It wasn’t supposed to be like this, really.
Entering the 2021 season, the offensive line had some question marks, as usual. Alabama is a program that routinely turns over critical starters in most personnel groups — and each season the Tide tends to lose generally at least two starters up front: senior leaders are a rare privilege in Tuscaloosa. The loss of Landon Dickerson, the beating heart and mascot of the 2020 team was big, and so was Alex Leatherwood, the reigning Outland Trophy winner.
But there weren’t that many real red flags. In fact, there was reason for some guarded optimism.
Alabama had recruited heavily along the line in recent years; there were veteran backups aplenty — including Chris Owens, who had performed admirably in relief; the Tide just landed the vaunted Brockmeyer twins; the Tide returned the nation’s best offensive lineman in Evan Neal.
But, turns out that what Alabama lost was far more significant than the sum of its parts — and in particular with the coaching staff, as Doug Marrone single-handedly put out the worst performance by an Alabama assistant since Dave Rader. In fact, I would take a Dave Rader red zone offense over a disinterested Doug Marrone offensive line again every day, and twice on Sunday.
But I’m a sadist, so I’ve also thrown in a lot more for your consideration.
- For just the second time in a decade, and only the 3rd time in Saban’s 15 years, the Tide rushing offense did not hit 5 YPC on the ground collectively.
- Alabama had its worst rushing output since 2007, and
- Alabama did not have a player hit 5 YPC.
- Alabama’s 4.11 YPC was almost as bad as 2007’s 4.01 YPC average. And, its 150 YPG rushing output was barely better than the 2007 team that was held together with duct tape (149.2). Last season was the second-worst rushing output of Saban’s Tuscaloosa tenure.
- Alabama allowed 105 TFL, the second-worst of Saban’s career. (In some fairness, that is somewhat to be expected with a freshman QB playing. Still, only Jalen Hurts 2016 team allowed nearly as many, 107).
- Those 105 TFL were the third-worst in the SEC in the last decade. Nationally, it would place Alabama 127th, just ahead of Arkansas State, Kent State, and Southern Miss — who had a combined 12 wins.
- The Crimson Tide allowed 42 sacks on the season, which was 120th in the nation. It’s 2.73 sacks per game allowed were 104th nationally.
- Those 41 sacks were the 4th worst showing by any SEC team in the last ten years and easily Saban’s worst. Alabama had only allowed more than 20 sacks twice in Saban’s career, and never more than 32. Excepting the 32 and 41-sack outliers, Alabama had allowed an average of 18.3 sacks per year.
- In the 2021 Iron Bowl, Alabama surrendered the most sacks in a game since the 2006 Iron Bowl.
- Those seven sacks allowed by Alabama on the Plains were 20% of the Tigers total output all year. In fact, Auburn had been pretty bad in league play and came into that contest with just 16 sacks against SEC opponents.
- Alabama was dead-last in the SEC in sacks allowed, with 32.
- Alabama surrendered the most sacks by any team with a winning record, nationally and in the SEC. In fact, in Alabama’s wins, it still allowed 33 sacks. And in losses? God help us, Alabama surrendered 9. In just three post-season games? Alabama allowed 14 sacks
Those sack numbers are awful, sure. And it was a passing offense, to be sure.
But ask yourself: why did the offense pass so much?
Because Alabama was simply terrible at opening holes on standard downs: just 2.65 YPC (86th in the nation). That resulted in Alabama being in must-make passing downs on 50.5% of all its third down attempts.
And what was the result of those attempts in obvious passing situations?
Alabama surrendered a sack on 9.4% of those snaps — 85th in the country, and 3rd worst in the SEC. Only Bryce Young’s uncanny accuracy on third down prevented the Tide from having a catastrophic offense, in short. And, even then, it played some very pedestrian teams very closely specifically because the offense couldn’t move the ball — and outright lost another.
What you saw on the field last year, and the numbers above, aren’t just the sheer number of throws; and, it wasn’t just the sheer number of games. It was a holistic factory of sadness.
The reasons for the Tide’s dismal and dismaying performance are legion, but those whys are far more ephemeral.
Yes, Alabama had injuries along the line early in fall that prevented them from gelling. But, even when healthy, no personnel grouping was ever fully established. The Tide started six separate personnel packages in just 15 games.
Miscommunication and players out of space were others. Losing Landon was huge. Not only was he physically dominant, he did an outstanding job calling the defense and getting everyone on the same page. That would not be the case for Alabama until the SEC Championship, when Seth McLaughlin took over duties at center.
Yet another is a long-standing one: Despite the fact Alabama had recruited heavily along the line, for whatever reason, those blue-chippers were not ready to step in and start. Many never even got off the bench. Whether that is a function of recruiting misses or lack of development by a rotating coaching staff remains to be seen.
Most importantly, all of those lead to one factor — coaching.
At the end of the day, Doug Marrone is the adult in the room; he is the one paid to coach and to develop. He is supposed to find the right group that has the potential to form some chemistry. It was his obligation to find a center who could communicate; a right tackle who was not a turnstile; interior linemen who could open holes and impose their will; players who could be physical and not loaf.
At the end of the day, Marrone failed to do any of these things. He practically stole money from taxpayers. And while I say that in jest and hyperbole, I do so only barely.
Doug Marrone has taken the top spot as the worst hire of Nick Saban’s tenure with a bullet; a swing and a miss of such monumental proportions that Alabama by rights should have been a four-loss team rather than one that overcame his ineptitude to win an SEC championship and play for a national title.
“But the SEC Championship...” I can hear you saying.
What about the SEC Championship?
Georgia sat back in a base package and did not pressure Young. When a slam-dunk was teed up for the line, they performed awesomely. Marrone didn’t have to do anything. Yet when that rematch came around, when the fully operational death star was unleashed, Marrone had no answers for it. You saw his true merit and mettle. The Tide suffered the far more realistic fate of an atomized Alderaan, rather than the much less improbable victory by scrappy Ewoks on Endor.
Around these parts, we’re supposed to be the bully. But in the end, we were just a poorly-coached, taffy-soft mess of miscommunicating slackers — one with guys out of place, out of position, out of leadership, and often, it seemed, completely out of motivation — the one that let their lunch money get taken without so much as a fight.
That gets people fired.
That gets people benched.
Both would happen, but far too late for the 2021 Alabama Crimson Tide.
From this vantage point, it’s hard to quantify that as anything other than failure. Welcome to the historic flop. It won’t happen again.
FINAL GRADE: F
Grade the 2021 Alabama Offensive Line
This poll is closed
A: I’m a rival fan
B: It wasn’t THAT bad.
C: Average, just bad for Alabama
D: The SEC Championship keeps me from calling this a failure
F: And, so help me god if I ever see Doug Marrone on the street...