How do the Crimson Tide stack up against last year's team?
Last season the Crimson Tide played in the inaugural College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed, but couldn’t make it past the eventual champion, Ohio State, in the semifinal game. That marked the team’s second loss of the season, having dropped only one game (23-17 to Ole Miss) during the regular season.
This year’s team has also dropped just one game — again, to Ole Miss, 43-37 — and is setting itself up for a similar chance at the national title if they win out and secure the SEC championship along the way.
So how does this year’s team compare to last year’s dominant squad?
In 2014 the Alabama offense ran through Amari Cooper, the nation’s best wide receiver. With Blake Sims at quarterback, Cooper was on the receiving end of 174 targets, 11 more than any other receiver in a college football landscape populated by pass-first spread offenses. Cooper had 124 receptions and made 26 people miss after the catch.
The 2015 team has talent at receiver as well, with Calvin Ridley in particular impressing at times, but they don’t have an Amari Cooper, which is why this team is more centered on the ground game. RB Derrick Henry is emerging as a Heisman candidate — legitimately so if he has another couple of games like the LSU one on Saturday night — and he isn’t the only weapon in that backfield. RB Kenyan Drake is a hell of a change of pace option which gives them additional options out-wide too.
Maybe the real difference on offense between both teams though is on the line of scrimmage. Last year’s unit had Austin Shepherd and Arie Kouandjio dominating at RT and LG respectively, but this year the best performer has been RT Dominick Jackson, and at best he’s been a bit up and down.
On defense, picking between the ‘14 and ‘15 teams is like choosing which Ferrari you’d like to take home. Both team pages feature a sea of green grades and no real weak link. If anything, this year’s team may have more depth and could be even better if they gave a player like OLB Tim Williams more snaps. Williams is a pass-rush specialist for the Tide who has played only 100 snaps so far this year (85 of them on passing plays), but has generated five sacks, four hits and 19 more hurries from only 78 pass-rushes. Though it’s speculation to tell from just 15 snaps against the run, he doesn’t look like he should be kept off the field because of some great deficiency in that facet of his game either. He leads the team in pressure despite being featured on just 100 snaps for the season, which is just a fifth of the amount of snaps some others are getting.
Landon Collins was a big loss and our third graded safety in the nation last season, but this year Eddie Jackson has stood up with great performances. Jackson is allowing just 6.0 yards per reception when he is targeted and has the second best coverage grade in the nation. NT Jarran Reed was good last year against the run, but this season he’s added some push as a pass-rusher as well as becoming downright scary as a run defender. That defensive front looks much more formidable in almost every way than a year ago.
This season’s Alabama defense looks like a tougher, more destructive unit than the one from a year ago – especially up front, where most teams don’t have the power in the trenches to stand up to them. If this team is inferior to last year’s version in any area it’s on offense, where they can’t match the output Cooper and Sims gave them. The running game may be stronger, but the passing game is definitely not what it was, and the offensive line may not be as strong either.
Overall though we are looking yet again at one of the best teams in the nation — a team that is going to be very difficult to out from a second consecutive playoff berth.