Updated Saturday, Oct. 17
Unlike Alabama’s second game against Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide’s offense against Ole Miss was not a one-trick pony. The offense’s versatility in the air and on the ground ultimately led to the defeat of the Ole Miss Rebels on Oct. 9.
Redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones had another fantastic showing. Jones was not asked to carry the offensive load entirely by himself, like he was in the game opposite Texas A&M. Still, Jones was able to put up an impressive performance, finishing with 249 yards, two touchdowns and a 94.4 quarterback rating.
Jones has emerged as the team’s secret weapon, a development which blindsided opposing defenses. Look for that to be a recurring theme in the upcoming game against the Georgia Bulldogs.
One of the reasons why Mac Jones has been given greater latitude was that Texas A&M and Ole Miss were far more focused on stopping the most talented and versatile player on the Alabama offense, senior running back Najee Harris. Ole Miss did not counter Harris’ attack as effectively as the Aggies, allowing the running back to rack up 248 yards and five touchdowns against the Rebels.
Coach Nick Saban made sure to compliment the entire offense throughout most of his post-game press conference.
“Najee Harris was good. Mac played really well. The receiving corps played really well,” Saban said. “We scored every time we had to score. We took the air out of it at the end of the game. The offense did a fantastic job in this game. Had a good plan, did a good job of executing it.”
After the Oct. 14 announcement that Saban tested positive for COVID-19, he made the decision to name offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian the interim head coach for the Georgia game. Saban has since tested negative three consecutive times from October 15 to October 17 and is medically cleared by the SEC’s guidelines to return to coach the team against Georgia Saturday. Before his reinstatement, Saban was adamant about coaching from home, which the NCAA banned for the time being.
“You ought to be able to have some point of communication with the sidelines just like I have communication with somebody on the field during practice,” Saban said during his press conference about testing positive for COVID-19.
Jones will be put to the test again against Georgia. The Bulldogs allow the fewest yards and fewest rushing yards per game and have the fifth-best scoring defense among Division I teams that have played at least three games. The most crucial part of Georgia’s defense is stopping the run, which will force the Alabama offensive coordinator to put the ball in Jones’s hand to score points for the Crimson Tide.
Although defenses have not game-planned for Jones, they still try and put pressure on the quarterback, especially on third downs. One thing that has been important for Alabama’s offensive success is the protection Jones has gotten over the first three games. Jones has only been sacked twice in over 80 dropbacks to pass. Jones made sure to give his offensive line plenty of credit after their huge performance in the Ole Miss game.
“And credit to the offensive line for doing their job, too,” Jones said. “Because it’s an 11-person operation and they make it obviously a lot easier when you can just throw the ball out there and they can get 10 or 15 yards like that.”
Jones has remained humble throughout his breakout year so far. Jones is currently in the top ten of the Heisman watch list and is a candidate for the Maxwell Award as the best player in college football, but the quarterback still takes accountability for his mistakes and wants to continue to strive for further success.
“I’ve just gotta get better in the film room because… [the offensive line is] doing their job really well,” Jones said. “I’ve done my job pretty good, but there’s definitely room for improvement and it’ll make them look even better than they are.”
The most crucial part of Alabama’s strategy against Georgia is the defensive side. Alabama’s defense currently ranks in the bottom 15% in yards allowed per game and scoring defense among teams that have played at least three games. Saban announced in a press conference that he planned to fix that from a coaching perspective. He mentioned again during his press conference Wednesday that he would develop a game plan with his coaches even though he was in quarantine.
“All in all, we’ve had some real crazy games over here and this is another one,” Saban said after the win against Ole Miss. “I think that there’s some lessons to be learned. We’ve gotta have great preparation to be able to play well in the game. Obviously, we need to do a better job of that as coaches so that our players have a better chance to be successful on the field.”
One of the unique advantages that Alabama can look forward to this week is a two-dimensional offense. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is not a dual-threat quarterback like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond or Ole Miss’s Matt Corral. The defensive scheme for Alabama will be more focused at stopping the run than it has been over the last two weeks.
In the week one matchup against Missouri, the defense only allowed 69 total rushing yards on 34 attempts. Sophomore linebacker Christian Harris spoke to that defensive style after the game versus Ole Miss.
“As a defense, you never want to see an offense put up those types of numbers,” Harris said. “We missed tackles. Of course, that bothered us. They ran on us like crazy. We really harp on stopping the run. We’re gonna go in and fix all that this week and prepare for Saturday.”
After what most would see as a disappointing outing for an Alabama defense, Saban focused his attention on the effort that the team gave for all 60 minutes, which he saw as a slight issue in the season opener versus Missouri.
“But all these things are things that we can work on and try to improve and must improve,” Saban said. “But great job of playing for four quarters, great job of competing for 60 minutes. We played with a lot of toughness, very physical out there, showed a lot of resiliency to keep playing, got some stops at the end of the game when we needed to. So, I’m very proud of our team for the way they competed in this game.”
This kind of effort level should translate well as the Crimson Tide look to face likely the toughest opponent of the season. The Georgia Bulldogs rank No. 3 in the AP Poll and have the highest recruiting class rankings out of any Alabama opponent this season.