Indeed, Alabama leads the SEC and ranks 24th in the nation in total offense. But Alabama, which is tied for the best SEC record, does not have any runner among the league's top 10 in rushing or any receiver in the top 10 in either pass receptions or in reception yardage or a quarterback in the top 10 in passing or in pass efficiency.
Shaud Williams ranks fifth in all-purpose yards and 10th in punt returns, Lane Bearden is ninth in punting, Ray Hudson 10th in kickoff returns, and Santonio Beard is tied for seventh in scoring and fourth in rushing touchdowns. Michael Ziifle, who no longer has the place-kicking job, is tied for ninth in field goal scoring and field goal percentage and is one of at least nine (including Bama's Kyle Robinson) who has not missed an extra point kick.
All-in-all the Alabama presence in SEC individual rankings is underwhelming.
But Alabama ranks at or near the top in every major offensive and defensive category except passing offense in this week's SEC statistical rankings. And even in passing offense, Alabama ranks first in yards per play at 8.5 and the Tide is fifth in passing efficiency.
Alabama leads the SEC in total offense with 407.1 yards per game and is second in the league (and in the nation) in total defense, allowing 249.4 yards per game. (LSU leads the nation in total defense, giving up 230.4 yards per game.)
Alabama is second in the league in rushing offense (212.9 yards per game) and first in rushing defense (allowing just 76.3 yards per game). Bama is only seventh in passing offense (194.4 yards per game) and is fifth in pass defense (173.1 yards).
Last year Alabama improved its overall offense by 100 yards per game over the 2000 season. Bama finished fifth in the SEC in total offense at 409.4 yards per game. Oddly, this year's team is first in the SEC and slightly behind last year's average.
The Tide is fifth in the league in scoring offense (31.1 points per game) and third in the SEC in scoring defense (17.0).
Franchione said, "There is no comparison in last year's offense and this year's offense. Last year we were teaching it and it was a real challenge. Now it is much easier. The players have learned they just need to do their jobs and take advantage of their opportunities."
He added that Alabama has many more weapons this year. "We can scratch where it itches," he said. "We have enough players to spread it around." He said the Tide offense isn't centered around one or two people. If it is, he said, a key injury or a defensive coordinator can stop the offense. "You can't do that against us," Franchione said. "You've got to defend every quarterback, running back, and receiver."
While most of the talk was about Alabama's offense, Franchione said Alabama's excellent defense has made it much easier to play. "I'm glad we don't have to go against our defense," he said.
The team that will attempt to stop the Alabama offense and score on the Crimson Tide defense this week is Mississippi State. The Tide, which is 7-2 overall and 4-1 in SEC games, will host the Bulldogs of Coach Jackie Sherrill at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. There will be no telecast of the game. The Bulldogs have had a disappointing season, 3-5 overall and 0-4 in SEC games.
Sherrill's staff includes Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, whose reputation has been built with something of a gambling defense. Franchione said, "We know we will have some negative plays because of the type defense. The critical thing is to have not very many of those negative plays and for them to be not very big." State's defense is very good, ranking fourth in the SEC and 23rd in the nation, allowing 316.8 yards per game.
Sherrill, a former Alabama player who has been a head coach for 25 years and at Mississippi State for a dozen seasons, also has former Alabama Assistant Coach Curley Hallman on his staff as secondary coach. And the Bulldogs' pass defense is the strongest area for State, ranking second in the league and fifth in the nation, allowing only 152.1 yards per game.
Alabama's staff includes Safeties Coach Melvin Smith, who was secondary coach at Mississippi State last year. Franchione said that having Smith on the staff helps in preparation in that Smith can tell Tide coaches about Mississippi State personnel. "Primarily, he can confirm what we think we are seeing on film," Franchione said.
Franchione noted that it was against Mississippi State last year that Alabama began its turnaround. A year ago the Tide was languishing with a 3-5 record and trailed the Bulldogs. But Bama came from behind to defeat Mississippi State and the Tide went on to win its final four games of 2001. Alabama has now won 11 of its last 13 games. "We needed a win," Franchione said. "I remember our players were sticking together, believing in themselves, keeping a good attitude. And despite the record, the players believed in where we were going. As we look back, that win got us turned around."
Despite Mississippi State's poor record this year, Franchione said, "They have talented players and are very capable. They can be a difficult team to play. Our players respect them." A most telling statistic for the Bulldogs is turnover margin. While Alabama is plus eight on the year, Mississippi State is worst in the SEC, minus 10.