Alabama’s running game will have a breakthrough versus Ole Miss

Can Alabama's offensive line give the Crimson Tide a boost against Ole Miss? Taylor Wright answers.

| 2 weeks ago
Alabama RB Damien Harris

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama’s running game will have a breakthrough versus Ole Miss


The Alabama Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 in both national college football polls, and the defensive dominance they have showed to start the season has already been well-documented.

However, one part of their team that is viewed as a “weakness,” for the lack of a better term, has been the play of the offensive line. Through two games this season, Alabama’s offensive line ranks just 51st in PFF’s run-blocking grades. But while there have been technical mistakes by the unit, to be sure, there is one big reason to believe that the Alabama running game is due for a breakout performance in the Tide’s critical Week 3 showdown with the Ole Miss Rebels: Alabama has been leaving too many big plays on the field.

Let’s take a look at three plays that highlight missed big-play opportunities from the Tide, and why they should be able to correct them in time for their huge matchup with Ole Miss:

Play No. 1: RB Damien Harris misses chance for big gain outside of the tackles

For a running game to be effective, there has to be a choreography with the blockers and the runner. When timing or angles are not in harmony, a play that can be productive can turn into a negative.

harris-misses-daylight-on-blist-appropriate-size-gif

Above is an example from Alabama’s latest game at Western Kentucky. This “blast” play where the offensive linemen double team a defensive lineman and the runner picks a hole is an example of the back and his linemen not being synced up.

Harris cuts the ball inside of the middle of the offensive line, but look outside of the right tackle — there is green grass and a potential one-on-one matchup for the elusive Harris to exploit. If Harris simply does a better job of anticipating the holes his blockers will create for him, and reading them as the play unfolds, he could rip off a big gain on a play like this. This isn’t just about a back’s vision, it’s about a running back and offensive line functioning together as one unit. With more experience in the offense, it is very possible that Harris will do a better job of turning solid gains into gamebreaking ones.

Play No. 2: RB Bo Scarbrough misses a cutback opportunity

The next play we’re going to look at is Scarbrough running a zone play into a blitz. As Alabama’s offensive line blocks out into the teeth of the blitz, Scarbrough should look to cut the ball back. Just take a look at the space to the right of the center — a sharp cut by Scarbrough here would have led to a very nice run.

bama-scarbrough-misses-cutback-against-blitz-gif

The running threat posed by true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts also helps create running lanes, as defenses have to account for his ability to pull back the ball on zone plays and take off himself. Hurts has already produced two touchdowns as a runner, with three forced missed tackles and 43 of his 66 rushing yards coming after contact. He and Scarbrough, like Harris, are young players. Look for them to start hitting on these big-play opportunities.

Play No. 3: Harris and his O-linemen aren’t on the same page

Finally, let’s take a look at what has been a staple of the Alabama football program the last several years: the “outside zone” play. On this play, which has help produced two Heisman Trophy winners at running back in Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, the interior of the Bama offensive line is expecting Harris to run the ball inside of their blocks.

mike-linebacker-makes-tackle-on-harris-gif

However, Harris runs the ball outside of their blocks, and the middle linebacker is able to close down the hole and make the tackle. This play could have gone for big yards had the center been on the same page with Harris, and either sealed the linebacker inside, or made the same play he did, knowing that Harris would cut the ball back.

Bottom line

These adjustments are not difficult ones to make, and in college football, there is no preseason — so it should be expected with young players that there be some needed reps and coaching to get everyone on the same page. We expect Alabama‘s running game to have a big breakthrough in its SEC showdown against Ole Miss.

| Analyst

Taylor is an offensive line and run-game specialist at Pro Football Focus. He has coached at every level of college football, with experience at Mississippi Gulf Coast, Central Missouri, and Wyoming.