College football games, Week 7: Nick Saban has reinvented Alabama, and it's still dominating
Alabama will have its lackluster (for the Tide) defense tested, while Georgia squares off with LSU
Under our noses, Nick Saban has not only reinvented Alabama football but himself as well. As we near the halfway point of the season this week, this reinvention might be the No. 1 college football story driving the No. 1 college football team.
As the Tide get ready for Missouri, we now must consider this to be the best team Saban has assembled at Alabama and perhaps one of the best in program history. That's saying a lot, but we've seen enough. It was one thing for Saban to accept the spread offense under Lane Kiffin. It's another to be leader in the offensive revolution.
Alabama has become a pass-first team. That doesn't mean it passes a lot. In fact, Tua Tagovailoa's Heisman Trophy campaign is built with an offense that is 111th in pass attempts. Alabama passes to set up the run, much like the New England Patriots. And we know what Saban friend/confidant/mentor coaches the Pats.
It means Saban has chosen this path to make up for deficiencies in other areas. Saban has a stable of about four running backs who will play in the NFL, none of whom are on track to run for 1,000 yards. There's probably a big reason Bama is a pass-first offense. This isn't a vintage Tide defense.
If the numbers hold, this would be Saban's "worst" defense since his first season in 2007. The run D that is 49th nationally is practically ... mediocre. Arkansas' 31 points last week were the most given up by Alabama since the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game 21 months ago against Clemson.
Yeah, yeah, Bama scored 65 and won by 34 against Arkansas. Yes, Tua has led touchdown drives on 31 of the 44 possessions in which he has played. The Tide are scoring so fast they are leaving that defense out on the field. The time of possession (averaging 30 minutes, 15 seconds) is the second-lowest for the program in the past decade.
The Tide are scoring so much because they can, maybe because they have to in the end. I'm not one to criticize the schedule. There has been unprecedented separation between Alabama and everybody else. Tua has yet to take a snap in the fourth quarter.
Is all this Alabama dominance good for college football? We're all still watching, aren't we?
1. Sudden Death Valley? If Georgia loses at LSU, that damages the SEC's ability to get two teams into the playoff. You shouldn't have to be told the best CFP scenario is if the Dawgs and Tide each reach Atlanta at 12-0. We're getting ahead of ourselves, of course. LSU's offense was exposed last week at Florida. A win against Georgia officially makes the Tigers a player in the SEC West. Heightening the angst: The teams haven't met since 2013.
2. Duck! Oregon officials are pleading for "civility" with Washington coming to town. Thirty-seven fans were ejected last month during the emotional loss to Stanford. There is a video of Oregon fans throwing objects at the Cardinal players as they left the field. On the field, the Pac-12 is in a perilous playoff position. It could lose a playoff contender (Washington) if Oregon pulls the upset. The Huskies have righted themselves since a Week 1 loss to Auburn that looks worse by the minute.
3. Big Ten East wood chipper: Even though Ohio State is the class of the Large Fourteen, this month will provide some division separation. That's another way of saying there's a reckoning in for these three teams the East: We'll know about Michigan in its next three games -- Saturday vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 20 at Michigan State and Nov. 3 vs. Penn State. Jim Harbaugh's record against the three is 4-4. Against everybody else in the Big Ten it's 29-8. Penn State can't afford to lose again hosting Michigan State on Saturday and traveling to Michigan on Nov. 3. Michigan State at 3-2 has been the East's biggest disappointment. It is at Penn State on Saturday and hosts Michigan on Oct. 20.
4. Auburned: The prospects of another winner-take-all Iron Bowl dim by the moment. Auburn (hosting Tennessee) has been a monumental offensive disappointment. For the first time in Gus Malzahn's head-coaching career, his team has gone three straight games without rushing for at least 100 yards. Chip Lindsey's offense went from 12th in pass plays of at least 20 yards to 82nd.
There is a suspect offensive line and just plain bad luck. That was highlighted last week at Mississippi State when JaTarvious Whitlow pulled off an inspiring 41-yard run only to fumble at the goal line resulting in a touchback. Auburn is 12th in the SEC in total offense. Against the Vols, Gus will be looking for the Tigers' first touchdown in the past 80 1/2 minutes of play.
5. Your Laviska Moment: Nearing the halfway point, Colorado is the Pac-12's only undefeated team. We'll ignore the playoff possibilities for the moment as the Buffs head to Southern California. Laviska Shenault is a sure-handed receiver who at the halfway point has to be the leading candidate for the Biletnikoff Award (best receiver). He has two drops out of 54 "catchable targets" according to Sports Info Solutions. His 10.2 catches and 141.6 yards per game lead the country. His father was killed on a Texas highway while stepping out of the family car. His mother later contracted West Nile virus. Heisman candidate? Shenault has been used as a tight end, slot receiver, wing back, H-back and wildcat QB.
6. UCFlattening the defense: This week SportsSource Analytics revealed its top 10 in offensive line efficiency. UCF was No. 1 ahead of the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State and Alabama. That doesn't mean UCF (at Memphis) necessarily has the best offensive line. It is No. 1 in areas coaches value most -- tackles for loss percentage, sack percentage, third-and-1 or 2 to go conversion rate. That has something to do with an 18-game winning streak.
7. Quick kicks: How powerful is Alabama? Tagovailoa is a 14.5-point favorite over his sprained knee. Kidding ... Try to figure out Northwestern. The Wildcats (vs. Nebraska) are 2-3 overall but have won nine of their oast 10 Big Ten games ... Baylor is suddenly 4-2 headed to Texas. That would make the Bears six net games better than last year's 1-11 record and make Matt Ruhle a national coach of the year candidate ... Good juju for the undefeated Irish: Monday marks the 30th anniversary of Notre Dame's Catholics vs. Convicts win over Miami
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