Nick Saban's Alabama offense has become everything he used to hate
The good news for Saban and the Crimson Tide is that it's working
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Who even are you these days, Nick Saban?
We thought we knew. We really did, right down to the tiniest facial tic. (Hint to Lane Kiffin: A scowl is a bad thing.) But we need to talk.
Zone read spread, no huddle, hurry-up. You've got yourself a dual-threat quarterback who bounces around like a Skittle on linoleum. More plays, more points. So nouveau. So cool. So Kiffin.
The scoreboard here at Razorback Stadium said your No. 1 Crimson Tide beat Arkansas 49-30. Afterward, you said, "We left some money on the table."
When your defense wasn't rag-dolling Hogs quarterback Austin Allen, it looked like Chip Kelly had spiked your drink, Nick.
Almost halfway through the season, it's obvious this is how the Tide are going to have to play offensively. It just looks so foreign, so 7-on-7.
Four years ago, Saban tried to take down the entire revolution when he said of hurry-up offenses, "Is this what we want football to be?" Alabama's coach cited health concerns over plays being run too fast.
Now Saban is the one trying to run defenses off the field with the tempo he once despised, tongues dragging.
"It works well for us," the coach said Saturday, almost shrugging. "It's when we play the best."
Did you ever think you'd see the day? Bama snapped it only 51 times against Arkansas but averaged more than 10 yards per play.
That Skittle, er, dual-threat quarterback (true freshman Jalen Hurts) accounted for four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) in his sixth career game. That's one off the school record for total touchdowns.
What used to be a typical game manager for Alabama now is a game breaker at quarterback. With flaws, sure.
Hurts is rather rudimentary reading defenses, but he has time to develop. Like about two or three more years while Alabama adds to its current 18-game winning streak. Backup Blake Barnett already has transferred because of Hurts.
"You got to form around the quarterback that you have," wide receiver ArDarius Stewart said. "[Hurts] came from high school as a speed-option guy. Lane Kiffin has done a great job putting the offense around him."
We'd ask Hurts how he came from January-enrolled four-star to game-changer, but Saban doesn't allow freshmen to talk. Same for Kiffin and the rest of the assistants.
"We aren't very good on offense," said one of those folks who aren't supposed to talk but did anyway.
In a way, he's right. This isn't a vintage Alabama offensive line. It needs a shifty quarterback like Hurts to even things up. Coaches call it a "plus one" because defenses have to account for the quarterback as a runner.
While Hurts' ability to read a defense comes along, the best thing to do is stick him in a shotgun and let him improvise. There may be no better SEC quarterback at turning the corner.
It showed. Alabama snapped it 34 times in the first half. Seven of those plays went for at least 26 yards.
It seems almost laughable that, just two years ago, Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema bum-rushed the rules committee. Their quest: Keep offenses from snapping the ball until 11 seconds had clicked off the play clock.
Then last year, Saban hired an analyst -- Eric Kiesau -- just to install the no-huddle. Quarterback Jake Coker became a legitimate weapon. Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy.
"I've been through the whole transition of it," center Bradley Bozeman said. "It's different but it's what we call and that's what we have to go with."
This year, Saban's offense has run more plays per game than Hugh Freeze's at Ole Miss. On Saturday, the SEC's most balanced offense -- a hallmark of an efficient hurry-up -- put up 264 rushing and 253 passing on the Razorbacks.
Hurts won the job after about the second series in the season opener against USC. Soon after, the future was right now.
"I think it was more Jalen," cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "He's kind of separated himself, his maturity on and off the field. He can ignore the noise."
What's not clear is whether Kiffin has won a battle of wills to push this transition on Saban or whether the head coach eventually saw the obvious light.
Whatever, for all his quirks, Kiffin has further solidified future head coaching credentials with Hurts' development.
"I think Coach Kiffin brought a different type of style," Fitzpatrick said.
And that's not even counting the typical Bama defense that was in Allen's face so often it could count his nose hairs. Arkansas' quarterback was sacked six times, intercepted three times.
Fitzpatrick had a nice season, if you count only Saturday night: three interceptions (including a 100-yard pick six) and five tackles.
In consecutive plays, linebacker Tim Williams returned a fumble 23 yards for a touchdown, following up with a sack of Allen.
The two defensive touchdowns now make it nine non-offensive touchdowns for Alabama this season. Coming into the game, that's more than three FBS teams had scored offensively all season.
Yes, the news is that Nick Saban has joined the offense revolution. And, yes, there is still money being left on the table. Superstar playoff tight end O.J. Howard has been targeted only 18 times all season (13 catches).
This is what he came back to school for? Absolutely. The last true freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national championship was Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
If Hurts is the next, there will be Skittles for everyone.
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