Deep passes open up big-play chances
By MICHAEL CASAGRANDE
TUSCALOOSA , Ala. — Nick Saban promised and his Alabama offense delivered.
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The recent absence of a downfield passing threat was quickly filled by an offense that suddenly looked more like Texas Tech passing spread than an Alabama power running attack. It threw seven straight passes to open the game before star running back Mark Ingram even touched the ball.
The Tide regularly emptied the backfield and spread five receivers across the field in the 24-15 win over No. 9 LSU on Saturday. It was all about keeping the Tiger defense from getting too comfortable in limiting Ingram.
“I think it’s important that we utilize players and we attack the middle of the field to make them defend the middle of the field, and you have to have some kind of vertical passing game to do that,” Saban said.
Four deep passes in the first three possessions netted just one success a 37-yard reception made by Marquis Maze who had two defenders draped all over him. It was establishing that threat of a deep pass that was more important than anything.
“Even when you don’t hit them, and we hit a few, it affects how they play on the next play because I work with those corners all the time and whether they caught it or not, they know when they got beat, and it still scares them,” Saban said.
Overall, McElroy completed 19-of-34 passes for 276 yards on a day in which he threw more in the first half than he did in four entire games played earlier this season. His 25 first-half attempts eclipsed totals from games against Florida International (24), North Texas (14), Arkansas (24) and South Carolina (20).
Six different teammates caught passes led by Maze’s six for 88 yards. The highlight of Julio Jones four-catch, 102-yard day, ironically, came on a play that was anything but a deep pass. The 73-yard touchdown catch that gave Alabama the lead for good in the fourth quarter came on a short screen pass that he turned into a sprint for the goal line.
Saturday’s game also saw McElroy throw his first touchdown pass since an Oct. 3 trip to Kentucky and the Tide offense’s two total scores equaled its total out-put from the last three games combined.
It wasn’t all fun and gun for the Tide offense.
Ingram still managed 22 carries and 145 rushing yards, 106 of which came after halftime when the Alabama offense returned to more of its traditional look.
That was all part of the plan, Saban said.
“We knew we were going to come back and try to run the ball at some point in the game and continue to create balance,” he said.