What is the identity of this Alabama football team? Good question, apparently.

Seven games in this 2021 football season, who is this Alabama team?

It’s a simple question, maybe a beatwriter should answer, but really… what is the identity of this version of Crimson Tide football? That’s a question we asked Nick Saban.

“Well, I would say right away, based on what we just did,” Saban said, “it’s kind of still in the air.”

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And that’s fair considering the three-game streak Alabama just entered on the last Saturday before an open week. From a surprisingly easy win over dangerous Ole Miss to an equally shocking loss to unranked Texas A&M to last week’s angry backlash at Mississippi State, this team is frankly hard to define.

For Saban, the trajectory is positive after the 49-9 shelling of the state of Mississippi. He said it was a group that had yet to play a 60-minute game before using the label exactly to describe the seventh game of the season.

Those growing pains were not unexpected after losing a veteran core to a 2020 national title team that produced six of the NFL‘s 24 top draft picks this spring. From that leadership vacuum, Saban said he sees encouraging steps for the 2021 squad after calling last year’s squad the easiest he has ever coached.

It’s more of a global identity, but the road to a 6-1 record has taken different forms in execution.

Offensively, the 2020 squad ran it 476 times throwing 425 passes. The distribution is almost identical this year with assists on 47.5% of games against 47.1% a year ago. A year ago, there was more of a home run threat in the passing and rushing games with Mac Jones distributing to Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris.

Jameson Williams has been the main threat for a big game for most of the season, but John Metchie and Brian Robinson have touchdown catches of 46 and 51 yards respectively at Mississippi State. Where Williams made 10 catches at Texas A&M, he had just three targets and two catches (one for a 75-yard touchdown) at Starkville.

Three different receivers led the games in the receptions. And while Brian Robinson led the rushers in every game he played, Roydell Williams played a 100-yard game against the Southern Miss and Jace McClellan caught three touchdowns among his 10 receptions before a knee injury ended. the season.

Where Robinson has only had five catches in the first five games, he has 10 in the last two.

And where tight ends Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley had 17 catches and seven touchdowns in the first five games, Latu has his only reception in the last two games for a 10-yard gain at A&M.

There is an interesting line between being unpredictable and inconsistent.

The run-to-pass ratio varied tremendously from game to game. The 50 rushed attempts against Ole Miss (vs. 27 assists) were the biggest for an Alabama offense since 2017, when Jalen Hurts was quarterback. After the game, Saban said Robinson’s 36-run day – one less than the combined workload of his first three games – wouldn’t be a return to a running identity.

A week later, Young broke his season record for overtaking attempts (48) at Texas A&M by a margin of 10 as Saban publicly hinted that Alabama should have executed him more than 34 times.

And a week before the 50-carry day against Ole Miss, Alabama had just 28 and 91 yards (3.3 on average) in Florida. There is more stability and consistency in the last three ground performances with averages of 4.2, 4.5, 4.8, respectively

Granted, these games aren’t played in voids and defenses learn from what worked / didn’t work in previous games.

How does quarterback Bryce Young define the identity of this Alabama offense?

“I think we pride ourselves on being relentless, physical, fast, and our attack is really prepared and ready to do whatever is given to us,” he said. “Evaluate who we play, watch the defense, plan the game every week. We take great pride in being ourselves, but we understand that things can be different from week to week and we are able to communicate and be on the same page for the changes as we are. bring. All of this is linked to our identity.

The second-year Pasadena passer had a flawless four TD game at Mississippi State. And through nearly four full games, he’s gone without an interception as his no-turnover streak reached 143 assists to open his career in Alabama. Then he had an interception in each of the next three games, each with growing guilt and ramifications.

Pass protection was relatively strong in the first two games against Power 5 competitions with just three sacks ahead of Ole Miss and Texas A&M combined for seven.

It covers the entire spectrum of a Crimson Tide defense that has entered the season with considerable hype. Linebacker Will Anderson lived up to that preseason buzz, but there have been hills and valleys throughout.

Florida quarterback Emory Jones was booed in the first half on Sept. 18 before leading the Gators to a two-point overtime conversion of a 31-29 Alabama breakout job at Gainesville.

Two weeks later, a volatile explosive offense from Ole Miss arrived at Bryant-Denny Stadium only to handle a meager 109 yards in the first half and zero points in what ended a 42-21 loss to Alabama.

At this point, Alabama had allowed just 19 points in the first half while scoring 149 in five games.

Of course, a week later, a blistering Texas A&M team that had scored just 32 total points in the previous two games beat Alabama 24-10 in the opening 30 minutes at College Station. The same pass rush that sacked Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers seven times at Starkville had none to Aggie Zach Calzada in the 41-38 loss.

It looked like a whole different team seven days later against Mike Leach’s dangerous unconventional offense who threw for 300 yards but didn’t score any touchdowns.

“I feel like we’re trying to get back to the standard we set for ourselves at the start of the season,” said Alabama defensive back Malachi Moore. “We wanted to be a relentless, physical defense that takes the ball and peddles the ball, and I feel like last weekend we started to take steps in that direction. But you know it’s a work in progress every day.

It was harder to predict this fall as it was more of Jeff Lebowski’s “strikes and falls, ups and downs” than last year’s bull run for a national title.

Saban took on a more positive tone when speaking about the direction of the Crimson Tide 2021 on Monday after making a statement to the state of Mississippi.

“I think we took the first step in that direction in the last game,” said Saban, “and I hope we can build on that in the future.”

who really is it the Alabama team?

The next few weeks will hold the real answer as she will play for an SEC West title with no safety net but an upward trajectory after a real failure of a performance at Texas A&M.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on twitter @ByCasagrande Or on Facebook.

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