ATLANTA (AP) — Looking for a way to calm a jittery first-time starting quarterback, No. 2 Alabama broke out the no-huddle offense for a while against West Virginia.
The move helped recalibrate Blake Sims, and the Tide went on to roll to victory.
Up-tempo Alabama? And with the shifty Sims, guiding the offense could the zone-read and spread be next?
Nick Saban is fine with the Tide’s old-school ways. In fact, being the “dinosaur” in this age of high-tech offenses is now to Alabama’s advantage, Saban said after a 33-23 victory against West Virginia.
The Tide’s no-huddle tweak against the Mountaineers came in the second quarter, a suggestion Saban made to new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is calling plays from the sideline instead of from the coach’s box above the field as so many coordinators do.
Going no-huddle helped simplify things for a few moments for Sims, but it’s not as if Alabama was suddenly playing at a pace befitting Oregon or Auburn.
The Tide went back to the huddle for most of the game and held the ball for more than 37 minutes. And while Sims’ mobility is a new weapon for Saban’s offense after years of Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron tucked contentedly in the pocket, don’t expect the Tide to stray too far from its traditional sets.
“We’re one of the few teams in the world that still play regular people,” said Saban, referring to a tight end, two backs and two wide outs. “That’s like when I played, that was like getting an empty (backfield). And now we’re like the dinosaur age when it comes to that. We also play two tight ends and two wide outs and one back.
“But one thing that I found out about all that is because everybody else is spread and no-huddle, people really have a tough time defending what we do because nobody does it. And it allows us to be more physical and it does allow us to play more players.”
It certainly worked fine at the Georgia Dome.
Alabama gained 538 yards and at a very solid clip of 6.6 per play. Last season, Alabama averaged 7.15 per play, tied for fifth in the nation with Ohio State, a spread team, and just a bit behind hurry-up, no-huddle juggernauts Oregon, Baylor and Texas A&M.
No. 1 in the country was Florida State at 7.67 per play – another team that plays dinosaur football, and further proof that it’s more about the players you line up than how you line them up.
Kiffin was brought in to replace Doug Nussmeier after last season because he is a believer in a more traditional approach to offense, too.
Saban said having Kiffin on the sideline helped Sims.
“That’s why we put him there because that’s what we thought he could do to affect the game. Told (Sims) a lot about what we were going to do next so he could anticipate what he had to do,” Saban said. “I thought (Kiffin) did a fantastic job.”
Kiffin, the former Southern California coach who was fired five games into last season, doesn’t have to deal with the media anymore – Saban’s assistants are off limits.
Answering questions from reporters was an assignment that often didn’t show Kiffin’s best side whether it was at USC, Tennessee or as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
As Alabama’s players and coaches cleared out of the Georgia Dome, Kiffin leisurely made his way toward the exit and past dozens of reporters who were finishing up interviews with players outside the Tide locker room.
He stepped to the side for moment to fiddle with his phone and headphones. The only question he had to field was from someone who asked him how he was settling into Tuscaloosa and then wished him luck.
“We’re 1-0,” he said and smiled.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP