Scouting Alabama

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, October 5, 2018
In this Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, file photo, Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches his players during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
In this Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, file photo, Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches his players during warmups before an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Coach: Nick Saban (132-20 in 12th season at Alabama; 223-62-1 in 23rd season overall)

Record: 5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC

Offense: Multiple

Defense: 3-4

Returning Lettermen: 53 (30 offense, 21 defense, 2 special teams)

Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 3 defense, 2 special teams)

Players to Watch: QB Tua Tagovailoa, RB Damien Harris, RB Najee Harris, WR Jerry Jeudy, TE Irv Smith Jr., LT Jonah Williams, C Ross Pierschbacher, DE Isaiah Buggs, LB Dylan Moses, S Deionte Thompson

Series Record: Alabama leads 20-8

Last Meeting: Alabama defeated Arkansas 41-9 on Oct. 14, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Skinny on Alabama

Avert your eyes, Nick Saban. Here comes a heaping helping of rat poison.

Following a 45-23 win over Texas A&M on Sept. 22, Saban drew on his famous one-liner about rodent repellant, telling reporters he would appreciate if they wrote about the things Alabama doesn’t do well.

The truth is, there isn’t much.

The Crimson Tide are probably the most complete team in college football, their incredible talent and depth a reflection of a recruiting stranglehold that has resulted from running roughshod over just about every opponent for the past decade. That includes Arkansas, which has lost 11 straight against the Crimson Tide since a double-overtime win in 2006.

Alabama Key Stat

The Crimson Tide are averaging a 38-point margin of victory against Power Five teams this season.

Alabama defeated Ole Miss by 55 points on the road, Texas A&M by 22 at home and Louisville by 37 at a neutral site in the season opener when teams typically look rusty.

In their non-conference games, the Crimson Tide won by 50 over Arkansas State and by 42 over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Most of the Alabama starters have yet to play in the fourth quarter this season.

Alabama Player to Watch

Before he ever started a game for Alabama, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was considered a front runner to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy. One month into the season has only reaffirmed the sophomore quarterback is one of the great players in college football, something that should have been evident when he came off the bench to rally the Crimson Tide in the national championship a season ago.

Tagovailoa might be the most popular quarterback in Tuscaloosa since Ken Stabler in the 1960s. He has several similarities to Stabler — left-handed, elusive, accurate — but a more apt comparison might be to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel because of his improvisation. Tagovailoa’s ability to spin away from pressure has become a weapon in the Alabama offense, buying time for receivers to create space between themselves and defenders.

He doesn’t run much, but when he does he is successful. Counting sacks — which are rare — Tagaovailoa is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He rushed for a 1-yard touchdown against Texas A&M off a bootleg to his dominant hand and had a 9-yard scramble for a touchdown against Louisville.

Tagovailoa is best known for his passing ability, in particular his accuracy on deep balls. Against Louisville, Tagovailoa was 4-for-4 for 132 yards on passes 20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage. Most of his deep balls come from the pocket, but he also is accurate on medium-range throws while running to his left.

With a clean pocket, Tagovailoa is averaging a nation-best 13.7 yards per attempt.

Alabama calls a number of short passes for him off play-action. Against Texas A&M there was traditional play-action from under center, a play-action pitch and a run-pass option, or RPO, from the shotgun.

Tagovailoa had an eye-popping 230.47 passer rating through four games, thanks in large part to his 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions. He is completing 72.5 percent of his passes.

Simply put: Tagovailoa does so many things well that it makes it difficult for a defensive coordinator to take away his entire skill set. And he’s surrounded by so many playmakers that even if he struggles, the Crimson Tide offense still has the capability of moving the ball well.

Alabama on Offense

With Tagavailoa improvising, Alabama’s offense has evolved even further away from the traditional pro-style approach of Saban’s early years with the Crimson Tide. But that doesn’t mean Alabama has abandoned some of those principles, primarily being strong in the run game. It just comes from different looks, similar to what Gus Malzahn has done at Auburn.

The Tide run a number of their plays from the shotgun, but unlike a lot of RPO teams will still will go under center quite a bit.

One hallmark of Saban’s teams has been great, deep running back play. This year the primary backs are Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. Damien Harris and Jacobs are veteran, versatile backs who can become a receiving threat on swing passes out of the backfield. Jacobs — a Tulsa-area native who had his freshman breakout in Fayetteville two years ago — has a knack for picking up tough yards.

Tagovailoa’s favorite receiving targets are Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith. Both are big-play hitters, especially Jeudy, a 6-1, 192-pounder who had six touchdowns on 11 receptions in the first three games. Smith, who caught the game-winner in the national championship game last season, had a long touchdown catch following a turnover by Texas A&M to give the Crimson Tide a lead in the opening moments of that game.

Alabama has two tight ends who are threats in the passing game, most notably Irv Smith Jr., a near replica of former Crimson Tide All-American O.J. Howard. Smith has deceptive speed and can pick up yardage in bulk after the catch. Hale Hentges is better known for his blocking, but slipped behind Texas A&M’s linebackers for two touchdowns on three receptions.

Alabama is big and physical along the offensive line, and averages 310 pounds per starter. Ross Pierschbacher is an All-SEC caliber player at center, as is Jonah Williams at left tackle. Williams switched to the left side after starting as right tackle a year ago.

Alabama on Defense

All of the Crimson Tide’s Power Five opponents so far came in with a reputation for their offense. All left rather humbled, combining to score five touchdowns.

Across the board Alabama has an impressive collection of size and speed. Take Raekwon Davis, for instance. He stands 6-7 and weighs 316 pounds, but is agile enough to play as a defensive end. Davis is averaging more than one quarterback hurry per game.

Isaiah Buggs is the team’s best pass rusher and had 5.5 sacks through four games, second-best in the SEC. Quinnen Williams commands a double team most plays as the nose guard.

Alabama’s 3-4 look relies on the linebackers and safeties to be the playmakers. Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson are the team’s top linebackers. Moses makes more plays downhill against the run and is averaging close to one tackle behind the line of scrimmage each game. Wilson is good in pass coverage. He made an athletic diving catch against Texas A&M on the Aggies’ first drive to set up an Alabama touchdown.

Free safety Deionte Thompson is Alabama’s leading tackler and is good downhill against the run. He also is the team’s leader in interceptions. Strong safety Xavier McKinney is used in some blitz schemes and has multiple sacks this year.

Alabama has veterans starting at cornerback in Trevon Diggs and Saivon Smith. Freshman Patrick Surtain II, the son of the former Pro Bowler with the same name, has flashed ability, too, indicative of the talented understudies the Crimson Tide have at every defensive position.

Alabama on Special Teams

Joseph Bulovas made 4 of 5 field goal attempts in the first four games with a long kick of 47 yards. Less than 50 percent of his kickoffs are making it to the end zone.

Skyler DeLong has a greater than 25 percent success rate of downing punts inside the 20. Jaylen Waddle is averaging just more than 15 yards per punt return.

Josh Jacobs is averaging nearly 60 yards per return, including a 77-yard touchdown against Louisville.

The Bottom Line

The secret to Alabama’s success lies in Saban’s focus on “the process,” which instills in players not to look past the next play.

Saban is able to keep his team’s attention to detail high by coaching not so much against the team on the other sideline, but against perfection. A missed assignment by a third-teamer in the fourth quarter of a blowout is prone to draw his ire as much as a mistake by a starter in a tight game.

When perfect play is the goal, it can make beating college teams look easy.

Alabama Depth Chart

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.

OFFENSE

QB 13 Tua Tagovailoa 6-1 218 So.

2 Jalen Hurts 6-2 218 Jr.

RB 34 Damien Harris 5-11 215 Sr.

22 Najee Harris 6-2 230 So.

OR 8 Josh Jacobs 5-10 216 Jr.

WR(Z) 11 Henry Riggs III 6-0 183 So.

81 Derek Kief 6-4 204 R-Sr.

OR 19 Xavian Marks 5-8 174 Sr.

TE 84 Hale Hentges 6-5 254 Sr.

82 Irv Smith Jr. 6-4 241 Jr.

RT 74 Jedrick Willis Jr. 6-5 309 So.

70 Alex Leatherwood 6-6 304 So.

OR 72 Richie Petitbon 6-4 316 R-Jr.

RG 70 Alex Leatherwood 6-6 304 So.

65 Deonte Brown 6-4 344 R-So.

C 71 Ross Pierschbacher 6-4 309 Sr.

79 Chris Owens 6-3 310 R-So.

OR 55 Emil Ekiyor Jr. 6-3 342 Fr.

LG 66 Lester Cotton 6-4 325 Sr.

67 Joshua Casher 6-1 290 R-Sr.

LT 73 Jonah Williams 6-5 301 Jr.

76 Scott Lashley 6-7 313 R-So.

OR 79 Chris Owens 6-3 310 R-So.

WR(X) 6 DeVonta Smith 6-1 173 So.

14 Tyrell Shavers 6-6 216 R-Fr.

WR(H) 4 Jerry Jeudy 6-1 192 So.

17 Jaylen Waddle 5-10 177 Fr.

12 Chadarius Townsend 6-0 194 R-Fr.

DEFENSE

DE 49 Isaiah Buggs 6-5 286 Sr.

89 LaBryan Ray 6-5 294 So.

NG 92 Quinnen Williams 6-4 295 R-So.

48 Phidarian Mathis 6-4 310 R-Fr.

DE 99 Raekwon Davis 6-7 316 Jr.

95 Johnny Dwight 6-3 301 R-Sr.

SLB 47 Christian Miller 6-4 244 R-Sr.

16 Jamey Mosley 6-5 239 R-Sr.

OR 9 Eyabi Anoma 6-5 245 Fr.

MLB 30 Mack Wilson 6-2 239 Jr.

40 Joshua McMillon 6-3 238 R-Jr.

OR 36 Markail Benton 6-2 231 R-Fr.

WLB 32 Dylan Moses 6-3 233 So.

10 Ale Kaho 6-1 218 Fr.

JLB 33 Anfernee Jennings 6-3 266 R-Jr.

16 Jamey Mosley 6-5 239 R-Sr.

OR 20 Cameron Latu 6-5 246 Fr.

CB 7 Trevon Diggs 6-2 199 Jr.

2 Patrick Surtain II 6-2 202 Fr.

OR 28 Josh Jobe 6-1 191 Fr.

SS 15 Xavier McKinney 6-1 198 So.

5 Shyheim Carter 6-0 195 Jr.

OR 21 Jared Mayden 6-0 197 Jr.

FS 14 Deionte Thompson 6-2 196 R-Jr.

31 Keaton Anderson 6-1 196 R-Jr.

OR 3 Daniel Wright 6-1 185 So.

CB 4 Saivon Smith 6-1 200 Jr.

2 Patrick Surtain II 6-2 202 Fr.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K 97 Joseph Bulovas 6-0 206 R-Fr.

P 12 Skyler DeLong 6-4 189 Fr.

H 13 Tua Tagovailoa 6-1 218 So.

LS 45 Thomas Fletcher 6-2 221 So.

PR 7 Trevon Diggs 6-2 199 Jr.

KR 8 Josh Jacobs 5-10 216 Jr.

AND 7 Trevon Diggs 6-2 199 Jr.

Arkansas Depth Chart

OFFENSE

QB 4 Ty Storey 6-2 215 R-Jr.

15 Cole Kelley 6-7 258 R-So.

RB 21 Devwah Whaley 5-11 209 Jr.

2 Chase Hayden 5-10 200 So.

OR 5 Rakeem Boyd 6-0 200 R-So.

WR(9) 16 La’Michael Pettway 6-2 219 Jr.

8 Mike Woods 6-1 190 Fr.

TE 44 Austin Cantrell 6-3 263 Jr.

18 Jeremy Patton 6-5 253 Sr.

RT 60 Brian Wallace 6-6 318 Sr.

78 Dalton Wagner 6-9 300 R-Fr.

RG 62 Johnny Gibson 6-4 324 Sr.

68 Kirby Adcock 6-5 280 R-Fr.

C 66 Ty Clary 6-4 287 So.

69 Dylan Hays 6-3 294 So.

LG 51 Hjalte Froholdt 6-5 315 Sr.

54 Austin Capps 6-4 311 Jr.

LT 74 Colton Jackson 6-5 301 Jr.

73 Noah Gatlin 6-7 293 Fr.

OR 57 Shane Clenin 6-6 302 R-Fr.

WR(5) 1 Jared Cornelius 5-11 203 R-Sr.

9 De’Vion Warren 5-10 180 So.

WR(2) 3 Deon Stewart 5-11 161 Jr.

10 Jordan Jones 6-1 180 So.

DEFENSE

DE 3 McTelvin Agim 6-3 279 Jr.

91 Michael Taylor 6-2 248 Sr.

DT 90 Armon Watts 6-5 298 Sr.

7 Briston Guidry 6-2 292 So.

DT 52 T.J. Smith 6-3 304 Jr.

42 Jonathan Marshall 6-3 301 So.

DE 10 Randy Ramsey 6-4 236 R-Sr.

6 Gabe Richardson 6-3 240 Jr.

MLB 8 De’Jon Harris 6-0 244 Jr.

31 Grant Morgan 5-11 220 So.

WLB 23 Dre Greenlaw 6-0 227 Sr.

16 Bumper Pool 6-2 223 Fr.

CB 11 Ryan Pulley 5-11 198 R-Jr.

21 Montaric Brown 6-0 187 R-Fr.

SS 2 Kamren Curl 6-2 201 So.

18 Myles Mason 6-2 208 Fr.

FS 9 Santos Ramirez 6-2 204 Sr.

17 Joe Foucha 5-11 198 Fr.

CB 24 Jarques McClellion 6-0 173 R-Fr.

21 Montaric Brown 6-0 187 R-Fr.

NICKEL 36 D’Vone McClure 6-2 215 So.

39 Derrick Munson 5-11 200 So.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K 19 Connor Limpert 6-1 175 Jr.

P 28 Reid Bauer 5-11 198 Fr.

H 14 Jack Lindsey 6-2 195 So.

LS 48 Jordan Silver 6-1 217 R-Fr.

PR 3 Deon Stewart 5-11 161 Jr.

KR 9 De’Vion Warren 5-10 180 So.

3 Deon Stewart 5-11 161 Jr.

2018 Alabama Schedule

Sept. 1 - vs. Louisville (in Orlando), W 51-14

Sept. 8 - Arkansas State, W 57-7

Sept. 15 - at Ole Miss, W 62-7

Sept. 22 - Texas A&M, W 45-23

Sept. 29 - Louisiana-Lafayette, W 56-14

Oct. 6 - at Arkansas

Oct. 13 - at Missouri

Oct. 20 - Tennessee

Nov. 3 - at LSU

Nov. 10 - Mississippi State

Nov. 17 - The Citadel

Nov. 24 - Auburn

This article originally appeared in Hawgs Illustrated

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