Monday, January 2, 2012
Season report card: Alabama
By Chris Low
The grade that counts for Alabama won’t come until next Monday night, but the regular-season grades have already been posted for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama wasn’t known this season for its offense, and there were times that the Crimson Tide looked limited in the passing game. But when you step back and look at the results (and the stats), Alabama deserves an A. The minus is for not being able to score a touchdown at home against LSU and for a passing game that was hit and miss. Nonetheless, the Crimson Tide were second in the SEC in total offense, averaging 433.4 yards per game, and their balance was what was so impressive. They were the only team in the league to average more than 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game. Junior running back Trent Richardson led the SEC with 1,583 rushing yards, and the Crimson Tide turned the ball over only 12 times in 12 games. And against SEC competition, Alabama led the league in total offense (414 yards) and was second in scoring offense (33.9 points).
Perfection is what every football team seeks, and Alabama was about as close as it gets this season on defense. The Crimson Tide head into the Allstate BCS National Championship Game ranked No. 1 nationally in all four of the major statistical categories on defense -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Oklahoma is the only school to accomplish that feat since the NCAA began keeping records in 1937. Alabama is allowing just 191.3 yards per game, which is more than 60 yards fewer than the second-place team nationally (LSU) is averaging giving up per game. What’s more, Alabama opponents are averaging just 8.8 points per game, making the Crimson Tide the only team nationally to hold foes to single digits. Defensively, Alabama didn’t allow more than 14 points in a game all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
It didn’t go the way Nick Saban would have drawn it up in the kicking game. It wasn’t all bad. Marquis Maze led the SEC in kickoff return average and was third in punt return average. He had an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown against Arkansas. But aside from Maze, the Crimson Tide had their struggles on special teams. They were ninth in the SEC in net punting and 11th in kickoff coverage. They gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns and were 18-of-29 on field goals. Cade Foster, who handles the longer field goals, had seven of the Tide’s 11 misses. Of course, the killer for Alabama was missing four field goals in the loss to LSU.
The only glitch was special teams. Otherwise, Alabama was a balanced, disciplined, well-coached football team. The job Kirby Smart did on defense speaks for itself, as Alabama is chasing history on that side of the ball. The secondary went from a liability at times in 2010 to one of the strengths of the team this season. And on offense, Jim McElwain’s guys generated the kind of balance you rarely see. The Tide ran it pretty much when they wanted to and made enough plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest. Sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron didn’t have big numbers, but he played within himself and only threw five interceptions all season. When you play defense the way Alabama does, commit the fewest number of penalties in the league and only turn it over 12 times in 12 games, you’re going to win a lot of games.