Alabama’s going to win the national championship, as usual. It’s going to be kind of boring, like it often is, though maybe a missed field goal in the Playoff will allow you to briefly entertain the notion that someone else is going to win.
Now that the Tide have a top-five offense, it’s over, even though the defense is raw. There will be no joy for anybody else.
But there’s a way to enjoy this Alabama season if you, like most people, don’t root for Alabama. The trick is to focus on the Tide’s wide selection of amazing players and not on Nick Saban’s inevitable dominance. Use the fact that Bama doesn’t have words on its uniforms to pretend they play for someone else. And pretend that the enjoyable scheme they’re playing in is being run at some Conference USA school, not in Tuscaloosa.
1. Tua Tagovailoa is a blast to watch.
He’s a video-game QB. He’s going to go down as the best Bama QB since, uh, Joe Namath or Ken Stabler? On a college scale, he’s like if you combined Brett Favre’s fearlessness with Aaron Rodgers’ ball security and Russell Wilson’s ability to see the field and make plays despite being short (Tagovailoa is listed at 6’1, which is dubious unless he’s had an above-average growth spurt).
Four plays that pretty well demonstrate his talents:
- The touchdown he threw to beat Georgia in the national championship in January. Watch how he used his eyeballs to freeze a UGA safety before throwing a perfect deep ball to DeVonta Smith:
- The touchdown he threw against Louisville in the first quarter of 2018’s Week 1, where he used his mobility to complement his vision and stick-to-it-iveness:
- This arm strength/spiral:
- And this tactical strike:
Look at the precision on this throw by Tua pic.twitter.com/vDTfNn9bjf— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 15, 2018
It’s fun to watch Tagovailoa operate for the same reason it’s a blast to watch Patrick Mahomes work. Both QBs have rocket, pinpoint arms, and they’re both athletic enough to give their offenses as many dimensions as possible. Both are downright surgical. There’s something pure about a QB who can do everything and is clearly on the way up.
2. Tagovailoa is throwing to an electric, varied group of future NFL receivers.
Bama has its usual stable of bulldozing running backs. Two of them, sophomore Najee Harris and senior Damien Harris (no relation), are former No. 1 running backs in their classes who’d be Heisman candidates if Bama didn’t have Tagovailoa and so many other options. Nothing really new there.
The wide receiving group, though, is different than your usual Bama outfit. The Tide usually have one guy getting way more targets than everybody else: your Julio Joneses, Amari Coopers, and Calvin Ridleys. 2017 was the starkest example yet, with Ridley catching 63 balls and nobody else catching more than 14.
But now the Tide have four receivers who all play similar amounts, with a much smaller variance of involvement.
Sophomores Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith are more or less co-No. 1 receivers. Sophomore Henry Ruggs III and freshman Jaylen Waddle are more or less co-No. 2s. None is taller than 6’1, but all are fast and have great hands. The Tide also like to throw to their big tight end, junior Irv Smith Jr., which is new.
Having Tagovailoa means Bama might not try to win every game on the ground. Having all these receivers means we don’t know where the ball’s going when he drops back.
3. As you could guess with that collection of talent, Bama has evolved its offense into a more rounded-out unit.
The Tide weren’t exactly Army, but their tendency to have tons of great RBs, mediocre passing QBs, and just one main receiving option had trended toward running the ball a ton and being, at times, vanilla while dominating.
Now, they haven’t turned into an air raid team. Through 2018’s Week 3, they’d thrown on 39 percent of their snaps, higher than 2017’s 35 percent but not out of line with rates in several previous seasons. But they’ve evolved to try more things more often.
They spread themselves out when Lane Kiffin became offensive coordinator in 2014 and continued to move in that direction when Jalen Hurts became the starting QB in 2016. Saban embraced RPOs, which he didn’t even want to be legal.
Now, in the span of one game of Bama offense, you can see lots of downfield throwing ...
... and still get old-school, downhill SEC running, with staples like power and counter ...
... and, yes, RPOs still being run to devastating effect:
BAMA RPO from Trips Nub vs. press Quarters— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) September 5, 2018
- #1 on trips side runs a one step slant.
- #2 runs a few steps before fading out to get in CB's way
- RT locks on DE so unblocked defender (read man) is apexed LB
- Good to have a QB with quick release on RPOs pic.twitter.com/Xe4ph0msuW
No matter the type of offense you like, the Tide have the players to run it beautifully.
4. The team even has some personality.
Here they are dissing UCF’s national title claim from 2017!
These pictures are live! Where can i find one with y’all holding the trophy? https://t.co/eo4O6daenL— Damien Harris (@DHx34) January 29, 2018
Even Saban was doing it, in a very Saban-ish way!
“I guess anybody has the prerogative to claim anything. But self-proclaimed is not the same as actually earning it. And there’s probably a significant number of people who don’t respect people who make self-proclaimed sort of accolades for themselves.”
Here they are stuck on Saban’s boat!
Nick Saban and his players are out of gas on the lake— College Football by SB Nation (@SBNationCFB) June 1, 2018
(Via Tua Tagovailoa's Snap) pic.twitter.com/4syiseinNc
Here they are mocking Ole Miss’ new mascot in the midst of a 62-7 rout!
More of that:
The Tide aren’t at “1980s Miami” levels of villainy, but they’re showing signs of embracing their Final Boss status. Who ever said a Saban team couldn’t have personality?
(I realize this could make it harder to get into the frame of the mind that this isn’t Bama, but try your best.)
5. As a potential bonus of intrigue, the defense is inexperienced.
So maybe someone will actually trip this team up, albeit probably in a game that turns out not to mean anything. In that moment, you can stop pretending and embrace that these players are actually on Alabama.