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Jumbo Package: Let’s YAC about Alabama’s new offensive philosophy

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NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, everyone. As usual, not too many sportswriters bothered to write detailed previews for a game that Alabama is favored to win by 40 points, but if you want a player to watch on their side, Saban recommends Jaylond Adams in the return game.

“This returner, No. 2, has a punt return for a touchdown and two kickoff returns for touchdowns already this season. They’re ranked nationally in all those areas. This is not a time for us to be thinking that we don’t have to prepare well and work to focus on the things that we need to do to play well in our preparation for this game. We need to go to work on that.”

Southern Miss return man Jaylond Adams is the No. 2 Saban mentioned. The Adamsville, Ala., native leads the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 47.4 yards per return, and ranks second in punt returns with an average return of 25.0 yards. Through three games, he is the only player in the entire country with two kickoff return touchdowns and three total touchdowns on returns.

On Alabama’s side, keep an eye on Justin Eboigbe, who will be starting in place of the surgically repaired LaBryan Ray.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “We think he can be a good player. ... We like him as a player and he’s shown a lot of maturity as a player to be able to sort of do the things the way you need to do it. And he always seems to play a little better in the game or in the scrimmage than he did in practice, which is the sign of a really good competitor.”

Eboigbe — the 62nd-best overall player in this year’s recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings — took over at defensive end against South Carolina last weekend once Ray exited the game.

It was the first college action for him after missing a few weeks with a foot injury, including the first two games of the season.

Pretty soon Brian Baker is going to look at his DL group and tell whoever’s feet hurt the least to get in the game.

So, the Alabama skill players have produced a boatload of YAC (yards after catch) this season.

There are actually people who took this to mean that Tua Tagovailoa is overrated, which of course is absurd. Reading the defense and quickly distributing the ball accurately to the playmakers is a critical skill in today’s offenses, and one need only watch a NFL game to see how difficult that can be. Marcus Mariota airmailed a couple of short passes just last night.

We’ve been harping on this with good reason, but that stat also highlights the blurred line between the running game and short passing game. Yards after the catch are essentially rushing yards, as shown by Najee Harris’s beautiful catch-and-run score.

Georgia homer David Pollack isn’t loving it.

“I’m just curious who’s going to win the SEC,” Pollack said, “is it going to be a Big 12 team or a SEC team? And I say that because when you look at Alabama, and you look at LSU and you look at their styles of play right now: Lack of running game, throw the ball 30-40 times a game. What are we used to seeing that from?

”This used to be in the Big 12. That’s what they do. Spread the ball all around and throw it all over the yard. (People used to say), ‘You don’t have a run game, so you don’t deserve to be in the conversation among the best teams.’ Well who’s the difference? Georgia. Georgia’s the old-school SEC team. They’re gonna literally line up with two tights, and they’re gonna smash you in the mouth. They make no bones about it that they’re going to be physical with play action off of it.

”Alabama and LSU are pass-first offenses. Completely shifted from what they used to be, so how intriguing is this going to be? We got the Big 12 within the SEC, and it’s going to be really fun.”

In last year’s national title game, Clemson rolled up their 44 points in three quarters while rushing for about 40 yards to Alabama’s 148. Only when the game was decided did the Tigers begin to have success on the ground. In the last two games against Georgia, Alabama was pretty fortunate to win despite being the better rushing team in both outings, and ended up winning both with heroic passing performances. In the first game against Clemson, the Tide surrendered 35 points to a team that managed a paltry 91 yards on 42 carries and lost despite gaining 221 ground yards of their own. In that game we bemoaned the offense’s failure to convert third downs, and it was a major issue to be sure, but perhaps we focused on the wrong effect. Yes, the offense wore out the defense, but failure to convert those downs also prevented them from piling on more points. I remember saying at the time that “31 points should be enough to win,” but perhaps that was outdated thinking against an elite offense. Check out this quite from Nick Saban on his radio show last night, courtesy of Cecil Hurt:

“It’s like the first play that Henry Ruggs scored on in the New Mexico State game (a quick toss that went for a 75-yard touchdown). We really only blocked one guy on that play. The other guy missed his block. But (Ruggs) got the ball in space, we blocked one guy (and) missed one guy and he ran by the guy we missed. So we blocked nobody and scored a touchdown.

“What kind of plays do you know in football where you don’t block anybody or block one guy and score an 80-yard touchdown? So throw me in that briar patch.”

That is the modern-day baseball analogy. No one looks for a walk, a sacrifice and a single to score a run. Everyone swings for the fences. Alabama’s offense is the same and that answer might contain another answer, one that addresses a common question about “what happened to Alabama’s running game?” Perhaps it hasn’t disappeared so much as it has been transformed by all the big sluggers in the lineup. The result isn’t “classic” but the point production has been tremendous.

That says it all. There was a time, back when David Pollack played for example, that you could almost correlate rushing success with winning. The great teams were built around running the ball and stopping the run. Like the three-point shot in basketball and the patient, uppercut hitting approach in major league baseball, however, analytics have determined that passing the football, particularly with the short high-percentage passing game, is a more efficient way to score. The college rules exacerbate this with RPOs, but you see the same trend in the NFL.

So yeah, David, teams are adapting to the data and throwing the football, with point accumulation at least as important as point prevention. To many of us it’s not aesthetically pleasing, probably including Saban since his initial inclination was to just keep these styles of offenses off the field with the running game, but this version of the game also has a fighting chance of surviving as more is learned about brain trauma. In any case, keep slinging it, Sark.

PFF also updated its draft rankings.

However, no tackle made a bigger jump though than Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood. A right guard in 2018, Leatherwood looks far better suited to play on the edge with his blend of length and athleticism. He still doesn’t quite have the angles of pass protection down pat, but he’s got the job done with some of the best mirror ability in the country. He’s only allowed one pressure on 105 pass-blocking attempts so far this season.

Leatherwood has been a monster when out on an island this season. PFF has him ranked as the #15 overall draft-eligible prospect. Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy continue to top this list, but there are a couple of notable admissions from the top 50 in Devonta Smith, Jedrick Wills and Xavier McKinney. I’ve seen all three of those guys mocked in the first round in different places. Same with Raekwon Davis, but his senior tape thus far isn’t doing him many favors. With LaBryan Ray on the shelf, we need that big man to step up.

Oh, Cecil has also noticed that Henry Ruggs is fast.

Football players don’t simply run through a beam for a radar gun, the standard device for measuring the speed of a baseball or tennis ball.

Instead, UA players — and other elite level athletes — use wearable technology that includes a variety of sensors, including accelometers and GPS modules. Those devices relay data that is then interpreted by complex algorithms to provide all sorts of information ranging from “workload” to strain to “speed curves” and actual speeds.

Alabama uses the high-end Catapult System although there are other similar products like KINEXON (largely used for indoor sports) and Polar USA. Thus, the different algorithms make direct speed comparisons problematic. But it only takes a pair of eyes to know one thing: Henry Ruggs is fast.

I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing.

FiveThirtyEight updated their playoff projections, and Clemson is unsurprisingly the closest thing to a sure bet.

The usual suspects are indeed at the top of this year’s projections as well, with Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia forming the top 5 most likely playoff teams. And yes, the two most likely championship-game contestants are — you guessed it — Clemson (45 percent chance of making the title game) and Alabama (30 percent). Those odds imply that there is a 62 percent chance at least one of the Tigers and Crimson Tide make the playoff and a 14 percent chance we see yet another Clemson-Bama tilt in New Orleans next January.

Clemson can thank its trash conference for a 73% chance to make the field. They are the only team with better than even odds, Alabama coming in just a shade under at 48%. Interestingly, the Tide have only a 38% shot to win the conference, so the possibility of getting in without a conference title is still there.

Last, Kirby has one thing on his mind.

“(Georgia coach) Kirby (Smart) will never admit this, but there is this felling around the program it is a Bama or Bust mentality,” he said. “They’re talented, and I’m excited about this game with Notre Dame. We’ll be able to come in on Monday morning and have more information.”

Georgia has certainly been trending up, but all Alabama really needs to do to stop some of that momentum is blow the doors off of them one time. It’s early, but watching Georgia I have my suspicions about their pass rush and secondary. It would be very satisfying to see Alabama get back to Atlanta and hang 40+ on them.

That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.

Roll Tide.