Lack of offensive identity has been a troubling theme for many contenders in the SEC this year, and the culprit has more often than not been the result of quarterbacking woes.
Arkansas has decided it wants to force a balance where none is to be had, as Senior Brandon Allen has regressed to his sophomore form. Georgia wants to be a balanced offense, per their usual excellent identity, but transfer Greyson Lambert has been anything but an answer in the passing game. Auburn's Jeremy Johnson, winner of the preseason Heisman, has been dismal -- accounting for six INTs, two lost fumbles, and is on pace to shatter the SEC record for turnovers.
Alabama's issues are not quite as dire as those three, as Jacob Coker has been serviceable, but turnover-prone. Redshirt Sophomore Cooper Bateman, who split time with Coker the first three games, has shown a decent grasp of the short- and intermediate-passing game, but his unused athleticism and lack of a strong arm limit his utility in the passing game.
It's time to ride or die and rally behind our guy now; Nick Saban, who practically never names a starter, has given the reigns to Jacob Coker.
"At this point, providing he does the things he has to do, I think we'll start him in this game."
Not a surprise, really. Coker was able to move the ball against Ole Miss when he wasn't running for his life or throwing questionable-looking passes on terrible routes by the wide receivers. To his credit, Coker was playing with a flu, and he gave up his body as much as can be asked in the face of a bad night by the offensive line. And, yes, he did make some poor decisions and some poor throws. Still, he was able to make some plays with his arm and legs against Ole Miss, and has shown veteran poise at times, particularly against Wisconsin.
Saban says "this game." I think we know that means "this season;" there is no way Nick Saban will go into Athens, and the heart of the SEC schedule, without narrowing it down to just one starting quarterback.
Cooper Bateman had best keep his arm limber though. In addition to seeing plenty of mop-up duty, Saban will give the hook to Coker if Jake is struggling mentally or with his execution. We saw several occasions last season when Sims was very near the precipice of being Spurrier'd, but Blake usually found a way to make the next big play or to work his way out of his funk. Coker, to date, has not shown that sort of playmaking.
"I think we need to continue to develop that," Saban said. "I thought we had some identity in the first game and were moving in the right direction, and in the last two games we've been a little bit scattered. We need to have some certainty in what we're going to do."
Like tapping Jacob Coker as the starter, these comments from Coach aren't a shocker either. Alabama has played three games, and has shown three separate offenses to start every game: Pro Spread, Wing-T, and Zone Read.
Unless I'm very much mistaken, with Coker now the named starter, expect to see much more of the offense that showed up versus Wisconsin -- downhill running out of the pistol formation, screens to the backs, pro-spread intermediate passing attack that work the edges of the field, designed rollouts and boots, play-action passing, and very limited shots downfield. More often than not, tempo will be part of the game. Certainly we won't see 107 plays as we did Saturday, but there will be some element of a hurry-up passing attack, with the majority of snaps out of the pistol or shotgun, where Coker is more comfortable and which give him a crucial extra second or so to read his keys.
That is who Alabama is: a team that must play it close to the vest, that rides the coat tails of a power running game, and is opportunistic in the passing game even as the Tide rack up yards and points. In a word, it will be closest to what most purists regard as "Alabama football."
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Franklin is splitting time with Wyatt Roberts at quarterback and has come off the bench, but has completed 27 of 47 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He's also rushed for 105 yards
Yesterday in the comments, I noted that Alabama could and probably should seek help from the JUCO ranks, given the development or lack thereof from the quarterback position. If nothing else, another competitor only adds depth at the position. It appears as though Alabama (and Auburn) is doing precisely that. Although, with Johnson struggling, you have to think this is an emergency "hair on fire" situation for Auburn in 2016.
More bad news
Alabama junior long snapper Cole Mazza is out indefinitely for "medical reasons," coach Nick Saban said Monday. Mazza has been the Tide's starting long snapper since his freshman season in 2013. "When he can return," Saban said, "he'll be back on the team."
I have it on good authority that Cole Mazza's "medical reasons" will last for three, and only three, games. Interpret that as you will (and as you will do so correctly, given that it's a three-game absence.) I shall say no more.
Tired of the "end of an era" articles? Here is some refreshing commonsense.
Nick Saban has done a lot of things in Tuscaloosa, but one thing he hasn't done is win every game. And the latest game he didn't win is the important one that tells us Alabama will continue to not win every game.
Jason Kirk levels a brutal, snark-laden counter-punch to the cripplingly-myopic "end of an era" stories floating out there. This is a program that has lost twelve games in seven years. Period. Kirk and Bill Connelly recognize that and aren't buying the Chicken Little laziness from traditional media outlets.
Yet more bad news
"The defensive backs are never going to recover that ball," Saban said. "They should have covered their guys. Somebody didn't cover their guy, so somebody else had to come off of their guy to knock the ball away from that guy, which left his guy open to catch the tip and run for a touchdown. Fundamental execution still minimizes the opportunities for those things to happen."
Cyrus Jones maintains the fluke catch wasn't the result of a busted coverage; his boss begs to differ. This is actually an important distinction, because either the defense is still being busted on long throws (if Jones bailed on his man) or it was just a flukish play made possible despite the fact Cyrus was rotating over to help Fitzpatrick, as was his assignment. I'm more inclined to believe that this is just Saban giving vent to some spleen and frustration over the unlucky bounce more than him actually indicting Cyrus Jones on the play.
You need to be angry: There is revenge to be had.
We may still be apoplectic, confused, disappointed (or maybe even drunk) following the Tide's loss to Ole Miss. But, there is real football to be had this weekend in Bryant-Denny.
Who can forget the detestable loss to a middle of the road Sun Belt team in 2007? Certainly not the Warhawks, as former UL-M players are happy to point out.
From The Warhawk Report:
"That game was not only one of the best memories of my football career, but of my life," former offensive lineman Larry Shappely said. "We knew going into the game that they had Auburn in the Iron Bowl the next week, and knew we had a good chance to catch them slipping.
After all of that gloom and doom, you deserve to smile.
There is football, college football and then there is University of Alabama football. A visit to Tuscaloosa for the night game against Ole Miss was an eye opener, dispelled many stereotypes and provided me with a renewed appreciation for SEC football.
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I left Tuscaloosa late that night with a sense of wonder and deep satisfaction, perhaps now a true concert to the mystique of Southern football. University of Alabama football is simply unique!
A Greek professor came to the States and got his first taste of SEC football. To say Prof. Tziampiris praises the experience, the atmosphere, the people, the sport the way that it is played, Tuscaloosa and the University is an understatement. A PR flack couldn't write anything better (or more true) than this peek into a Southern Saturday night. Wonderful read.