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What Saban said and what (we think) it means: Monday

Travis Reier09/18/23
Article written by:On3 imageTravis Reier



<p>Reviewing some comments and an attempt at reading between the lines following Alabama head coach <strong><a href="https://www.on3.com/db/coach/nick-saban-133646/">Nick Saban</a></strong>‘s media availability on Monday.</p> <p><strong>Saban on the quarterback situation</strong>: “From a quarterback standpoint — this is all I’m going to say about this — you know, [Jalen Milroe] really showed the leadership that I was looking for during the game in terms of supporting his teammates and doing the things he needed to do. He’s had the opportunity to play. So have the other guys. Jalen played the best of all those guys, so I think he’s earned the opportunity to be the quarterback.”</p> <p><strong>What we think it means</strong>: It won’t be met with approval from the fanbase as a whole (it never is, right?), but after reviewing the full body of work from the position through three games, Saban’s conclusion is sensible. </p> <p>Yes, Milroe committed two critical turnovers in the loss to Texas. He also brought explosive play potential to a position that without him didn’t have much of it in Tampa. </p> <p>In the two games Milroe saw action, Alabama quarterbacks produced eight runs of 10 yards or more and 14 completions of 15 yards or more. Milroe had a hand in seven and 13 of those, respectively. </p> <p>Against USF, Ty Simpson had one completion of 15 yards or more and one run of 10 yards or more in nearly two and half quarters of action. Starter Tyler Buchner didn’t have one of either.</p> <p> I’m sure Saban is concerned about Milroe being turnover prone. He also knows a Lane Kiffin-coached offense could put Saban’s in the position of needing to score well into the 20’s to win. </p> <p>Apparently, Milroe’s response to where things were headed at his position was better on game day than it was earlier in the USF practice week. Piecing together Saban’s post-game comments over the weekend and the ones he offered today, that’s what one is led to think, anyway.</p> <p>With consideration also given to intangibles and how they impact the team dynamic — Saban offering an unsolicited public statement in relation to Milroe’s place as the starter moving forward certainly wasn’t an accident — this probably came down to which of the three options is most likely to help UA realize its scoring potential <em>this </em>week. Milroe can be that guy, especially if the offense is crafted more to his strengths. </p> <p>What does that mean exactly? Establishing him from the outset as a threat to do damage with both his arm and his legs every time Alabama snaps the football wouldn’t be a bad place to start. An approach too heavy on pocket work isn’t likely to serve Milroe or the offense (with an emphasis on his protection) all that well. </p> <p>In other words, here’s guessing Ole Miss defensive coordinator Pete Golding would much rather see Milroe in Bryce Young mode than Jalen Hurts mode. </p> <p><strong>Saban on Lane Kiffin’s comments about UA defensive coordinator post</strong>: “This other thing that I hear floating around out there — I’m sure you’ve seen the same reports that I’ve seen — is Kevin Steele is the defensive coordinator. He has all the defensive coordinator responsibilities. The only thing that we tried to improve on from an administrative standpoint was game day administration of getting the signals in quicker. That’s the only thing that we worked on together as a staff. The whole staff made a contribution to it, and I think it was a lot better in this game than it was in the Texas game.”</p> <p><strong>What we think it means</strong>: Six years later and Saban still finds himself cleaning up after Kiffin. Hey, if it creates a little more doubt in and around the UA program, why not put it into the universe, right? </p> <p> Otherwise, looking for ways to expedite the play calling process is a challenge for every defense these days. With tempo offenses littering the schedule, defenders looking to the sideline for a call as the ball is being snapped isn’t ideal.</p> <p>Given Saban’s comments, the possibility of moving Steele from the box to the field on game day has likely been discussed. If Travaris Robinson didn’t have SEC coordinator experience, Steele may have been down there from the start of his latest stint in Tuscaloosa.</p> <p><strong>Saban on the offensive line</strong>: “I don’t think when you give up five sacks and – I think that our players were, they made a lot of blitzes, a lot of looks, nothing that we really – only one thing that they did that we’d not worked on. But I think the players were not communicating well and not on the same page sometimes, and I think that created issues and problems. I thought that the offensive line played like our offensive line needs to play in the last 6:29 of the game, and that’s something that we want to build on.”</p> <p><strong>What we think it means</strong>: Being without Tyler Booker last Saturday was problematic. While the guy who replaced him, Terrence Ferguson, has more time in the program than Booker — and was very much in the mix for the job on the other side in the preseason — it sounds like Ferguson didn’t benefit from a full week of work with the 1s. </p> <p>Can we say with certainty, though, that, even with Booker, the first unit has performed to the standard they set for themselves during the offseason? Even if some of the 12 sacks UA quarterbacks have taken through three games are attributed to other areas of protection (including the quarterbacks themselves), I think we all know the answer to that one.</p> <p>Obviously, Saban is hoping there will be carry over from a fourth quarter at USF that saw Alabama rush for 93 yards on 15 attempts. That kind of control on the ground would provide a full circle moment to what we saw from the UA offense the last time Ole Miss visited Bryant-Denny Stadium.</p> <p>In the infamous “get your popcorn ready” game (thanks again, Lane!), Alabama rushed for 210 yards and four touchdowns while holding on to the ball for 38 minutes. In closing out the Rebels on the road last November, UA got a similar effort from Jase McClellan and the run game in the second half in Oxford. </p> <p><strong>Saban on seven-man protection</strong>: “I think you have to have a combination of both. Obviously, a lot of play-action passes are supposed to complement the running game, and you don’t get five guys out in the pattern. So sometimes you wanna secure the protection and hopefully the play-action passes allow some vertical routes down the field to be effective. We’ve hit some explosive plays on those kinds of plays this year. Six-man protection, the back gets out late. When you get all guys out, you’ve got five guys to block five guys, so that puts the most stress on the offensive line. I think you’ve gotta have a combination of all three of those things to have an effective offensive team.”</p> <p><strong>What we think it means</strong>: If an offense is predicated on the run game, second-and-8 isn’t an automatic passing down. Last Saturday, UA had a second-and-18 in the second half. Instead of defaulting to a pass play, it stuck with the run and got 13 yards from Roydell Williams. That set up a third-and-5 that turned into a first down after USF was flagged for offsides.</p> <p>With Alabama struggling to protect with <em>eight </em>guys in at times — as was the case on at least one of USF’s five sacks last Saturday — it’s that kind of commitment to the run that is required. With an offensive line built with mass in mind more than mobility, if the ball doesn’t come out hot, five-man protection isn’t sustainable.</p> <p><strong>Saban on</strong> <strong>play of Malachi Moore</strong>: “Yeah, Malachi has been the leader of that group. He’s the best communicator. He makes lots of checks, lots of calls. He gets everybody on the same page. I think it helps the other players play with a lot of confidence, and he has played very, very well. Puts a lot into it, does everything that we ask of him in terms of effort, toughness, not making mental mistakes. Doing things the way we’d like for him to do it. I’m very pleased with the way he’s playing.”</p> <p><strong>What we think it means</strong>: It’s easy to forget that Moore actually beat out Brian Branch for a job when both were true freshmen in 2020. Branch eventually emerged as one of the best sub defensive backs in college football before moving on as a three-and-out after last season. </p> <p>As good as Branch was a year ago, Moore has maintained the high level of play (and leadership) exhibited by the Swiss army knife guys who preceded him. In the process, he’s become one of four or five players this team can’t afford to lose over an extended stretch. </p> <p><strong>Saban on play of Roydell Williams</strong>: “Roydell played a great second half. He had over 100 yards rushing in the second half. We were very pleased. We’ve always had a lot of confidence in Roydell, so him and Jase both have been very productive so far this year.”</p> <p><strong>What we think it means</strong>: I don’t know if Williams will open the game against Ole Miss at running back. Seeing as how he’s been thrown into the mix early in contests so far this season, it doesn’t really matter. </p> <p>I do know that his combination of decisiveness and power marries well with what Alabama needs to be on the offensive side of the ball. He’s also made improvement as a pass protector. </p> <p>So, starter or not, there should be a continued emphasis on getting him on the field quickly. Not just for decorative purposes, either. If UA wants to set the tone early on Saturday, Williams needs to have his number called on some direct runs between the tackles.</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed is-type-video is-provider-youtube wp-block-embed-youtube wp-embed-aspect-4-3 wp-has-aspect-ratio"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <span class="fEwPWyRLIBgGTQWGvoKdtpU6nVJl7Ah2qF8Aqw6CMvzDsu9MoLVNmJg0SCclf2pbjeQZcuDxiYUXOSiabkxZEz7HNIa45keH8Xrm"><iframe loading="lazy" title="Second Watch: Alabama 17, South Florida 3" width="500" height="375" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/J0I_teXF0uo?start=953&feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share" allowfullscreen></iframe></span> </div></figure> <p></p> <p></p>