No. 1 ’Bama in a shootout? No problem these days
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The final score was more Oregon or Baylor than Alabama.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide showed it can keep pace in a point-a-minute shootout with a 55-44 victory over Auburn that seemed so out of character from the typical ’Bama powerhouses built on running and defense.
Alabama (11-1) hasn’t abandoned that formula so much as expanded on it heading into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 14 Missouri. Now, opponents have to prepare for some no-huddle, a heavy dose of receiver Amari Cooper and maybe even a shootout.
“I think it’s scary for them,” Tide safety Nick Perry said. “Usually ’Bama beats you with defense and running the ball. Now, we can play a whole different type of game. We can put up points or we can shut them down with defense. I think that’s scary for other teams.”
Sure, the high-scoring game was a rarity for coach Nick Saban’s team, which did outscore Texas A&M 49-42 last season. It was the highest in combined points for an Alabama game since a 110-0 win over Marion Institute in 1922.
“The way we’re headed in college football, there’s going to be games like this, and you’re going to have to be able to win games like this,” Saban said.
His team has also won games 14-13 and 20-13. The latest game was also another indication that the Tide has caught up with the times in an age when up tempo teams pile up plays, yards and points.
Sometimes joining them makes it easier to beat them. That was the case in the Iron Bowl, when Alabama’s defense, which came in as the league’s top unit, couldn’t contain Auburn’s no-huddle attack.
The reverse was true also, when the Tide picked up the tempo.
Not a sentence uttered very often: Alabama gave up 630 yards and won.
“There’s a lot more points being scored in this day and age of college football than ever before,” Saban said. “I think the hurry-up offense, the advent of the zone read and the option passes that come off it that people throw make it very difficult to defend.”
Alabama has opened things up some under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, a finalist for the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
Quarterback Blake Sims has passed for 2,988 yards. Cooper has demolished school records with 103 catches for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Alabama is 21st nationally in passing offense, averaging 282.6 yards per game. The Tide’s three national championship teams under Saban finished ranked 92nd, 69th and 75th respectively in passing offense.
“When you’re that potent offensively, when you can play defense at that high, consistent levels, that’s certainly problematic for anybody that’s going to play against them,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
Saban said Alabama started adopting the “fastball” style at times because Sims thrived when the Tide went no-huddle.
He was even urging Kiffin to throw downfield more in the first half against Auburn. Kiffin listened.
Cooper had touchdown catches of 39 and 75 yards in the third quarter. The Heisman Trophy candidate has been the primary beneficiary among Kiffin’s playmakers, but fellow receiver DeAndrew White is enjoying being along for the ride in this offense, too.
“It’s new for us and it’s fun,” White said. “Coach Kiffin brought a different kind of offense to us and I like it. I can’t complain about it. It helps out a lot with the weapons we have on offense. Not just running backs. We have great running backs and great receivers. We spread the ball around a lot to all the playmakers.”
Just don’t expect Alabama to engage in many such games where the teams approach the century mark in points. This is still the Tide.
“It was a fun game,” Alabama right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “I wouldn’t like it every week.”
Neither would Saban.
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