Last year this unit earned an F, both at the halfway mark and for the season. For all sorts of ghastly reasons we won’t rehash here, including having HR escort Doug Marrone off the grounds of my alma mater, 2022 was always going to see some improvement — it quite literally could not have gotten much worse, as the Tide last year had its lowest YPC since 2007, the second-most sacks allowed in Saban’s career (41, 120th nationally), and was 111th in TFL allowed.
Enter Eric Wolford, who specializes in quick turnarounds, to squeeze blood from this deficient turnip.
What has the result been? Let’s call it mixed. While coaching was undoubtedly part of the issue last season, it was not the sole reason. This team simply has bad line play when certain pieces are inserted on the line. It’s a talent issue, in short.
But, for that lack of talent (and buddy, Alabama’s revolving door of assistants seems to have whiffed on several straight classes), the 2022 unit has seen modest improvement in some areas:
- TFL per game are down about 25%, from 6.93 per game to 5.38 (64th nationally). Not great, merely average.
- Pass pro is much better. Hits on Young are down by half, and sacks are on pace to hit about the Alabama average of 20 or so. This season, Alabama has gone from surrendering almost 3 per contest, to giving up just 1.5 (38th) Over the course of a 15-game season, that would be about 22 or so: per-game, about what Alabama allowed in 2020 (1.46 per game, 25th nationally).
- Total offense is about the same (488 vs. 485), though Alabama’s SOS is far more difficult this season than last, so we’ll chalk that up as a positive.
- Scoring is up 10%, from 39.9 PPG (6th nationally) to 43.1 PPG (5th nationally).
- Alabama has risen from 6.54 YPP (16th) to 10th in YPP (7.07)
- 4th down conversions are up to 62% from 44%
But, it is not all Skittles and Puppies here. The interior still needs a lot of work with their consistency, and particularly their discipline. Alabama leads the nation in penalties among offensive players and is almost dead-last in penalties as a team.
That’s inexcusable. That’s not talent, it’s effort and focus. And it needs much improvement — the Tide simply cannot continue to give up 98 yards per game in yellow hankies.
Unfortunately, there has been some regression here, though it’s not particularly bad. Alabama QBs have lost 10% of their YPP through the air, 80+ yards per game, and are just 42nd in passing yards (274 YPG). That has been offset by gains in rushing yards, sure. But the team QBR has also dropped 10 full points, from 166 (7th overall) to 157 (22nd).
Specifically for Bryce Young, he has dropped 5 points on his QBR, down to 162, and has seen his completion percentage drop from 67% to 66%. He is about the same however in terms of ball control. His TD:INT rate is sitting at 6:1 on the year, and was at 5.75 to 1 last season. And, in terms of INT rate, he’s also throwing about as many (1.3% vs. 1.27%).
The loss of explosive playmakers has surely been part of the equation here. Teams rarely lose a sure-handed machine like John Metchie, or a YAC magnet like JaMo, and see their QBR improve.
What is not showing up in the pure stats are some smarter overall decisions with the ball. Specifically, he is protecting himself more this year, looking for safety valves, and even making reads vs. Fire blitzes — and he simply could not read the middle of the field last season on interior pressure.
But the issue most don’t want to address certainly lies with the backups. Milroe can do some special things with his feet — and who knows, he may grow into a capable starter — but for now, he’s simply an emergency option that few want to rely on. The bigger disappointment has to be Ty Simpson, who many had counted on to be QB2, but if Milroe isn’t ready, then Simpson is way underprepared for this level of football. It is unfair, sure, to place that much pressure on a true freshman QB, but such is the nature of the game now.
Thus, for the 3rd straight year, Alabama finds itself with perilously-thin proven QB depth beyond the starter.
You can’t help but be pleased here. Alabama has skyrocketed from 4.11 YPC (74th) and just 150 YPG (75th), all the way to 211 YPG (17th) and 6.05 YPC (3rd). In 2022, the Tide have registered 22 rushing TDs — for all of 2021, Alabama had 17.
Jahmyr Gibbs is special — every bit the shifty, soft-handed burner he was advertised as. In fact, he may actually even be a bit better. What he provides in the passing game shows up on the box score, sure. But having that security blanket has helped make Bryce a smarter quarterback.
The one knock on his game is that he’s not the most physical blocker in the world (and has whiffed on his share), and of course that critical drop in Knoxville that may or may not have cost Alabama the game. But if you took it hard, imagine how he’s handling it.
Gibbs has rushed 98 for 672 yards (6.86 YPC, 6 TDs). He’s also chipped in another 31 catches for 301, and added three scores as a receiver. And for good measure, he’s Alabama’s leading KR (23.43 YPA).
But notice that there’s a whole lot of production missing here? Because, there is. Though Alabama rushes for 211 a contest, Gibbs only accounts for 84 of those. The other 130ish yards are being made up by the Tide’s deep bench. McClellan is also over 6 YPC and has added 312 yards and 3 scores. Roydell and Jamarion have both notched scores and are both at 150 yards on the year. Bryce has even gone over 100 yards and thrown in a few scores (to say nothing of the Tide’s largest RB, Jalen Milroe, who’s actually Alabama’s third leading rusher (close to 250 yards and a trio of TDs).
The offense is scoring more, and against better teams, because the offensive line is blocking a bit better, making the running game more efficient. Throw in a dynamic playmaker like Gibbs, and it’s that simple.
The homeruns may be gone. Bryce may be settling more than usual. But it’s hard to argue with the output — a 10% increase in scoring.
Good news, drops are down? Bad news, so is a lot of the explosion and YAC. This team was counting on JoJo Earle and Tyler Harrell to take care of the latter, but owing to injury, we are now 60% through the season, and the Tide still doesn’t have a dependable burner. Earle has 5 catches for a score and 20 YPC, but his health must be monitored and his P/T will need to improve, if he is to be that slot burner elite offenses depend upon.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom either. Though the one superstar guy isn’t there, in Alabama’s WR-by-committee approach, a lot of players are posting very respectable numbers — notablyJa’Corey Brooks, who is ‘Bama’s receiving leader.
Here’s where it gets fun, though — Freshman Isaiah Bond is tied with Brooks for yards per catch; Traeshon Holden leads the team in TDs scored; Jermaine Burton leads the team in 3rd down catches; FR Kobe Prentice already has 300 yards receiving; and the TEs and RBs have almost 800 combined yards worth of catches, from the Tide’s 2200 yards through the air.
Are there any superstars here? Not that have emerged. But there are some candidates among the younger guys.
Are there a lot of quality options for a ball distributor like Bryce Young? You bet. Ten Alabama freshman and sophomores have caught passes this year — 19 in total. All of last season, just 17 players caught balls.
Though, as with most facets of this team, consistency and concentration need to be the focus down the stretch, it’s a deep group that has largely done a good job for the offense.
It would be nice to see Bryce continue to develop, and a dye-hard WR1 emerge. The offensive line goes from good-to-serviceable and then down to execrable and error-plagued...all in the same series. As a result of penalties and missed assignments (usually, but not always, up front), the Tide is leaving a lot of points out on the field.
Grade the Alabama offense through the midway point of the 2022 season
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