It was my pleasure recently to chat once again with Brent Taylor of Roll Bama Roll, SB Nation’a flagship Alabama Crimson Tide site about the upcoming matchup between the ‘Dawgs and Tide. Brent and I discussed the matchups on offense and defense, and also took a more wholistic look at what we think could make the difference for both squads this afternoon.
We start by talking about the Crimson Tide offense that bears little resemblance to the unit that struggled early in the year. Hope you enjoy.
MD: The Alabama offense that rolls into Atlanta looks to me much different than the one that lost to Texas and barely escaped against South Florida? Is the difference Jalen Milroe growing into his role? Tommy Rees growing into his? Something else?
Brent: Man, it’s been night and day different from the disaster we saw the first few games of the season. USF was the worst, but it honestly extended past that all the way until the 2nd quarter of the Tennessee game. Something flipped right then, and Alabama’s offense hasn’t looked back since. Part of it has been Jalen Milroe making decisions faster. That was a big problem. It’s still a problem at times, but he’s sped up the process a lot more, mostly by being willing to take off running - something he wouldn’t do early in the season. There have also been rumors that he pulled a hamstring in week 3, and we didn’t really see him running again until the LSU game after the bye week.
Another part has been Tommy Rees’s growth as a coordinator. Early in the season, his entire gameplan was as vanilla as I’ve ever seen. It was all inside zone, 10-yard outs, and premeditated streaks. Maybe he was nervous about calling plays under Saban or something. But in the last month, the offense added about ten layers to it, working in much more horizontal motion, medium-distance passing routes, a few screens, and, of course, the QB run. That’s made a big difference too.
But probably the biggest difference from the early part of the season has been the offensive line. They still aren’t an amazing group... But they’re no longer an abject disaster. Freshman left tackle Kadyn Proctor was absolutely not ready for the college game the first 5 weeks of the season, and him getting beat around the edge over and over utterly wrecked the offense for a while. He’s improved every game, though, and I don’t think we’ve seen him give up a bad play in 4 games now. At right guard, veteran Darian Dalcourt got benched (Fact check me on this, but I believe this is the 3rd year in a row he opened the season as a starter and wound up on the bench by the end) and Jaeden Roberts took over. Roberts was a guy none of us even really knew was pushing the first team for playing time, but as soon as he got in the game, he had a different level of energy.
Collectively, they’ve become a good pass blocking group and an average run blocking group, and when you compare that to the line giving up the highest sack rate and pressure rate in the country through the first month of the season, that’s the biggest change in the offense right there.
MD: Speaking of Rees, some fans’ introduction to him was when he was talking to Jalen Milroe with his head in his hands during the Texas game. Are Alabama fans more confident in him than they were in that moment, or is he still on double secret probation?
Brent: I kind of touched on this above, but he’s definitely improved and getting closer to better graces from the fanbase. He wasn’t a very popular hire in the first place, so he’s got a long way to go to gain that confidence. When Alabama first hired him, I was nervous about his situational decision making as a playcaller, but I did think he had a lot of potential as a play designer, especially in regards to the run game. When he got here, the vanilla run scheme was totally different than what I had seen at Notre Dame, which was disheartening.
Like I said above, though, we’ve starting seeing that creativity leak into the game plan more and more, and that’s exciting. Plus he’s done a good job of continuing to change his playcalling around to accentuate Jalen Milroe’s strengths. He’s still way too prone to calling give-up conservative run plays after any failed pass, but there’s at least some promise starting to shine through - he’s only like 31, after all.
MD: What one matchup are you most confident in when Alabama has the ball?
Brent: Easy: Jalen Milroe’s legs against Georgia’s linebackers. And that’s mostly because that’s the one thing about this offense I’m confident in against any team in the country. Milroe’s speed is a cheat code - as long as he makes up his mind fast enough to actually take advantage of them. As far as the other groups, Alabama’s running backs are probably the most overmatched here. Starter Jase McClellan is probably out with a foot injury, and Roydell Williams isn’t going to strike fear. Alabama’s receivers, Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton, are phenomenal players that have made the most out of limited volume, but UGA’s secondary is similarly talented, so I think that’s a wash.
Thanks to Brent for talking us through that. I don’t feel a lot better about the game, but I at least feel more informed. Check back shortly for parts two and three of our discussion. And…