Juggernaut. That’s one of the few ways to encapsulate what No. 1 Alabama is in this year’s college football landscape.
The Crimson Tide has topped 500 yards in total offense in every game this season, including two 600-yard performances, against Louisiana and Arkansas, in back-to-back games. They also opened the season with three consecutive 50-plus point games, the first time any team has done that in SEC history.
Alabama’s closest game in 2018 has been a 45-23 victory over No. 20 Texas A&M, but Coach Nick Saban saw his team quickly extended their 21-13 halftime lead over the Aggies to 38-13 with 10 minutes and three seconds left in the third quarter. The Tide’s most impressive victory came against Tennessee, a 58-21 drubbing that was the highest point total ever produced by a visiting team at Neyland Stadium, which became the Volunteers home field in 1921.
“They’re a great team, I have to give them their props,” Tennessee defensive lineman Kyle Phillips told Rainer Sabin of al.com after the game. “They’re great offensively, defensively, special teams. They play hard, they execute very well. They’re a tough team to beat for sure, and that’s what we’re trying to get toward as a program.”
According to data compiled by Sport Source Analytics, Alabama has led by 21 or more points on almost two-thirds (62 percent) of their total plays this season. No. 2 Clemson is second-best (38 percent) followed by Utah State (35 percent). Ivan Maisel of ESPN notes Alabama has played more than 1,200 snaps this season and trailed for only three of them. And remember, this domination is occurring a year after the program lost 16 players from last year’s national champion team to the NFL and hired six new assistant coaches.
Overall, the Crimson Tide has outscored teams by over 38 points per contest and has averaged 54.1 points per game, the most by an FBS team this year. Amazingly, Alabama is boasting a 31.5-point average margin of victory heading into the second half! After adjusting for strength of schedule, Alabama is 25.5 points per game better than an average team, which, if sustained, would make this squad better than any of the national championship teams — 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017 seasons — under Saban’s leadership. In fact, a decisive win over LSU could help push this year’s adjusted margin of victory per game mark among the best in school history, perhaps even ahead of Bear Bryant’s teams from the 1970s and Wallace Wade’s team from 1930.
One key to Alabama’s success despite all the turnover is Heisman Trophy front-runner Tua Tagovailoa. With the sophomore under center, Alabama has scored a touchdown on 41 of 62 drives this season in addition to converting 28 of 43 third downs (65 percent). In five games against Southeastern Conference opponents, Tagovailoa has completed 74 of 109 attempts for 1,483 yards and 17 touchdowns. Only Oklahoma’s passing game ranks higher per Bill Connelly’s S&P+ Ratings, which factor in a team’s efficiency, explosiveness, field position, ability to finish drives and how good they are at preventing turnovers.
This transition to a passing offense was almost a necessity: Alabama’s power rushing game — defined as the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieve a first down or touchdown — has remained at a similar rate as last year but slipped overall in the rankings from 16th (77 percent) in 2017 to 45th (75 percent) in 2018.
The defense, meanwhile, is as fearsome as ever. Alabama ranks second nationally per S&P+ ratings in terms of limiting opponents from converting first downs and boasts the fourth-best pass defense in the country. The Tide also rank second in Connelly’s “havoc rate,” a team’s total tackles for loss, passes defensed and forced fumbles divided by total plays against.
“Alabama has always been the benchmark and Coach Saban has done a fantastic job,” LSU coach Coach Ed Orgeron told David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “He’s going to go down as the greatest college football coach in the history of the game, so give him the credit for what they’ve done at Alabama.
“We’ve got to beat them to get to where we want to go, and that’s the fact.”
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