Happy Friday, everyone. As you well know, the basketball teams are on fire right now. Kevin Sweeney over at SI.com explains why the men’s squad is the team to beat in the SEC.
Even after a home loss to Alabama in early January, Tennessee looked like the SEC favorite. But Tuesday’s embarrassing blowout defeat to Florida combined with Alabama’s recent dominance makes me think the Crimson Tide are the team to beat. The Tide’s three-point barrage to blow out LSU was one of the most impressive offensive performances by any team in recent memory and showed what makes this Alabama group so special. And while Tennessee’s defense is one of the best in the country, it now trails Alabama by two games in the conference standings and can’t win a tiebreaker with the Tide. The Vols have incredible upside, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a team playing better basketball than Oats’s team right now.
That LSU game was surreal. May they maintain their intensity tomorrow against Mississippi State.
In football news, Saban officially announced Bill O’Brien as the next offensive coordinator.
“We are pleased and happy to be able to add Bill O’Brien to our coaching staff,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “He has a wealth of experience as both an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL and college. Bill is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, an outstanding teacher and excellent recruiter. He will strengthen our coaching staff and give our players the best possible chance to be successful.”
O’Brien arrives in Tuscaloosa after six-plus years as the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans where he compiled a 52-48 (.520) record with four AFC South titles, four playoff appearances and two appearances in the AFC Divisional Round.
His prized pupil in Houston, QB Deshaun Watson, had some pretty glowing things to say about him. Back in September, Watson lauded his head coach’s work ethic.
“I feel like I don’t think that people understand the work ethic that he puts in, the time that he puts in to watch film and try to make sure this organization is at the top of its game,” Watson said. “He’s probably the hardest worker in this building, in this organization. He’s not going to stop until he’s a champion. That’s what I like about him.”
A month later, when O’Brien was fired following an 0-4 start mostly due to a defense allowing 31 points a game and an opening schedule that featured Kansas City, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the first three weeks, Watson had this to say.
Deshaun Watson on Bill O'Brien: 'I have the utmost respect for coach O'Brien for getting me to Houston, teaching me what he taught me the four years I've been here. He did a lot of amazing things.'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) October 7, 2020
Watson clearly has respect for O’Brien, but besides some disastrous personnel decisions there are some red flags here. O’Brien is known for his abrasive personality, and his tenure in Houston ended in tumultuous fashion after spats with some of the players and assistant coaches. Watson’s passing output improved after he was fired, but the schedule also got much easier, particularly in terms of pass defense.
O’Brien has been close friends with new OL coach Doug Marrone for some 25 years, so the two of them should work well together. It is an interesting experiment that combines NFL clout with some baggage. Scheme-wise, SB Nation’s Battle Red Blog had a piece on the evolution of the Houston offense over his seven years. Their observations from the 2019 squad:
In terms of play calling, we begin seeing more play-action and RPO concepts, but Watson also figures out how to read blitzes and how to get the ball out quickly when needed. As of right now, Watson ranks 4th in the NFL in passer rating (107.1), 4th in completion percentage (70.2%), 6th in total yards (2,432), and 3rd in touchdowns (18). He is, without question, an elite top-tier QB. As stated below, the Texans are also ranked 3rd in total offense and 5th in scoring. It’s working. Watson finally has full command of O’Brien’s offense, has the most talented supporting cast he’s ever had, and is completely healthy. We’re firing on all cylinders.
Play Selection: 56% pass, 44% rush
Some like the hire, some do not, but at this point it is done. We hope for the best and trust Nick Saban, as always.
Mike Stoops was apparently not in the mix for an Alabama coaching gig and has thus followed Sark.
Stoops, who has also been a head coach at Arizona, worked at Alabama with Sarkisian the last two seasons.
The 59-year old Stoops would be the fourth member of the 2020 Tide staff to be hired by Sarkisian at Texas, joining offensive line coach Kyle Flood, tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Banks and offensive analyst A.J. Milwee.
Stoops coaching for Texas in the Red River Shootout will make for an interesting dynamic.
Look what didn’t win Will Reichard a Lou Groza award.
The career PAT/FG percentage record belongs to Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo (2013-15). He made 96.7% of his combined kicks including all 198 extra points and 69 of 78 field goals. Reichard’s two-year percentage is 96.8 (123 of 127) but will need to pick up the pace on field goals. The NCAA record requires 50 minimum and Reichard is 18-for-21 through two seasons, though his freshman year was cut short by a hip flexor injury.
Bastards stole it from him, but that pace works just fine if Will stays for three more seasons as he is eligible to do.
ESPN’s Heather Dinich has Alabama #2 in her way too early contenders list.
Cause for concern: Significant departures. It’s not only the starting lineup that has holes to fill — DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle and Alex Leatherwood to name a few — it’s the coaching staff, starting with former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who was hired as head coach at Texas. Alabama associate head coach/running backs coach Charles Huff was hired as Marshall’s head coach. Alabama offensive line coach Kyle Flood and special-teams/tight ends coach Jeff Banks followed Sarkisian to Texas.
Storyline to watch: How all of the new personalities come together. The 2020 LSU team was a blueprint for what not to do after winning a national championship, but Alabama coach Nick Saban knows how to surround himself with players and assistants who buy into The Process. The question is what the Tide actually looks like with all of those pieces in place, and how long it takes before transforming from new to familiar.
Alabama is losing a boatload of leadership from both sides of the ball this season. Chris Owens and Brian Robinson returning will help in that regard on the offensive side, and Christian Harris, Josh Jobe and Jordan Battle need to step up on defense. Bringing along some green talent in many of the other positions will determine Alabama’s fate in 2021.
Last, the new Jets coach likes him some Quinnen Williams.
“That kid is special,” Saleh said on Thursday during an appearance on “The Michael Kay Show” on WEPN-FM in New York. “He’s a game-wrecker. He’s somebody you have to game plan against to keep him at bay, and, obviously, it gives the other 10 guys an opportunity to excel just because of the focus that he’s going to garner.”
Hopefully Q has a little more competence around him this season and can blossom into a superstar.
That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.