Nick Saban has stolen. He has stolen the type of rushing offense that beat his team in the 2013 Iron Bowl. Freshmen quarterback Jalen Hurts has many of the same skills of former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, and the Tide have been chewing opposing defenses up at will this season by spreading the field.
These three plays and the concepts behind them are eerily reminiscent of the Gus Malzahn/Auburn playbook from previous years. Don’t tell Bama that, but what Lane Kiffin has devised so far in 2016 is a spread based power running game with misdirection.
At any time however the Tide can jump back into the time machine after a Saban tantrum. Flash back to the old one back football: 4 yards and a cloud of dust. Through the first 5 games this is what the Alabama offense has been doing with prodigious success.
1. Outside Zone Read
Alabama lined up o this play early in the game against Ole Miss in a 3 wide Shotgun formation with a TE Wing. The QB will read the strong side DE and give if he collapses down inside or pull and cut off the block of the backside OT. This is a true read play where either can occur on a given play, and puts a strain on the inside linebackers.
In the End zone view above you can see LT Cam Robinson locked up with the DE. The Ole Miss DE on the outside zone side that is unblocked sits and stares down the running back, and attempts to slow play the read. Against the Arkansas defense this will be DE Deatrich Wise on the edge or one of the rotating DEs that will be either tasked with beating Robinson and holding contain on the edge, or diagnosing whether it is a give or keep.
At the linebacker level Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw will be asked to make a clear read and stay disciplined in reading these keys.
The key in my opinion is forcing the give to the back and then chasing down the line with proper pursuit angles. The pure numbers game to the backside puts the defense in a disadvantage. Arkansas would be in a better place to crash the weakside with a SS and pursue from the backside. This is heavily reliant on the nickel and corner to set the edge and force the back inside.
2. Jet Sweep Counter
Late in the 3rd Q on this key drive the Alabama offense lined up in a 3 WR set on 2nd and short. The outside WR #3 Ridley comes in motion in front of the QB and RB. This sets off a chain reaction in most defenses where an automatic call is made shifting the strongside LB or Nickel up to contain the jet sweep. The counter attempts to take advantage of that and catch the Mike and Will LB’s out of position.
Personnel match ups are key on this play. If Arkansas lines up with a nickel as Ole Miss did in the image above and plays with only two backers it will be a long day. How they are able to add more run defenders will be a huge factor. Whether that is by staying in a base 4-3 look with a LB to the strong side effectively taking away the jet sweep, or if that means dropping a SS down in the box like they did against Texas A&M.
End zone view
Here on the endzone view you can see the RG and TE pulling opposite the jet sweep and leading for the back through the backside B gap. Down blocks by the play side guard and tackle on the 3 Tech create an edge. The Center blocks down on the 1 tech to his right who flows with the jet look in the backfield opening another gap.
Look out for this jet sweep counter on 2nd and short situations.
3. Empty QB Draw
Nothing exotic here, a straight up draw with the QB.
Here Kiffin sends out a 4 wide set and motions the back out to create an empty look, this moves the weakside lb out of the box creating 5 on 5. Another 15+ gain
Alabama is looking to take advantage of the press man coverage on the outside and the added motion out of the backfield.
If Arkansas plays their safeties deep and runs Cover 2 Read or quarters with the corners rolled up this will be a play call that could lead to some Texas A&M like gains.
Teams have been clearing the box against Arkansas and running the QB on draw schemes like this with high success rates.
Robb Smith tried to put Greenlaw in the mike role and allow Ellis to play on the edge against A&M. Im not sure he will go back to that against the Alabama version or if he will keep both backers in the box and move a safety down to cover the back in motion.
Play action: Alabama has always relied on the play action game to tear up chunks of yards, and this team is not any different.
If Arkansas is selling out to stop inside zone or one of these looks above then playaction is always lurking in the background. Hopefully Lane Kiffin forgets about TE OJ Howard.
If Saban gets impatient and Arkansas is able to find a way to slow down the jet sweeps, zone reads and inside zone runs out of pistol and shotgun sets, then look for Kiffin to reluctantly go back to the old tried and true one back multiple TE power running game and the Saban stable of inside zone.
So far this season Alabama has only ran the ball 58.2% of the time on standard downs. last season they were at a 62.5% run rate on standard downs.
With that being said they can still roll back into the inside zone ground game at any time.
The below is from the pre Kiffin Alabama offense:
Alabama’s base run play is the inside zone. The Crimson Tide run this play over and over again. In fact, the inside zone — also known as the “slant” or “belly” play, or the “tight zone” — is essentially the foundation of the modern running game at every level, from the NFL to college. Its lineage dates back decades, but only in the last 20 years or so has the zone running game supplanted man blocking schemes. Of course, this doesn’t mean that no one uses man blocking schemes anymore, but it’s beyond argument that most every team — pro-style, spread, I-back, or one-back — begins with the zone, and more precisely the inside zone. Grantland 2012
Miscues and inability to throw down field.
There are openings and other possibilities for the Arkansas defense to take advantage of mistakes by this version of the Alabama offense. Jalen Hurts has not shown he can consistently throw down field farther than the 15-20 yard range. Most of his big plays have been on shorter routes to wide receivers and TEs who are able to break a tackle in space.
If the Hog Train can pick up a timely fumble, or interception this game could turn quickly, and how much patience Saban has on the next offensive possession to allow some of these plays to develop will be fun to watch.