Should Alabama Run the Ball More?
It's been an argument since head coach Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator: does Alabama run the ball enough? But the better question should be, are they running the ball efficiently enough to justify running the ball more?
Before I get started, I want to make clear that I'm fully aware that over the course of two games, it's not fair to make assumptions based on statistics. There's just not enough information to form a conclusion. However, the patterns that we see can give us an idea to the answer that Alabama fans need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear.
When you split up the carries over the past two games (Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee State), you see that Alabama likes to run the ball, and they aren't necessarily particular to one part of the field (16 carries between their 1 and 20 yard lines, 22 carries between their 21 and 39 yard lines, 12 between the 40's, 18 between the opponent's 39 and 21, & eight carries inside the opponent's redzone) and 46% of those carries have come on first down alone (35/76).
On those first down runs, the Tide are averaging 4.89 yards/carry, although this statistic is lower than their overall rushing average (6.08). In essence, they're setting themselves up for manageable 2nd and 3rd downs, giving them a chance to open up the playbook and use basically any play call at any point during the game. When an offense can become unpredictable, it's difficult for a defense to pinpoint how and where an offense will attack.
There is something that strikes me as odd, though, yet in a good way. Alabama has thrown the ball on 40 of their 75 first downs this season thus far, and on those 40 passes, 19 of them have been for first downs! That is impressive, and considering the 70% completion percentage on first down, this seems to be an effective formula for the Crimson Tide when it comes to moving the ball down the field.
The Tide haven't been able to run the ball as effectively on their side of the field. For instance, on their 12 rushes between their 21 and 39 yard lines, Alabama has only averaged 3.36 yards/rush. They haven't fooled the two defenses they've played this season just outside their respective redzones, so will we see Kiffin decide to throw the ball a bit more inside that 19-yard gap of the field throughout the season?
He probably should.
In that same area of the field, Alabama completes their highest percentage of passes (72.2%) and, other than inside the opponent's redzone, they also put up the highest passer rating than in the other sections of the field (182.35).
One number that stands out to me, however, is how the Tide runs the ball in the middle of the field. In between the 40's, Alabama is averaging 10.33 yards/carry on just 12 carries. Juxtapose that number to their passing numbers inside the 40's, and you'll find that Bama may want to run the ball more when they get into the middle of the field (68.2%; 0 TDs; 1 INT; 120.56 passer rating, the second lowest rating within the five sections of the field [93.78 passer rating inside opponent's 39-21]).
In short, this is just a small sample from a small sample of a long season. Should Bama run the ball more? I don't think so, because they're efficient when they throw the ball, mainly because of the efficiency of the running game. However, I do think that the balance should stay the same as it has been over the first two games.
It's a touchy balancing act, but if the Tide stays balanced on offense, they will be able to beat anyone on their schedule.
*All stats credit to cfbstats.com*