When Alabama’s football party traveled to Knoxville Friday for Saturday’s football game, it may have been more than routine for one key Crimson Tide coach. Lane Kiffin, who now coaches quarterbacks and is offensive coordinator for Bama under Nick Saban, was once head coach at Tennessee.
Both of his trips have been successful, including Saturday’s 49-10 romp over the Volunteers. While the game included great success on defense and with special teams, the offensive production was outstanding, accounting for five touchdowns. Alabama produced 594 yards of total offense, including 438 yards rushing.
As for the starting quarterback under Kiffin’s tutelage, freshman Jalen Hurts rushed 12 times for 132 yards (11 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. He also completed 16 of 26 passes for 143 yards.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked about Kiffin’s performance following the Tide’s win in Knoxville. He said, "Lane has done a really good job of bringing our guys along, sort of doing what they can do, adapting to the players that we have extremely well, which he has done. Each year we've been here, we've had a different type of guy playing the quarterback position. We've been able to adapt and I think systematically now we are a lot further along from where we were before.”
That doesn’t mean the job is done, of course. Saban added, “So we have just got to keep on improving in the passing game and get Jalen (Hurts) comfortable because when we play really good teams, some of these runs aren't going to be quite so easy and the plays that are there to be made in the passing game, we're going to need to make."
In fact, Saban said, “I got on Jalen a couple times today, and the good thing about Jalen is that he always takes it right. And I always ask him in the locker room, ‘Should I have gotten on you?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’
“So he agrees.
“He made some good throws today. He missed some throws. He missed some reads. He turned the ball over twice in the first half. One gave them a score, one took a score off the board for us right before the half, but he’s getting better every week.
“Obviously his ability to run is something that gives defenses a lot of problems. If we can continue to improve in the passing game because of the level of skill guys that we have, I think that would be something that would make a big impact on what we can do offensively.”
Overall, Saban seemed pleased, and he said he was proud of his players.
“We said we wanted a complete game, and they certainly did that,” Saban said. “We wanted to make sure that the other team never gained any momentum in the game and had to play 60 minutes, and we obviously did that. I think the defense played outstanding, but our ability to run the ball for 400 yards took a lot of time off the clock. It took them off the field. I think our guys just did a really good job.
“This is as proud of our team as I've been all year long in terms of playing a complete game against a really good team. Especially in a tough environment, there are obviously things we could do better, and there are things that we need to improve on. This game was one game in a run of games that we have where we need to take one game at a time. Whatever we can learn from this game, we need to carry it into the next game and try to continue and improve. So, our guys did a really good job today, and I'm really proud of them.”
When Saban discussed the running game, in which Bama averaged 8.9 yards per carry and had five touchdowns (three by Hurts and one each by ArDarius Stewart and Bo Scarbrough), he said, “Well, we blocked them up front. The quarterback made some really good reads on the zone key play. We ran the read sweep, that’s a quarterback read play. So a lot of these were quarterback read plays, and he made a lot of good reads, and I think that’s why we were able to run the ball effectively. I don’t know how many yards he had rushing, but he pulled the ball a couple times and made some really big plays, and I think that creates a lot of problems for defensive teams.”
Saban was also pleased with two non-offensive touchdowns, an interception return for 58 yards by Ronnie Harrison and a 79-yard punt return by Eddie Jackson. He said that is “really “The fact that we scored two non-offensive touchdowns again today, one on special teams and one on defense, is really something special about this team.”
Alabama has now scored four touchdowns on interception returns, four on fumble returns, and three on punt returns this season.
“Confidence and players believing in what they are doing certainly contributes to their success,” Saban said. “When guys are blocking on punt return, they think that if they do it right it can make an impact on the game. It’s the same thing on the defense. We emphasize stripping the ball out and attacking the ball. When players get a turnover, they want to get a touchdown.”
This week Saban has to have his team ready to play its third consecutive ranked team. Texas A&M is 6-0 and had an open date while Bama was playing Tennessee. The Aggies are ranked sixth in the nation. The game will be at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday with CBS televising.
The Alabama plan won’t change. “We have a process of things we do throughout the week,” Saban said. “The players can expect what we are going to do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If we had a better way of doing it, we would already be doing it. We do what we do. Our players believe in it and trust it. Everybody wants to do a good job. We have to play these games one at a time.
“Texas A&M is going to be a very good team. This is one game in a run of them that we needed to play really well in.”
Video by A.P. Steadham