Balance "critical" to Alabama's success

Safety Robert Lester said after the Tennessee game that Alabama won't find its identity until the end of the season. That may be, but as of right now, this team is showing that being balanced on both sides of the ball will be a part of it.

A.J. McCarron's favorite line when asked about Alabama's offensive success is, "I just take what the defense gives me."

It's simple, straightforward, right to the point, and too short of an answer to appease reporters looking for something a little more interesting.

But this is Alabama's offense—an easy going unit that never seems to fret and simply takes what the defense gives them and goes about their business and scores 41 points per game.

The Crimson Tide's offense is as balanced as any, practically perfectly so, running for an average of 219.4 yards per game, having scored 18 rushing touchdowns, and passing for an average of 220.1 ypg, scoring 16 touchdowns that way.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have each run for over 500 yards behind the nation's best offensive line and McCarron leads the country in passing efficiency with a 183.6 rating and hasn't thrown an interception in 239 pass attempts.

"I think balance on offense is critical to being successful," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "If you're one-dimensional, one of these days, that dimension won't be working and you're going to need to be able to do other things."

Added Lacy: "It's hard for opponents to just come in and focus on one area of the game, because if they try to stop the run, we can pass the ball; if they try to stop the pass, then we run it. We have a very balanced offense and that's a big strength for us."

McCarron can find Amari Cooper for 42 yards in the end zone, or get Michael Williams a short 1-yarder for a touchdown. McCarron can hand it off to Yeldon who will pound a defense over and over for 8-, 4-, 19- and 1-yard runs on the same drive that will end up a touchdown (like he did against Tennessee), or Lacy can streak down field for 73 yards to score on the second play of the game (like he did against Missouri). Whatever the defense shows, the Tide takes, exploits and embarrasses.

Defensive-wise, Alabama is good at making its opponent one-dimensional and can stop the run and the pass. However, many will say this group, though it's No. 1 in almost every statistical category, hasn't been tested. And to some extent, it hasn't.

"Even if you stop the run, you have to be able to play pass defense and be able to affect and pressure the quarterback," Saban said after the Tennessee game. "We certainly need to improve in pass defense and play a really good running team that has balance."

Monday, Saban was asked if his defense has exceeded his expectations, having lost the heart of his unit to the NFL last year but still being the nation's best this season.

"I can't sit here and say that anybody exceeded anybody's expectations when they catch a 43-yard pass with a tight end running down the middle, or two guys run into each other and a guy catches a crossing route and runs down to the 7-yard line," he said. "I'm not disappointed in the way they play. They've played extremely well all year. But there are a lot more challenges on the horizon for them. I think we're going to have to continue to improve and play better if we're going to continue to have success on defense."

Over the next three weeks, the Tide's defense will face two good and one fair offense. Texas A&M leads the SEC in total offense, averaging 524.6 yards per game. This weekend's opponent, Mississippi State, has a poised and athletic quarterback in Tyler Russell who runs an offense that plays the vertical ball and runs a lot of screens. LSU's offense has struggled with Zach Mettenberger, but the Tigers do have a decent running game.

But with players like Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard smothering the pass rush, Jesse Williams and Damion Square front and center, and Vinnie Sunseri and Dee Milliner lurking in the secondary, no wonder teams are only averaging 8.3 points per game against Alabama.

As the Tide continues their resilient search for an identity, when all is said and done, being balanced on both sides of the ball is going to be part of it.


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