The question put to David Rader, Alabama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was, "Cecil said in his Sunday column that Alabama's offense is broken. Do you agree, and, if so, can it be fixed?" Rader, who meets with reporters every week before Head Coach Mike Shula's press briefing, prefaced his answer. by saying he had not read the article. (Hmmm? Shula would say the same thing a few minutes later.)
But, Rader said, "I would not agree with that. There is always something to work on, always something to improve on. You are never at the point you think you have arrived. I don't ever remember feeling that way."
The Tide assistant coach knows the big problem. "We haven't scored enough touchdowns once we've penetrated plus territory," he said. "We've done a lot of good things, but the statistic that shows is the number of times we've been in plus territory and the number of touchdowns."
Alabama has been in the Red Zone, the 20 yards going into the end zone, 35 times, the most of any Southeastern Conference team. But Bama ranks only seventh in Red Zone efficiency, scoring points 27 times, 77.1 per cent efficiency. More telling, the Tide has scored only 12 touchdowns, fewer than all but Mississippi State, which has been in the Red Zone only 19 times and scored 11 touchdowns and Ole Miss, which has been in the Red Zone only 18 times and scored six touchdowns.
South Carolina, under Offensive Genius Steve Spurrier, ranks last in the SEC in Red Zone offense at 59.3 per cent. The Gamecocks also have 12 touchdowns, having been in the Red Zone 27 times.
Alabama has seven rushing touchdowns and five passing touchdowns and has kicked a league high 15 of 20 field goal attempts. (The next TWO leading field goal teams have a combined 15 of 18 field goal attempts when in the Red Zone.)
In addition to the five missed field goals, Alabama has come up short in the Red Zone with two lost fumbles. Once time expired.
The best Red Zone offense is Tennessee, which has scored on 24 of 26 trips, 92.3 per cent, 18 times on touchdowns.
Rader said, "That overshadows the good things, like taking care of the football and running the ball well, although we didn't against a tough Tennessee defense." Bama leads the SEC in turnover margin with 20 takeaways (seven fumble recoveries, 13 pass interceptions) and only nine turnovers (four fumbles lost, five interceptions).
Asked to list areas of improvement, Rader said (in addition to protecting the football) that quarterback John Parker Wilson has improved at reading defenses; that the passing game has better "breadth," meaning the ball is being spread around more; completing a high percentage of passes; discerning and handling blitzes; and improved depth at the wide receiver positions and at guard.
A popular topic is why Bama sticks with senior halfback Kenneth Darby, who is averaging 4.1 yards per carry, instead of going with sophomore Jimmy Johns, who is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. (At Tennessee is was more pronounced with Johns having only three rushes, but picking up 37 yards, and Darby running 14 times for only 26 yards. Later Shula would note that Johns, who had been injured the previous week, was just not ready to play more without risk of more serious injury.)
Rader said, "K.D. is a good blocker on passes and he makes tough runs. He's one of our play-makers and he's shown that over the years. We believe in him. He only got 14 carries against Tennessee. The running game wasn't where we want it to be or where it needed to be. Particularly, we didn't have enough yards on first down plays. That got us into too many third and longs, which leads to too many punts." He added that Johns has earned more carries.
Rader said the team will work toward being more consistent. One thing the team is not, he said, is discouraged. "Yes, disappointed. But not dispair and discouragement. The guys want to do well and score points. Look at the effort. Look at the concentration, only one offensive penalty against Tennessee. The guys are upset, but not discouraged. We have four tough games left."
Although almost no one considers this week's foe, Florida International, to be much competition, Rader looks at the task in a different light. "They haven't won a game, but they have been in most of them. They trailed Miami by only 7-0 at halftime. They gave up only 14 points to Maryland. Their defense nationally ranks just ahead of Alabama's.
"We need to play a game that is our most efficient of the year.
"Our guys really want to do well. They are tired of the negative questions. They are tired of the innuendo.
"In the fourth quarter in Knoxville, we had one drive to get it done and we didn't get it done. It was against a tough defense in a tough place, but our guys didn't back down.
"I think this week they'll attack, play hard, do the best they can possibly do."