Although unbeaten, the Alabama offense just can’t win.
It can’t score, throw the ball down the field or take the pressure of running back Mark Ingram. The complaints come from all directions as third-ranked Alabama prepares for No. 9 LSU’s visit at 2:30 CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Talk radio callers cry bloody murder, but there is no panic from within. The well-documented shortcomings on the past three games are not lost on those with the ability to fix the problems that have kept the offense from scoring more than one touchdown since the first Saturday of October.
It starts with balance and that means stretching defenses that have started packing it in to stop Ingram, the SEC’s leading rusher. The conservative, short passing game employed against Tennessee didn’t do much to keep the safeties honest.
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“Well, I think first of all to get it down the field you’ve got to throw it down the field and we probably haven’t done that as frequently as we need to,” coach Nick Saban said. “I think we have to be more aggressive in that part of what we’re doing. I think we have the plays to do it. I think we have to have confidence in the players to be able to go execute those plays and give them an opportunity to make plays.”
Sticking with the “take what the defense gives you,” mentality contributed to the lack of deep passes thrown against Tennessee and South Carolina.
Both teams played cornerbacks several yards off the line of scrimmage to eliminate the deep passes like those used by the Tide to beat Arkansas on Sept. 26. The extra cushion made it harder to hit the long ball but opened up the quick outs and screen passes against the Vols that were successful — to a point.
Without the big plays, Alabama had little room for error as four drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns.
“There is a risk/reward,” quarterback Greg McElroy said. “If one guy is covered, another guy is usually open. Sometimes you want to play a little more conservatively, and when the defenses have been playing like they were, we have been playing pretty conservatively on offense trying not to give them a short field.”
McElroy admitted some of the hype surrounding his early-season success “maybe might have” gotten to him while insisting he’s not in a mental rut. He came out of the Tennessee win with much more confidence by completing 18 of 29 passes after his four-turnover performance against South Carolina.
LSU coach Les Miles isn’t ready to poke holes in McElroy’s game after his big numbers went south after hitting the teeth of the SEC schedule.
“To me, I see a guy who has a very good throwing motion and a guy who can make the throws,” Miles told reporters in Baton Rouge, La., on Monday. “I don’t know that I would characterize his play as slumping. To me, I think he’s making good decisions with the ball and getting the ball to the guy who he is supposed to give it to.”
As the traditional pro-style offense experienced growing pains, the new-aged “Wildcat” offense has expanded its role and effectiveness. That lone offensive touchdown in past three games came at the end of a drive late in the South Carolina game that saw Ingram run five of the six plays from the new-look formation that netted 64 yards. Ingram’s final four yards that put him in the end zone came on a more conventional pitch from McElroy that sealed the 20-6 win.
In spite of its increased success rate, both Saban and McElroy said the Wildcat would continue to serve as a complement to the pro-style offense instead of its replacement.