Amid all the Saban-Kiffin sniping that’s admittedly been amusing to follow, Alabama’s head coach had some interesting things to say about what he wants from his offense.
“I felt like we moved further and further away from what I wanted to do last year,” Saban told ESPN this week. “I think the first two years [under Lane Kiffin] we did what the quarterback could do. It was what we needed to do from a quarterback standpoint, but we still philosophically were doing the things I wanted to do in terms of balance and utilizing all of our skill players. And last year, and this is no criticism of Lane or anybody, but having a freshman quarterback [Hurts] and trying to accommodate his skill set, we got to where we weren’t very effective passing the ball.
“Some of it was him being a freshman and us protecting him probably too much, but I wanted to get back to where we could utilize the skill guys we have on offense and still do some of the things that are difficult to defend. The point is that we had Calvin Ridley and O.J. Howard, but they had very little impact on most games.”
I get his point about not wasting Ridley’s and Howard’s talents, but overall, the philosophy expressed there seems to go against the current grain of thinking regarding offensive scheming, which is using a dual threat quarterback to exploit defenses. Say what you will about Kiffin, but I thought his greatest strength as an offensive coordinator was his ability to design the offense around his most dynamic players. A couple of years ago, that was Amari Cooper; in 2016, it was Hurts.
But that doesn’t seem to be where Nick Saban’s head is at now.
“You’ve got guys blocking downfield when you throw a pass. How much better does it get for the offense?” Saban said. “You’ve got to do some of that stuff, but I also thought we needed to go back and make sure we were coaching the passing game like we needed to do it to be able to develop a quarterback so we could have more balance in what we were doing. We threw a lot of passes last year (an average of 27.8 per game), but they were the kind of passes Jalen could deal with, but really not the kind of passes that took advantage of the skill players that we had.”
“We want our quarterback to be able to make plays with his feet, but we also don’t want to have to count on a lot of quarterback runs to make our offense go,” Saban said.
That sure sounds to me like a man who wants to run a more traditional pro-style, run-based, play action passing game. What I wonder after reading that is what’s on Kirby Smart’s mind in that regard. After all, Smart spent years soaking up Saban’s wisdom. Yet, Smart has indicated in his comments this offseason that he wants to get away (somewhat, at least) from that kind of offense, even as his recruiting has clearly favored beefing up the size of his offensive line and receiving corps.
I’ve always seen the value in contrarian thinking when it comes to offensive philosophy. As defenses trend towards being structured to stop spread attacks, it sure seems like running a heavier pro-style attack would be an effective way to exploit the catch that comes with that. When it comes to offensive schemes, does Saban know something that Smart doesn’t know, or is it more a case of the two of them meeting somewhere in the middle?