To survive the Texas A&M visit, Alabama must ratchet up its offense
Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims is stopped on fourth down by Arkansas Razorbacks linebacker Braylon Mitchell. Alabama's offense has been struggling of late, and must rebound when it hosts Texas A&M.
There is never a good time for a team to be struggling on offense. Six games into the season for Alabama however, that’s the exact predicament the Crimson Tide are facing.
What’s worse than trying to fix an offense that isn’t working as well as it should? Being forced to work on a deadline.
On Saturday, Alabama hosts Texas A&M. The Aggies bring to Tuscaloosa, Ala. the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific offense. At 43.9 points scored per game, A&M not only leads the SEC, but is ranked sixth in the country on the power of quarterback Kenny Hill’s arm.
The Crimson Tide had better find a way to ramp up their offense in the next few days, or there will be no way to keep pace with Texas A&M’s big-play offense.
Through four games, Alabama seemed fine. The Crimson Tide was 4-0 and had scored at least 33 points in each of its games, culminating in a powerful Week’s 3 and 4 where the offense pasted 52 points on Southern Mississippi, 42 on Florida and averaged 596 yards of total offense against those two foes.
The next two games didn’t go so well offensively.
Alabama only scored 17 points and lost to Ole Miss. T.J. Yeldon paced the team with 123 yards on the ground, but the Crimson Tide slowed down in the second half, and quarterback Blake Sims only completed 61.3 percent of his passes and threw a late pick in the end zone.
Order was restored a week later, kind of.
The Crimson Tide got back to winning with a 14-13 victory of Arkansas. But again, points weren’t plentiful, and the offense sputtered.
In Alabama’s most recent two games, the team has averaged 15.5 points per game and only 311.5 yards of total offense. To put that into perspective, the Crimson Tide averaged 47 points against Southern Mississippi and Florida, but 31.5 points fewer when it played Ole Miss and Arkansas. Alabama’s total yardage gained fell dramatically too. It gained 284.5 yards fewer, on average, versus the Rebels and Razorbacks than it did in the two weeks prior.
That’s a massive drop in offense in an extremely short period of time.
Alabama might not even be able to keep pace with Texas A&M at the levels its offense was performing three weeks ago against Florida. But it will surely be frighteningly difficult to stay neck-and-neck with the Aggies if this offense isn’t bolstered.
What’s been the issue with the Crimson Tide on offense?
One of the biggest reasons Alabama’s offense has slowed down is because teams have found ways to slow standout wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Cooper posted four consecutive games of 100 yards receiving or more to start the season, which added his name to the list of Heisman hopefuls. But Ole Miss and Arkansas focused intently on rendering Cooper ineffective.
With 11 catches for 113 yards combined, Cooper was relatively quiet. Especially considering that his combined output against Ole Miss and Arkansas wasn’t as high as any one of his previous four games from a yardage standpoint.
The Razorbacks did the best job of stopping Cooper. By placing a safety deep over the top on Cooper’s side, and a cornerback underneath in coverage, Arkansas held Cooper to just two catches for 22 yards. With Cooper blanketed, Sims had to spend extra time going through his progressions to find other targets. That resulted in him being sacked twice in a game for the first time this season.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that his team had to find ways to spread the ball around to more targets.
"They are basically challenging you to run the ball, which is something we have to do better," Saban said. "We also have to throw the ball more effectively in other ways. And utilize as many people as we need to because we have confidence in all of our receivers, and our tight ends, and our backs that they can be effective in the passing game.
"I just think it’s more important for us to go back to the basics of what we need to do to execute and make better judgments, choices and decisions of how we distribute the ball and we’ll be just fine."
Cooper still leads the SEC in receptions (54) and receiving yards (768) by a wide margin. Until Alabama finds other ways to effectively move the ball on offense, he likely won’t return to the levels he enjoyed in his first four games.
Saban mentioned Alabama’s rushing attack as an area that needed improvement. That might have been an understatement.
Yeldon and fellow running back Derrick Henry exploded out of the gates at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game with a combined 239 yards rushing; 126 for Yeldon and 113 for Henry. Yeldon hit the 100-yard plateau against Ole Miss with 123 yards on the ground, and Henry rushed for 111 yards against Florida. But each member of the duo only has two games over the century mark in rushing.
While Yeldon and Henry haven’t been piling on rushing yards as expected, Alabama’s running game has been diminishing each week of late, culminating with a paltry 66 yards on the ground against Arkansas.
In each of the Crimson Tide’s last three games, their rushing yards have fallen off from the previous week.
Alabama rushed for a powerful 223 yards against Florida, but that was 110 yards fewer than the week prior versus Southern Mississippi. The next week, the Crimson Tide rushing attack dipped to 168 yards against Ole Miss, then that nasty 66 last week against the Razorbacks.
If team’s are going to start doing everything they can to stop Cooper, and as Saban put it challenge the Crimson Tide to run the football, Alabama has to be able to churn yardage on the ground. This alarming trend of plummeting rushing yards has to be addressed.
Saban said his team has made some progress in practice this week offensively, and he thinks the offensive line is making strides, as are some of the injured players trying to return to action.
But progress, while a start, might not be enough.
The Alabama offense needs an eruption on Saturday against Texas A&M to have a decent shot at victory. The Crimson Tide haven’t scored more than 23 points since Sept. 23, and it’s likely going to take far more than that to stave off the Aggies.
Alabama needs to be thinking about scoring at least 30 points on Saturday to win, and have the power in reserve to push to 40 if necessary. It just may be.