Offense reverts to run-first mentality in win over Tennessee


CW / Joe Will Field

Alabama fans have long feared the day that Tua Tagovailoa would not line up under center for the Crimson Tide. 

Right before the end of the first half against Tennessee,  Tagovailoa was sacked by Tennessee’s Greg Emerson and limped to the sideline after Emerson fell on his ankle. The junior quarterback spent some time in the medical tent and then some time on the sideline before disappearing into the north tunnel toward the locker room and did not return. 

The unique situation that Alabama was left in meant that the Crimson Tide had to adapt to a different style of play. It was a familiar style of play, but a style that has not been seen as much since Tagovailoa became the starter: run the ball. 

“I was really proud of our guys, the way they competed in the game, kept fighting in the game,” head coach Nick Saban said. “They had to overcome a lot of adversity in this game… This is the first time where we really had to grind one out and we really had to make plays.”

The change to a more run-first offense was immediate, as the Crimson Tide offense attempted just six passes in the second half when redshirt sophomore Mac Jones was in at quarterback. The emphasis on the ground game meant more touches for junior running backs Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. who combined for three rushing touchdowns in the game and combined for 145 of the team’s 155 total rushing yards.

“I think Najee [Harris] really ran the ball well during the game,” Saban said. “The offensive line did a pretty good job on the direct runs; that really was helpful to us.”

The consistent focus to run up the middle of the field softened the Volunteer defense so that when Alabama eventually had to go through the air to pick up yards, it caught the defense off guard.

Case in point was redshirt junior tight end Miller Forristall’s six-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Alabama’s second-longest drive of the game featured six out of the 10 total plays that were designed run plays. The consistent ground game lulled the Volunteers into a pattern and on second-and-goal from the six-yard line, Tennessee was not prepared for Wildcat specialist Slade Bolden to loft up a pass for his tight end in the back of the end zone.

“It was a great experience, I’m not going to lie. You pray for times like this to finally get the chance,” Bolden said. “Everybody executed up front and executed great and Miller [Forristall] got open and thankfully I threw a good ball. It was a great time and I really appreciate it.”

With the injury to Tagovailoa, Jones took a page from Jalen Hurts by staying ready for whenever the team needed him. Jones went 6-for-11 for 72 yards in the air and although he did not record a passing touchdown, he did not turn the ball over.

“It is always good to see dudes like that who come in and work hard every single day, get their time to shine and [Jones] did that today,”  junior left tackle Alex Leatherwood said.

Jones’ game management may be put to the test next week against Arkansas, as Saban revealed that Tagovailoa is not expected to play.

“I think when you are a backup player, you have to be ready to go in,” Saban said. “That’s why everybody has got to prepare well during the week and be focused on what they have to do to go in and be able to execute.”