Where Did Alabama's Power Rushing Game Go?

I'm not sure why, but something struck me about this year's Alabama team while watching its game against South Carolina that I didn't really realize before. Its traditional power rushing game has all but disappeared.

Oh, the Tide still ran the ball between the tackles with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. It's just that it largely came from the Wildcat or Pistol formations. Maybe Alabama just doesn't have a fullback it can trust (I don't know; can someone fill me in?), but the power I rushing attack that defined Alabama in 2008 and to a lesser extent last year is disappearing.

Overall, Alabama has been less prone to run this season compared to the last two despite having the best running back tandem in the country. The South Carolina game is an extreme example, as the box score quotes 35 passes to 29 runs (45.3% run). If you make all of Greg McElroy's carries passes to reflect the actual play calling, because I don't recall seeing a designed run for him, it becomes 52 pass to 17 run (24.6% run). Of course, Alabama trailed the whole game, and teams that are behind always throw it more.

However, look at the early season games. With only sacks adjusted to count as pass plays, Alabama's run percentage against San Jose State (48-3 win) was 57.7%, against Penn State (24-3 win) was 55.2%, and against Duke (62-13 win) was 54.1%. By comparison, Alabama ran the ball over 60% of the time over the last two seasons. In fact, here are the sack-adjusted run percentages for Alabama under Nick Saban so far:

  • 2007: 465 run, 497 pass, 48.3% run
  • 2008: 543 run, 359 pass, 60.2% run
  • 2009: 581 run, 366 pass, 61.4% run
  • 2010: 180 run, 192 pass, 48.4% run

As you can see, Alabama's run/pass balance is similar to what it was back in 2007. The crazy thing though is that Alabama is in far better shape than it was in 2007. That '07 team went 7-6 and trailed in a lot of games. This 2010 team has only been down more than two scores in one game and, it bears repeating, has the best running back tandem in the country.

So while things have been working well enough, Bama could easily be 4-2 right now if not for Ryan Mallett's generosity. I don't know if reinvesting in the run game will help the Tide straighten things out. I do know that the soul-crushing aspect of losing to Alabama used to be watching them line up and run over your defense for four to seven yards play after play. The Tide just doesn't come off as intimidating when you're watching McElroy throw a couple of picks like against Arkansas or run around for his life like against South Carolina.

Now that Alabama has lost and all the streaks have been broken, I wouldn't be surprised to see the offensive staff reevaluate things a bit. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Bama return to its roots and reinstall more of the power running game.

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