Alabama Vs. The Ole’ Triple Option
It's a scheme as old as the game itself, the triple option. In college football today, it's a scheme leaned on by mostly service academies or programs that are forever handicapped from recruiting top talent, regardless of the level of play.
For those out of the loop, for whatever reason, the triple-option offense is completely under center, featuring a fullback lined up about three yards behind the quarterback. Two running backs line up as wings offset behind the end man on the line of scrimmage. A tight end creates a strong side and a wide receiver usually splits to the weak side.
The quarterback is usually presented with three options on the majority of plays: give to the fullback into the A gap, keep the ball and rush the edge or pitch to the wing if the edge defender plays the quarterback. Offensive linemen typically cut block, or roll into the legs of the defensive linemen, which is a double-edged sword. Linebackers are forced to read the backs instead of the linemen and the lower bodies of defensive linemen are vulnerable.
Despite its rarity, the triple option is truly difficult to defend, a big reason why Chip Kelly used a spread version of the offense when he coached the Oregon Ducks. Everyone on the defense has a responsibility and the slightest break in responsibility can result in a big play, regardless of the skill disparity.
Alabama has had its own troubles with the triple option during Nick Saban's tenure as head coach of the Crimson Tide.
In 2011, Alabama allowed 302 yards on 30 carries to the Georgia Southern Eagles, before GSU was a Sun Belt program, in a 45-21 win. Saban wasn't pleased, and it hung with him.
In 2018, Alabama played another option team, The Citadel Bulldogs. The Citadel was 4-5 when it played Alabama. Still, the Bulldogs held one of the greatest offenses in program history off the field and enjoyed a 10-10 tie into halftime. Alabama eventually surged to a 50-17 win, but the Crimson Tide allowed 275 yards on 60 carries. At least Georgia Southern completed a pass.
So why does Alabama play this type of team? In 11 of 12 regular-season games in 2021, it's reasonable to expect most opponents to throw the ball more than rush.
It comes down to discipline. It comes down to respecting the opponent.
"Then we come out on Monday and really, not ready to practice. I guess because of respect we have for the opponent, I don’t really know all that or maybe it’s what they read on social media or in the media or whatever, after one half of a game this season," Saban said to open his Wednesday press conference. "Then it was hot yesterday, so, we’ve got every external factor in the world that is affecting our ability to maintain intensity and play the way we need to play and practice the way we need to practice to improve."
Playing a triple-option team, an FCS opponent no less, couldn't come at a better time for Saban and his team. That's the case every time one comes through the schedule though. Saban alluded to 2018 in his Wednesday press conference. It's a teaching moment.
Alabama beat the Mercer Bears in 2017, 56-0. Mercer didn't run a triple-option offense then, but it does now.
In its season opener, the Bears ran its offense to near perfection, rushing 59 times for 539 yards and seven touchdowns. The Bears did pass the ball with some respectable success, but clearly, the Bears outmatched the Skyhawks in every way, winning 69-0.
Mercer carries the number two offense in FCS into Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Sure, that doesn't translate to what Alabama brings. After all, the Bears only have a 0.1% chance of winning according to the ESPN Football Power Index.