It’s been five years since Will Muschamp and Nick Saban have shared a football field as head coaches and you’d have to go back a decade further to find a time where they were on the same staff.
It’s been well documented the two used to work together at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins in the early 2000s. Then Muschamp lost twice to Saban as a head coach when he was at Florida and Saban was in the midst of a dominant run with the Tide.
But, as the two get ready to see their teams face off again, this Alabama offense looks a lot different than the offenses Muschamp saw under Saban at LSU and again coaching against the Tide.
“They have evolved a little bit, but I think that goes back to the players and talented level they have at each position,” Muschamp said. “Obviously they want to take advantage of the quarterback now as opposed to in years past when they had a running game in (Derrick) Henry and (Trent) Richardson and (Mark) Ingram who were stronger in what they wanted to do.”
Muschamp has coached against his mentor and the person he’s modeled his program after twice, once in his first season at Florida (a 38-10 loss) and again in his final season in Gainesville, a 42-21 defeat.
But both of those teams featured prominent downhill, smash-mouth football with Heisman finalist Trent Richardson in 2011 and Derrick Henry in 2014, who’d go on to win the Heisman the year later in 2015.
This iteration of the Tide offense still has a Heisman contender on it, it just comes in the form of junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
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Now, Muschamp’s not saying Alabama doesn’t run the ball — the Tide is averaging 231.5 yards on the ground this season — but it’s coming out of more shotgun looks and they’re spreading the ball around in the passing game more with Tagovailoa and receivers like Jerry Jeudy and Jaylen Waddle.
“It’s all about taking advantage of the guys you have in your offense. They’re extremely talented at the receiver position right now and the quarterback position. That’s where you see the touches they’re trying to create for Jeudy, Waddle and those guys now.”
This season, Tagovailoa is completing 76.4% of his passes for 563 yards and seven touchdowns through two games while rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Muschamp in his weekly press conference raved about how well the future first round pick extends plays and gets out of trouble only to connect on big gains, saying keeping him contained in the pocket is a focal point this week.
“You have to do a nice job disciplining your rush lanes and strip the pocket and not let him evade, especially to his left hand. I think he’s very effective when he goes to his left. Again, his ability to extend plays in what we call off-rhythm plays is uncanny,” he said “We need to do a good job of staying in coverage and restricting lanes.”
As far as the receivers, Jeudy — the Biletnikoff Award winner last season — has 240 yards receiving through two games with four touchdowns while two other receivers on the team have over 100 yards through the air: Waddle (142) and DeVonta Smith (101).
Muschamp said the thing Bama does so well is getting those guys outside with the ball in their hands and, if they get a block and break a tackle, it usually results in a big play.
“We have our work cut out for us as far as teams are concerned and in space plays they’re try and create in the game.”