we have are developing, including at quarterback. I think we should have more diversity because of the personnel we have.”
“The bottom line is We don’t have a philosophy.”
Saban says he learned a thing or two about offensive philosophy from his time with the Houston Oilers.
“We were going to run the Run-N-Shoot no matter what because the guy who was running the offense was a Run-N-Shoot guy and he thought that was the best offense in the world and the only offense that you could score a lot of points with. And it was more about that philosophy of the offense than about the team.”
“I’m not saying that in a bad way, because we had the right kind of people to do it. But that’s not how we are. We’re not going to be ‘were going to do this no matter what.’ We feel it’s important to control the line of scrimmage, have balance on offense and utilize the personnel we have.”
Saban says his squad isn’t locked into anything.
“I think if you went back and looked at our teams at Michigan State to here in college football, you could see there was quite a bit of variation. For instance, we’ve hardly ever used four wideouts here. We did our first year because we had pretty good wideouts with experience, but we haven’t since because we haven’t really had four wideouts where we were deep enough. We used that a lot at LSU, but we had four guys who were first-round draft picks as wideouts.