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Saban Lands A Big One: UPDATED

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Update [2008-1-30 19:7:21 by Todd]:
Scroll down and click read more to see a stats comparison of the '07 Tide Offense vs the '07 Fresno State Offense.

A couple of weeks ago when Major Applewhite left for Austin, I stated that I felt confident that Saban would make a hire as offensive coordinator that would make us all happy, and that we would score more points in 2008 even with Applewhite wearing burnt orange in Austin. I'm still highly confident on the latter, but the former was officially taken care of today when Saban hired Fresno State offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.

Saban himself had this to say:

Jim is a phenomenal coach and we are thrilled to have him on board. He did an outstanding job last year at Fresno State. Their improvement on offense, especially in the play of their quarterback, was tremendous. They had an impressive showing offensively against a very good Georgia Tech defense in their bowl win. In terms of production, they upped their offensive numbers significantly compared to the previous year. He's worked with some great coaches including Pat Hill, John L. Smith and Scott Linehan. He also brings NFL experience working with quarterbacks, which is another big plus. We talked to a large pool of coaches when we interviewed for this position and Jim was absolutely the best candidate we spoke to.

McElwain comes with rave reviews from long-time Fresno State head coach Pat Hill, and undoubtedly he played a major role in the hiring of McElwain at Alabama. Saban and Hill have a long relationship together, as Hill coached under Saban when Saban himself was defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns under now-Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Specifically, Hill had this to say on McElwain:

Jim is a great coach and I think he's going to be an outstanding head coach one day. We've lost some good assistants over the years and our offensive coordinators have gone on and done well, including Jeff Tedford at Cal. That's the nature of the business. I never want to hold anyone back from better opportunities. Jim did a great job for us and we wish him and his family all the best.

All in all, McElwain is a good hire and he represents a significant upgrade for the staff as a whole. What he accomplished this past year at Fresno State should speak for itself, and his offenses were consistently able to put up points even against teams from BCS conferences that had far more depth and talent than the Bulldogs did. To further expand upon that point, Fresno State put up 45 points against Texas A&M, the most points allowed all year by the Aggies. The following week they scored 21 in Eugene against Oregon, which was more than either USC or Michigan could muster. Two months later, 45 points went up on the board against Kansas State. Finally, the season ended with a victory in the Humanitarian Bowl against Georgia Tech -- a top 25 team in both total defense and scoring defense -- when the Bulldog offense put up 40 points and 571 total yards of offense on the way to a bowl victory. Long story short, McElwain wasn't exactly just putting up points against non-BCS schools, he was putting up big points against BCS conference schools with far more talent and depth. That's impressive.

Moreover, McElwain is really going to utilize all of the talent that we have and that we are bringing in. This is not someone who is just a conventional guy who will line up in conventional sets and do things in a relatively predictable manner. He's going to use a lot of players in a variety of ways, and in the past he has stated as one of his goals of keeping opposing defensive coordinators up late at night trying to figure out just what they are going to do. One Fresno State fan perhaps summarized his offensive approach best earlier in the day in a post that has circled the Internet so many times that I cannot even find a source:

McElwain's offense is not quite a spread, not quite pro-style. The best thing about his strategy is the versatility. He constantly has guys shifting and going in motion, and he puts in a lot of unique formations.

Likes to use TE's and H-backs - we've run a power offense using a fullback for as long as I can remember (Lorenzo Neal is a Bulldog, and comes back in the offseason to train our guys), but as soon as Mac showed up we pretty much phased it out.

Mac LOVES dual threat QB's. Our guy is not quite mobile enough to have run what Mac really wanted him to, so we saw a lot of no QB sets, or the QB would motion out wide and direct snap to an RB... we really never knew what was coming. The guy is brilliant, motivated, and a GREAT developer of talent at QB.

Once our offense got rolling and became cohesive later in the year there wasn't a D we faced that wasn't on its heels. Including K-State and G-Tech. He loves to mix it up and run a trick play or two each game.

For any that may have seen the G-Tech game, we lined up 3 lineman and the QB on a 2-point conversion, with additional linemen, TE's, RBs and WR's out wide. The defense didn't know what to do, not to mention who was eligible and who wasn't. Its his own style of offense. Its entertaining, refreshing,...and great to not have to play against.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of McElwain for us in the short-term, however, is his work with quarterbacks. In 2006, Fresno State struggled terribly at quarterback with Tom Brandstater, who completed only 54% of his passes, despite a very low yards per attempt, and threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns. His final quarterback rating on the year was a paltry 106.74. And if that stat line does not remind you of John Parker Wilson's season in 2007, nothing will. But in came McElwain for 2007, and suddenly Brandstater took off. All told, he ended up completing over 60% of his passes, averaged almost eight yards per attempt, had a three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio, and had a robust QB rating of 140.48. If McElwain can do something similar with Wilson as to what he did with Brandstater, we could really take off offensively in 2008.

At the end of the day, simply put, Saban has brought in a great coach to be our next offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Total Offense
Passing Offense
Passing Efficiency
Rushing Offense
Scoring Offense