Alabama does not have anything resembling a prolific offense, but it has the ability to grind out a win for the Tide.
Is Alabama’s offense good enough to beat Georgia and win yet another national title? That is the question we are here to answer. But before we get into that, let’s make one thing clear: Alabama’s offense isn’t great. It’s only fine.
There isn’t anything particularly special about the Tide’s offense. Their quarterback is a below-average passer. Their running backs are bruisers who can make some moves but more or less earn their salt by grinding and beating up smaller, weaker defensemen. Oh, and they have an elite wide receiver in future pro Calvin Ridley, but he is extremely limited by the presence of aforementioned below-average passer Jalen Hurts at quarterback.
The question, though, wasn’t “is Alabama’s offense as good as Oklahoma’s?” It wasn’t even “is Alabama’s offense good?” It was “is Alabama’s offense good enough to beat Georgia?”
The answer is, unequivocally, yes.
First, Georgia isn’t going to score 54 points in this game like it did in the Rose Bowl against a seemingly nonexistent defense. The Crimson Tide have the No. 1 defense in the country by both S&P+ and scoring defense. They will be able to at least somewhat mitigate the Bulldogs’ dynamic rushing attack and keep the point total reasonable. And that’s assuming Alabama doesn’t create a defensive masterpiece like it did in the Sugar Bowl.
That takes care of the worry that Alabama might have to light up the scoreboard because it certainly is not capable of doing so against a defense like Georgia’s.
Since October, Alabama has broken 30 points just once against an FBS opponent, and that was against Mississippi State, when the Tide scored 31 points against the Bulldogs’ 24th-ranked scoring defense.
And while it’s true that the Tide rank 12th in scoring offense, that number is significantly skewed by Alabama’s performance against less than stout defenses. Against FCS teams, non-Power Five teams, and Power-Five teams that ranked 35th or worse in defense S&P+, the Crimson Tide averaged 47.0 points per game. However, against Power Five teams that ranked better than 35th in defense S&P+, like Georgia, they averaged only 23.4 points per game, a significant drop in output.
But in those five games against Power Five opponents with strong defenses, Alabama allowed only 14.6 points per game, so scoring just more than 23 points per game worked out just fine.
The Tide, in all but one game, have shown that they can get the job done on offense and grind out wins when they have to. There’s no doubt that they have the ability to do that one more time this season.
Against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, Hurts finished 16-for-24 (66.7%), passing for 120 yards, 5.0 yards per attempt, and two touchdowns against zero interceptions and one fumble lost. That is far from an impressive stat line, and yet the Alabama offense managed to put up 17 points against one of the best defenses in the country. That’s not a lot, but it was more than enough to win.
Let’s not be mistaken, though. The actual key to Alabama’s Sugar Bowl victory was obviously a supreme defensive effort, but in terms of the offense, the keys were running the ball, Hurts taking care of the ball for the most part, and taking advantage of Clemson’s turnovers (when they weren’t returned for touchdowns by the defense).
The Tide can do that again.
Even though he is completing only 61.4% of his passes, Hurts has only thrown one interception all season. Outside of an interception thrown by backup Tua Tagovailoa, the team has totaled just eight turnovers — Hurts’ one lone pick, and seven lost fumbles. That mark is the best in the nation.
That ability to protect the ball at all costs is paramount to Alabama’s offensive success, and it will be critical once more. If Hurts can avoid turnovers for one more start, the offense, at the very least, won’t make the defense’s job much more difficult than it already will be.
Which brings us to the second thing that Alabama’s offense does do well: run the dang ball.
Alabama can’t throw the ball well at all, but it can move the ball on the ground. The Tide do not yet have a 1,000-yard rusher, but they do have three rushers with more than 500 yards on the ground and at least eight touchdowns.
Damien Harris is averaging 7.6 yards per carry and has scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. Bo Scarbrough is 235 pounds of muscle and can wear down opposing defenses with brute force throughout the course of a game. Hurts gets involved on the ground often, too. He is Alabama’s second-leading rusher with 808 yards — good for 5.5 yards per carry — and eight touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive for a quarterback, and they are impeded by sacks, which negate some of his total rushing yardage.
The ground game, as it has been seemingly forever in Tuscaloosa, will be the focus of the offense once again in the national championship. Georgia possesses the 12th-ranked rushing defense by rushing yards allowed per game and the ninth-ranked rushing defense by S&P+, but Clemson had the 13th-ranked defense by rushing yards allowed per game and seventh-ranked defense by S&P+. And the Tide managed to find ways to move the ball and score points against the Tigers.
The formula is simple: move the ball on the ground, keep the clock moving, make every possession matter for both teams, and don’t turn the ball over. It’s a formula that Nick Saban has mastered over the years, and it’s led him to five national titles, four of which with Alabama. If the Tide win Monday, he’ll tie the legendary Bear Bryant for most national titles all time by a head coach. It’s tough not to trust that he’ll find a way to get this offense going enough to bring home another trophy. And I don’t mean the runner-up trophy.
None of this means that Georgia can’t do like Auburn did in the Iron Bowl and completely shut down the Tide en route to a win. The Bulldogs have the potential and talent defensively to do that. Roquan Smith is one of the best defensive players in the country (one could argue that he is the best defensive player in the country), and he’ll wreak havoc up and down the field Monday.
But only once this season was Alabama hampered so much by a strong defense that it was beaten, and that was a true road game against the Tide’s fiercest rival.
Alabama’s offense is far from dominant. But it can run the ball effectively, take care of the ball, and benefit from assistance from its defense. The Tide’s offense is good enough to win the national championship game. Like all games though, there’s still the matter of execution. But that’s why they play the games.
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