Jalen Hurts (above) plays quarterback for Alabama.
Auburn, Ala.--Going into the 2016 football season the Alabama offense was an unknown in many aspects. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin did not return a backfield starter, including last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, running back Derrick Henry.
However, it appears as if the Tide attack is not slowing down anytime soon. Kiffin’s ability to plug-and-play newcomers into the offense has helped the Tide become field dynamic group in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide is averaging 478 total yards per game, which ranks 27th in the country and 2nd in the SEC. The new leader in the backfield is true freshman Jalen Hurts, a quarterback who plays well above his years of college experience.
The 6-2, 209 pound dual-threat did not start the season for the Tide. Blake Barnett seemed to have won the job in August, but only lasted two drives in the opener vs. USC before being replaced by Hurts. Hurts has kept the position since while totaling 2,168 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 182-281 passing. He’s also been Alabama’s most consistent threat on the ground rushing 142 times for 803 yards and 11 touchdowns.
When Hurts has handed off instead of running it himself he has given it to a committee of tailbacks. The guy who has gotten the most opportunities is sophomore Damien Harris, who has 114 carries for 853 yards and two TDs. Alabama has also turned to freshman Josh Jacobs (73 carries, 483 yards, three touchdowns), sophomore Bo Scarbrough (62 rushes, 358 yards, five touchdowns) and B.J. Emmons (35 carries, 173 yards, one TD). Emmons is out with a foot injury.
Last season the Crimson Tide was much more run heavy with a play-action passing game, but this fall Kiffin has schemed his offense into a much more balanced attack. Much of the preseason discussion surrounding Alabama’s receiving corps revolved around Calvin Ridley. Some touted the sophomore as the next Amari Cooper, and although Ridley hasn’t achieved anything near that level of playmaking and reliability he has put together a very solid campaign (57 receptions, 640 yards, seven touchdowns).
The true deep threat for the Tide this year has been junior ArDarius Stewart. The Fultondale native has posted a team-leading 17.5 average yards per catch and 683 yards on 39 catches with seven TDs as well. He is also averaging over 14 yards per carry on five rushing attempts along with a touchdown. Tight end O.J. Howard’s increased role in 2016 has resulted in 30 receptions for 359 yards and two touchdowns. Bowling Green graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter has accounted for three TDs and 186 yards on 12 catches.
The offensive line has been pretty strong for Alabama with the top performer being freshman right tackle Jonah Williams. The matchup between him and junior end Carl Lawson this Saturday will be one to watch. The Crimson Tide had two linemen suffer arm injuries against Chattanooga with both left tackle Cam Robinson and right guard Korren Kirven leaving the contest. Both are expected to play vs. Auburn, but if either are slowed it could be worth keeping an eye on how well Auburn's defensive front is able to consistently pressure Hurts.
Senior kicker Adam Griffith is perfect on extra points (51-51,) but hasn’t been so on field goal attempts (14-20). His long for the season is from 48 yards out.
Kickoff for Saturday's Iron Bowl is scheduled for just after 2:30 p.m. CST and can be seen nationally on CBS.