Reviewing the Alabama Tennessee game and loss of Jaylen Waddle
Does Alabama take a deep breath after Saturday's win at Tennessee and step back a few years?
I don’t mean in that particularly rivalry, which still seems a few years, if not more, from parity. It’s more in offensive approach. There would be a temptation to do so, but that shiny apple may contain a little drop of poison
Most observers, including Brett Hudson of The Tuscaloosa News, have noted that Slade Bolden stepped in for the injured Jaylen Waddle and played well against the Vols. Bolden might even mean an added wrinkle or two for the offense since he can throw the football. (There was one play in the Alabama-Tennessee game where offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian seemed to be putting a screen look to Bolden, who did not throw, on film for future opponent reference.) That doesn’t mean Bolden is Waddle, an unfair comparison for him or anyone else in college football.
The first glance at Alabama’s current offense, though, suggests those teams from the middle of the decade: gifted running backs (including a workhorse if needed among all the depth), a clutch alpha-receiver who can draw double coverage and an offensive line that can keep things moving forward. Alabama won national titles that way and if Bo Scarbrough hadn’t broken his leg against Clemson, it might have won another. This isn’t going to digress into a Texas-style “if-Colt-McCoy-hadn’t-gotten-hurt” exercise in alternate reality. Injuries are a part of the game and all teams have to deal with them at times. You can go back to Joe Namath’s battered knees and speculate. The fact is that they have taken a heavy toll in recent years at Alabama, and there is no avoiding the pain that comes with the sudden unexpected end of a joyous college career whether it is Waddle, Tua Tagovailoa, Tyrone Prothro or others.
Offensively, though, Alabama (5-0) could play that way and have a more prolific passer in Mac Jones than several previous Saban teams have had. Frankly, opposing defenses in 2020 would have a tough time stopping such an attack, as long as the deep threat was there. Even more amazingly, to Alabama fans, the opponents’ 35-yard line would be considered possible scoring territory thanks to the emergence of Will Reichard. (No one talks about how Reichard’s injury affected the 2019 season but it did.)
Everything on a college football team is connected, though, and the issue of what a team does on offense is linked with what it can do on defense. In Alabama’s case, that would mean stopping other elite teams with multiple offensive weapons. There are other SEC teams that are running an “old” Alabama offense — Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina all come to mind. They aren’t doing it with the same talent. None of those teams, and that includes Georgia, has a single skill position player that would get much playing time in Tuscaloosa. But the biggest problem is that when they have to keep up, they can’t. LSU made South Carolina look silly on Saturday night, not because the Tiger offense was super-complicated but because LSU has explosive athletes everywhere. (The Tigers even had a kickoff return for a touchdown.) Frankly, that’s going to be a problem for Alabama when it visits Baton Rouge, no matter how much LSU has struggled on defense.
The temptation to simplify is real. Alabama could win that way, but the issue is whether it could win them all. The best chance of that continues to be full speed ahead.