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National Title Game Film Preview: Alabama Offense

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Washington v Alabama Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The Alabama running game is based around finding as many ways to use inside/outside zone, counter and power blocking as possible. To accomplish this the Crimson Tide will use jet sweeps, option concepts, constantly moving tight ends/h backs and direct snaps to quarterback Jalen Hurts. Mix in play action passes, run pass options, roll out passes and the occasional drop back and the Alabama offense is lethal if on schedule. There are a few cracks, despite being the #1 rated rushing offense by S&P the Tide rank 88th in stuff rate. In addition the passing game is relatively mediocre, ranking in the 40’s and 50’s in efficiency and explosiveness. While Hurts does not take many sacks (19) or throw many interceptions (9) he has put the ball on the ground eleven times. The Tide are much more all or nothing on passing downs, where Alabama is 41st in efficiency but the 6th most explosive offense in the country. While Alabama did change offensive coordinators lately, with a week to prepare and coming from in house I don’t expect Sarkisian to make many changes to the scheme.

Alabama wants to run inside zone handoffs to one of their stable of robot running backs all day if possible. H Back OJ Howard will move around quite a bit, lining up in the backfield, out wide, on the line.

All images via OneHourFootball

Alabama lines up under center, in the pistol and in the shotgun, working primarily from 11 or 12 personnel. What’s most changed about this years iteration on offense is the massive increase in rushing ability and quarterback, as well as a less effective drop back passing game. The zone read, power read and direct snap run are all major tools Alabama turns to keep the running game moving.

Alabama runs both the regular version of power read and the variation discussed in a recent smartfootball article.

Both schemes allow Jalen Hurts to get downhill as a 210 pound wrecking ball with momentum and a lead blocker. With a full head of steam he’s near impossible to take down. However, such as on this variation of inside zone slice where Hurts and the running back exchange responsibilities, he can be taken down behind the line by penetration from the defense.

Hurts also runs the routine version of the zone read well, taking advantage of defenses keyed in on Damien Harries and Bo Scarbrough. Using OJ Howard to both kick out defensive ends and lead block to the outside on zone read allows the offense to present very different threats with the same blocking scheme.

Alabama is fond of using unbalanced and/or bunch formations to stress defenses horizontally.

In addition Lane Kiffin was using the jet sweep to ensure the weapons at receiver are involved in the run game as ball carriers or decoys.

The 188 lb. Calvin Ridley has even been used to seal off backside ends on inside zone runs away.

When in the shotgun QB Jalen Hurts is a threat to run single wing style plays off the action either outside.

Or inside, with a counter scheme Alabama uses occasionally but effectively.

All of the misdirection, option, unbalanced formations and potential ball carriers combine to make the Alabama running game nearly impossible to stop. The passing game is reliant upon this fact, subsisting mostly on run pass options and intermediate play action passes. Hurts, for all his skill as a runner, is not a developed enough passer as a freshman to carry the offense through the air.

Kiffin did a good job of using trips formations to set up bubble screens attached to inside runs, sometimes splitting OJ Howard wide to take advantage of his perimeter blocking.

Or in this RPO, where Hurts has three options based on simple reads. If there are five or less in the box, he runs. If there aren’t four guys to the quads side he throws the screen. If someone is covering Calvin Ridley one on one, it’s worth a shot.

The concepts, such as this run pass option where Hurts either runs outside zone read or throws to the tight end in the flat, are solid. The execution is often hit or miss.

This isn’t to say Hurts can’t take advantage of defenses with his arm strength if a receiver is open.

Thread the needle on the sideline on occasion

Or take advantage of the attention his skill as a scrambler demands.

He’s shown an ability to throw intermediate outs and check downs well at times, but is limited as a passer without either play action or the threat of scrambling.

Hurts doesn’t make many mistakes, and his athleticism has made the Alabama running game one of the more diverse and dangerous systems Clemson will play this year. With that said, Jalen Hurts is still a freshman who is often helped out by having elite receivers make plays in the passing game. If Jalen Hurts is asked to drop back and beat Clemson throwing the ball I don’t think he’s capable of doing that yet. That requires Clemson t0 keep track of Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, OJ Howard, both of the Alabama running backs and whatever other five star terrors Saban has on the sideline. If the Tigers can, Clemson is capable of shutting down this offense. As with Ohio State it will be crucial for the defensive front to get stuffs behind the line of scrimmage to force the offense into third and long. Stopping Alabama seems impossible, but slowing the Tide down enough to win isn’t.