Following Saturday night’s game against Mississippi State, online calls for the head of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien have reached a fever pitch. To be sure, the offensive performance in that game wasn’t great and, despite a low stress 30-6 result, that was just too much for an Alabama fanbase desperate to see dominance the week after losing to Tennessee for the first time since the iPhone was invented.
Our own Brent Taylor offered a poll at about this time last season, and at the time 69% of respondents rated themselves satisfied with O’Brien’s performance. How much has fan opinion changed? We are about to find out, but first let’s try and look at this thing from a logical perspective. As in any analysis, you have to control for variables, and there are many.
In 2021, O’Brien was hired and asked to reload perhaps the greatest offense in college football history, as evidenced by the Heisman, Maxwell, Manning, Doak Walker, Biletnikoff, Outland, and Rimington trophies. Five members of that offense went in the first round of the NFL Draft that April and another the following April. Included in that group were both tackles in Alex Leatherwood and Evan Neal, and center Landon Dickerson went high in the second despite a severe knee injury suffered late in the season. It was probably the best offensive line Nick Saban has had, with a first round caliber QB and skill talent to boot. As a result, Mac Jones set the all time season single passer rating record that still stands currently. Talk about a tough act to follow.
Thankfully, elite five star prospect Bryce Young was waiting in the wings at quarterback. The wide receiver room was young, but there was a promising transfer from Ohio State named Jameson Williams who was to serve as the deep threat as Metchie took the reins at WR1. We all know how it turned out, but along the way there were hiccups. The Tide lost at Texas A&M, which was mostly and correctly blamed on some defensive lapses plus the fact that it was Young’s first road start in the SEC. The alarm bells really started to sound after a poor offensive performance against a mediocre LSU squad, then perhaps an even worse one in Auburn.
Fortunately, he saved the season with a heroic drive to barely pull out the victory on the Plains before shredding the Georgia defense in Atlanta in a manner that exactly no one expected. That game delivered a Heisman trophy as well as a playoff berth, and after a hard fought loss in the national title game Young was billed alongside pass rusher Will Anderson as the primary reasons for Alabama’s consensus #1 ranking. There were still questions as a couple of positions needed filled on the line and almost all of the receiving production was off to the NFL, but Alabama was expected to overcome as they usually do.
Fast forward to bye week 2022, and Bill O’Brien is perhaps the most polarizing figure in Alabama this side of Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama’s offensive production has been very good overall, currently ranked 5th in points per game and 9th in yards per play. Still, there have been points of frustration. Running the football has been a boom or bust affair, and much of the yardage gained through the air has come on Bryce’s improvisation. The latter point has led many to assume that the scheme is to blame. Surely the way Alabama has recruited the receiver position, there must be some way to get someone open, right? And if someone is open, surely Bryce will find them.
While it’s possible that the issues are related to the scheme or playcalling, it’s just as likely that they are a product of Bryce’s own strengths and weaknesses. He is still a developing QB prospect and will be for some time.
In the offseason, NFL film analyst Alex Rollins posted an outstanding analysis of Young’s 2021 season, which I shared here on RBR. The gist was that Bryce had plus zip and accuracy on short and intermediate throws, elite escapability and pocket awareness, but was too inconsistent on the deep ball. He also showed a tendency to rely too much on his pre-snap read and, if he didn’t like the first option, tended to give up on the progression and improvise. Take a look below.
There were several well documented examples of holding the ball despite wide open targets against LSU last season, and we have seen some of these same tendencies this season. Progressions in a spread passing attack aren’t always methodical. Sometimes it’s a matter of immediately seeing the entire second level bail and dumping it off, or throwing hot on a blitz. Bryce seems to prefer using his ability to escape and extend plays to his advantage rather than staying on schedule the bulk of the time. In this way he is the antithesis of former Tide great Tua Tagovailoa and more in the vein of Russell Wilson, who has enjoyed a fantastic NFL career playing off schedule despite this year’s struggles in Denver.
In college ball we don’t get the benefit of All 22 film. The networks bless draft analysts with it in the offseason so that they can do their thing leading up to the big day, which is how Alex was able to offer the breakdown above. Instead, we are mostly left with speculation and rare camera angles where we can see all of the defenders in the shot pre-snap. This makes it very difficult to see whether receivers are open downfield.
So, is the scheme a problem? Is Bryce being developed as well as he should be? In some circles, anything other than a resounding “yes” to the former and “no” to the latter results in accusations of apologism, homerism, or genetic relation to the O’Brien family.
They are eye of the beholder questions, but for his money, Young was particularly thrilled to get Bill back in the offseason. He had this to say about their relationship:
“I think just the amount of communication we’ve had and amount of honest dialogue we’ve been able to have … up until this day is really what has kind of pushed our relationship forward,” Young said. “For ‘OB’ to have the coaching legacy that he’s had, to coach the players and just to have that resume that he had, he could’ve easily came in and said, ‘Just sit down, be quiet and this is where you’re going to throw the ball. This is what I’m going to call.’ But for him to come in and talk to me about how I saw stuff or us to really be able to have that dialogue, it speaks to him as a coach and that’s something that definitely helps me, definitely makes it a lot easier for me to be comfortable in the system and for us to have success.
“So just for him that attitude when he first got here and us to be able to build and grow off that throughout the year, I’m eternally grateful that ‘OB’s’ been here and helped me out so much throughout the year.”
Take that for what it’s worth, but it certainly seems that Bryce has plenty of belief in his coach.
The question, of course, is just how much you believe in him. We’ll pose the same poll as last year and see where we stand. Vote and feel free to drop your smoking hot takes in the comments section below.
We know you will.
Have you been satisfied with job Bill O’Brien has done so far?
This poll is closed
I’m too mad to think rationally