The Alabama Crimson Tide will not be taken to the final few minutes of regulation by the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday. This is not a game which will be close or dramatic, unlike the LSU game.
By Matt Zemek
Alabama doesn’t have to sweat bullets about beating its lowly opponent from Las Cruces, New Mexico, this week. The Tide are playing their “let’s get everybody healthy” game before a closing two-game stretch against Arkansas and Auburn. Alabama needs to go 2-0 in that stretch in order to win the SEC West and face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. In past years, the idea of Alabama beating Arkansas and Auburn to win the division would seem like a guaranteed reality or at least a near-certainty. Right now, very little is certain about Alabama within the SEC. These three game keys for New Mexico State are much less connected to this day’s opponent, and much more connected to restoring the Tide’s identity before that Arkansas-Auburn finishing stretch.
1 – Offensive line play
Alabama usually reloads instead of rebuilding, but the Tide have not truly reloaded on their offensive line this season. Rushing for just six yards against LSU is an embarrassment and a wake-up call for the program. It’s true that LSU’s defensive alignments and formations were confusing and well disguised. LSU had been horribly coached on defense for most of this season. The Tigers came off their idle week freshly prepared, with a much higher level of coaching than what they had received the previous two months. That obviously mattered a lot. Yet, alignments and formations are only part of the story in assessing team performance. The guys up front still have to win their physical battles, one-on-one. Alabama’s linemen did not win their physical battles against LSU’s front seven. They got whipped. That obviously has to change. The linemen taking the place of last season’s decorated group led by Landon Dickerson and Alex Leatherwood have to take pride in what they do. They were smoked by LSU. They need to use this game as a time to reclaim their identity and set up Bryce Young to succeed. Last week, they set up Young to fail.
2 – Pound, pound, pound
Alabama needs to spend nearly all of this game running the ball. Linemen need to be pushed to do their very best with a game plan which values running the ball. Give the receivers the night off. This game needs to be an occasion in which Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien prove a point about the importance of being physically superior. Alabama can’t just rely on finesse against Arkansas and Auburn. The Tide need to use this game against a weak opponent to rediscover how strong they are, and how formidable they can be, on the ground.
3 – Saban in control
Bill O’Brien has not worked out as offensive coordinator for Alabama. Let’s be clear. The fit has not been good. The flow in Alabama’s offense is night-and-day different compared to last year’s smoothly purring engine under Steve Sarkisian. Nick Saban needs to do whatever it takes to assert control over this offense and how it operates. This IS his show, not O’Brien’s, and if Saban has to intervene to reshape the nature of this offense, which has been struggling, he better do it. This week has to be a time when Saban prevents the season from going down the drain. Let’s see if Alabama snaps back into focus on offense. The defense is fine. It’s all about the O in these final weeks of the season.