To the surprise of no one, conventional wisdom has it that Knute Rockne of Notre Dame “invented” the forward pass in football in 1913. Never mind that the tactic had been used for at least eight years by other teams.
Copying what other teams do in sports is nothing new, of course. For one thing, once a tactic has been used and filmed (or, today, videeotaped), it is hardly a secret.
Alabama switched to the wishbone for the final 12 years of Bryant’s 25-year era at Alabama and added three national championships and nine Southeastern Conference championships to the Bama record with the borrowed offense.
In any event, coaches attend coaching clinics to share and/or learn techniques. And in the case of Alabama, it is not unusual to have coaches come to visit in Tuscaloosa.
A famous example in Alabama football history is former Crimson Tide Coach Paul Bryant bringing Texas Coach Darryl Royal (and his offensive coordinator, Emory Bellard) to the Alabama coaching clinic, then having Bellard stay behind to teach Bama coaches the basics of the wishbone offense, which Bellard had invented.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban recently confessed that the Crimson Tide didn’t bring in outside coaches to share what Bama does, but rather to learn what others are doing.
This year much of the success of the Alabama offense has come from the passing game, but it’s a passing game that almost needs an asterisk.
When Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts passed to ArDarius Stewart on a 67-yard touchdown play against Mississippi State last Saturday, it wasn’t some long, downfield spiral that hit the receiver in stride. It was a jet sweep, which is a passing play only because the “receiver” is in motion from the outside and crosses in front of the quarterback, who is in spread formation.
Thus, the “pass” travels a couple of feet and depends on the receiver – now runner -- being able to get to the outside edge, as did Stewart. An advantage of the jet sweep over the old Statue of Liberty play, in which the man in motion went behind the quarterback to get the ball, is that if there is a miscue on the exchange, the jet sweep is an incomplete pass, not a fumble.
Alabama did suffer a fumble earlier this year when wide receiver Robert Foster was the man in motion. The timing was off, the snap from center hit Foster in the hands, and got away from him. That was not a pass, therefore a fumble.
That same problem came a few games later when Calvin Ridley was the man in motion, and when the ball came to him, he caught it and took it six yards for a touchdown. That was a running play.
The jet sweep has a lot to do with Hurts having completed 64.2 per cent of his passes (167-260) and, perhaps, for him having suffered only 7 interceptions. Hurts has passed for 2,032 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The jet sweep is an addition to the Alabama offense.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked which programs had been studied in revamping the offense. He listed Tom Herman, now head coach at Houston but at the time offensive coordinator at Ohio State, and visiting TCU.
“We watch a lot of film,” Saban said, “and we obviously see a lot of things like, in some cases, that we do now, that are difficult to defend, that we discuss as a staff.
“Sometimes we implement it, sometimes we don't.
"I think the thing that we have to be really cautious of that I think we've done a pretty good job of is, you just can't put new plays in without doing a tremendous amount of research. Because you have to have all the answers. They're not going to stay in one defense. They're not going to stand there. They're going to angle, slant, blitz.
“You have to have all the answers. I think that is something that we've done a really good job with our offensive coaching staff."