Stop me if you have heard this one before. The Alabama offensive line struggles. Starting center Darrian Dalcourt is injured and has to be replaced by Seth McLaughlin. Instantly, the offensive line plays incredible. This was the scenario in the 2021 Iron Bowl and it is happening again.
On Saturday against No. 20 Arkansas, it was deja vu all over again as the Crimson Tide stacked up 555 yards of offense, averaged 7.5 yards per carry, and allowed only one “sack” on Bryce Young’s ill-fated scramble. All this success came with McLaughlin taking all the snaps at center. An unbaised opinion from SEC Network’s Chris Doering raved that the Tide’s offensive line performance was the best they have looked all season. CBS’s Gary Danielson singled McLaughlin out for his excellent game.
Following the game, Nick Saban was perhaps the most effusive he has been about the offensive line in 2022.
“Really good blocking. I mean, did a really good job up front. One of them, Jalen (Milroe) scrambled on third down, a critical third down, for a big play. But the couple long ones that Jahmyr (Gibbs) made were really well-blocked.”
One brave reporter asked about “the importance of the center position” to which Saban replied:
“We think Darrian is a really good player, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in Seth. He had to play down the stretch last year in some big games, got three or four starts in the playoffs, in the SEC Championship Game. So we have a lot of confidence in him. But look, we want to get all of our players healthy. Depth on your team is important.”
He then artfully danced around a real answer and took the conversation in another direction about Kool-Aid McKinstry playing nickel back in place of injured Brian Branch and Malachi Moore. And just like that, any talk of a Dalcourt/McLaughlin controversy was buried behind a mountain of Kool-Aid. The sleight of hand sure sounds that if he is healthy, Dalcourt will be right back in there at starting center.
On Monday, Saban was again asked about the performance of the offensive line and AGAIN he heaped the most praise upon the unit that he has all season.
“Yeah, well they did a good job, in this game especially. I think this was the best game we’ve played. I think they’ve shown an improvement every week... You’re talking about a team (Arkansas) that had 15 sacks going into the game, led the league in sacks. They say they got one sack. I guess it must have been on Bryce’s scramble. He must have lost a half an inch or something on that play. But I thought they did a great job in pass protection too against pretty good pass rushers and pressure schemes.”
That is about a glowing review as Saban has given regarding the offensive line in awhile. The Tide OL has not seen this kind instant improvement since the aforementioned Alabama-Auburn game which necessitated a mid-game change at center due to an injury to Dalcourt.
Nick Saban has 279 more career college football wins than this observer does. But I can’t understand his resistance to make the change at center more permanent.
SNAP COUNTS VERSUS ARKANSAS
54 - LT Tyler Steen – 68 snaps (100%)
70 - LG - Javion Cohen – 50 snaps (73.5%)
56 - C - Seth McLaughlin – 68 snaps (100%)
55 - RG - Emil Ekiyor – 56 snaps (82.4%)
52 - RG/LG - Tyler Booker – 30 snaps (44.1%)
65 - RT JC Latham – 68 snaps (100%)
SERIES BREAKDOWN LG/RG
- 70/55 - 5 plays, 56 yards, 2:12 - ALA 0 ARK 0 - Goal line interception
- 70/55 - 6 plays, 65 yards, 2:09 - ALA 7 ARK 0 - Kobe Prentice for 47 yard touchdown reception
- 52/55 - 7 plays, 80 yards, 3:05 - ALA 14 ARK 0 - Bryce Young 8 yard touchdown run
- 52/55 - 6 plays, 16 yards, 2:32 - ALA 14 ARK 0 - Missed 53 yard FG
- 70/52 - 3 plays, 2 yards, 1:27 - ALA 14 ARK 0 - 3 & out on Milroe’s first possession
- 70/52 - 3 plays, 17 yards, 0:45 - ALA 21 ARK 0 - Jalen Milroe 3 yard touchdown run
- 70/55 - 10 plays, 59 yards, 4:05 - ALA 28 ARK 0 - JoJo Earle 22 yard touchdown reception (Cohen had a holding call during this series)
- 70/55 - End of Half 1 play, -1 yard, 0:21 - ALA 28 ARK 7 - One play kneel down
- 70/55 - 6 plays, 21 yards, 2:55 ALA 28 ARK 7 - Punt
- 70/55 - 4 plays, -22 yards, 1:13 - ALA 28 ARK 17 - Bad punt snap recovered at the 4 (Cohen had a holding call that was declined)
- 70/55 - 5 plays, 75 yards, 1:10 - ALA 35 ARK 23 - Jase McClellan run for 3 yard touchdown (Latham had a false start)
- 70/55 - 1 play, 72 yards, 0:12 - ALA 42 ARK 23 - Jahmyr Gibbs 72 yard touchdown run
- 70/55 - 2 plays, 75 yards, 0:43 - ALA 49 ARK 26 - Jahmyr Gibbs 76 yard touchdown run
- 52/55 - 3 plays, 4 yards, 1:38 - ALA 49 ARK 26 - Punt, running down the clock
- 52/55 - 3 plays, 13 yards, 2:06 - ALA 49 ARK 26 - Running out the clock
Personally, I’d like to see Booker in there over Cohen and McLaughlin over Dalcourt. However, it appears that Saban was trying to make a point with the two returning starters at the guard spots who were rumored to have come into the season feeling a tad complacent/entitled. Alas, the best bet is that the Tide lines up with LG Cohen, C Dalcourt (if healthy), RG Ekiyor against Texas A&M on Saturday.