Nick Saban wants No. 2 Alabama’s offense to start looking more like the one that started the season for the Tide.
The one that produced big pass plays and took a few more chances early this season.
The Crimson Tide survived the lack of those elements to enter an open date unbeaten with Saturday’s 12-10 survival game over Tennessee.
The No. 1 order of business isn’t returning to No. 1, a ranking the Tide swapped back with Florida after one week. It is to adjust the offensive mentality so that teams can’t just put extra men near the line of scrimmage to contain the running game.
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“We can’t be so risk aversive,” Saban said. “We’ve just got to be more aggressive with what we’re doing on offense right now. They’re loading the box and we can’t block them all. We can’t get angles on them all. We need to recreate the balanced offense that we had earlier in the season.
“That’s what we’ll work on doing in the bye week.”
No. 9 LSU visits in two weeks in a key SEC West battle.
The Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) had managed to overcome any deficiencies in the passing game with the running of Mark Ingram and a dominating defense. Special teams saved Bama this time.
Leigh Tiffin’s field goals of 38, 50, 22 and 49 and Terrence Cody’s two blocked kicks in the fourth quarter secured the victory.
But the offense that seemed capable of doing it all in the early games managed just 256 yards against the Volunteers (3-4, 2-2) and found itself in far too many third-and-long situations.
The biggest play was Ingram’s 25-yard run out of the Wildcat, a formation Alabama used with mixed results.
The Tide and quarterback Greg McElroy had a nice balance of passing and rushing in the first four games, producing 1,025 yards through the air and 937 on the ground. McElroy passed for at least 230 yards in each of those games.
In the last four, most of Alabama’s success has come running (804 yards), with only 514 passing. The Tide now ranks 84th nationally in passing.
McElroy was efficient against Tennessee, completing 18 of 29 passes for 120 yards and no interceptions, settling for mostly short throws against a strong pass rush. Perhaps the most comforting sight for Alabama’s offense was Julio Jones getting involved again. The receiver had been quiet all season but made seven catches for 54 yards.
“I’ve just been patient all year and I knew I was going to get the ball sooner or later,” Jones said.
They were all short passes, though, low-risk plays designed to give him some room to make plays running. Tight end Colin Peek, the Tide’s leading receiver, barely played because of a sprained knee sustained during pre-game warmups.
“We have to get back to believing in our players and throwing the ball downfield and making some big plays in the passing game,” Saban said.
“They played us all day to stop the run, they played us all day to stop Mark.
“We had to throw the ball. That’s just what we’ve got to do.”
Then again, the Tide’s forte is clearly running the ball with Ingram and Trent Richardson. But even Ingram made a rare mistake trying to run the clock down late, coughing up the first fumble of his college career. He still gained 99 yards.
“There’s not a greater competitor in the world than Mark Ingram, and nobody feels worse about turning it over at the end of the game than he does,” Saban said.
“He has been a fantastic warrior for us all year long and really played well (Saturday).”
Despite the offense’s apparent shortcoming lately, the Tide still managed to win 22-3 at No. 24 Mississippi, beat No. 21 South Carolina 20-6 and edge Tennessee. The defense allowed only one touchdown in those three games.
Ingram is certainly appreciative of the defensive support.
“They are by far the best defense in the country in my book,” he said. “They are able to carry us on their back when we are not executing.”