Saban May Get Passing Game Wish

It's very likely that legendary Texas Football Coach Darrell Royal was watching the Sugar Bowl as number two Alabama played against number one Miami for the 1992 National Championship. If so, one can imagine his thoughts as he saw Bama's George Teague run down Lamar Thomas, who had caught a Gino Torretta pass and seemed touchdown-bound for the Hurricanes.

As Teague swiped the ball from Thomas, the most memorable play in the Crimson Tide's 34-13 victory to give Alabama its 12th national championship, Royal might have said, "Well, there's another one."

As much as anything, Darrell Royal is remembered for his disdain for throwing a forward pass: "I've always felt that three things can happen to you whenever you throw the football, and two of them are bad," he said. "You can catch the ball, you can throw it incomplete, or have it intercepted."

Gene Stallings would have agreed with Royal. Bama's coach in that 1993 Sugar Bowl win over Miami had a quarterback – Jay Barker – who passed for only 18 yards in winning the championship game.

But bad things can happen when a team is stuck on run, too. The play can lose yardage or the ball carrier can fumble, for examples.

Or as Texas Coach Mack Brown learned in another national championship game, on Jan. 7, 2010, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, you don't run a brittle quarterback like Colt McCoy against the nation's best defense. You might get your quarterback hurt. When that happened, it didn't hurt Bama winning its 13th national title in 2009. 37-21.

Through much of 1969 and 1970, when the Tide was mired in mediocrity, Paul Bryant, Alabama's legendary coach, frequently lamented, "You cannot live by the pass alone." But when Bryant borrowed Royal's wishbone offense to start the 1971 season, Bryant and his offensive coordinator, Mal Moore, added the forward pass with great success.

Many people think of Alabama Coach Nick Saban as a throwback to an earlier period, probably because he emphasizes toughness on defense and in the running game. But Saban claims to be pass-happy. Or, almost.

Following Alabama's 21-0 rout of LSU in the BCS National Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans for the 2011 crown, Saban said the coaching staff had determined prior to the game that there would have to be more passing by sophomore quarterback A.J. McCarron. "If we were going to have success against an excellent LSU defense, we're going to have to throw the ball and we're going to have to trust the quarterback to do it."

Saban added, "I want everyone to know that I'm not conservative. I want to throw the ball all the time."

Years ago, Saban might have been more conservative. But times have changed, particularly as to the passing game.

It wasn't that many years ago that the measure of a good quarterback was that he completed 50 per cent of his passes and had about the same number of touchdown passes as interceptions.

McCarron completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards with no interceptions and was named Offensive Most Valuable Player of the BCS National Championship Game. (So, more often than two of three times, something good happened on McCarron's passes against a highly rated LSU defense.)

Consider what McCarron did last season as a sophomore in his first year as Alabama's starting quarterback. He completed 219 of 328 passes, a success rate of 66.8 per cent. He passed for 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions, better than 3 to 1 on the positive.

He was fourth in Alabama history in single season passing with 2,634 yards; third in completions; second in completion percentage; threw 152 consecutive passes without an interception which is third in Tide history; and threw only 1.52 interceptions per 100 attempts, which is third in Bama history. He ranked 25th nationally and fourth in the Southeastern Conference in passing efficiency.

Of course, Alabama did not live by the pass alone. Not even close. McCarron passed for 2,634 yards, 202.6 yards per game, and Bama as a team had 2,797 yards, 215.2 per game.

In what would have to be considered a great achievement for a team wanting a balanced offense, in a 12-1 season, Bama rushed for 2,788 yards – about two feet per game difference in passing yardage over rushing yardage.

Now that McCarron has warmed up, the Tide might give the head coach his wish and "throw the ball all the time."

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