Alabama Defense Prepares For New-Look Mizzou Attack
With four days remaining Alabama opens its 2020 season against Missouri, there seems to be a healthy amount of optimism surrounding Alabama's defense.
But 600 miles northwest of Tuscaloosa, there's also plenty of buzz about the Tigers' new-look offense, led by their first-year head coach, 36-year-old Eli Drinkwitz.
“There’s a lot of things that you wouldn’t see from our last offense," Missouri wide receiver Dominic Gicinto said, according to Mizzou reporters. "[It's] more, I would say, complex than the last offense, with the motions, the tight alignments, all of those type of things, different route concepts that we probably wouldn’t have ran last year.”
As a first-time head coach at Appalachian State last year, Drinkwitz led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 season, the Sun Belt title and the No. 19 slot in the AP Poll, their highest ranking ever.
He also added to his rapidly expanding résumé as one of college football's up-and-coming offensive minds. He comes from the Gus Malzahn coaching tree, having worked under the current Auburn coach at Auburn in 2010 and 2011 and at Arkansas State in 2012.
He went on to call plays for N.C. State from 2016 to 2018, with the Wolfpack's offense improving from 76th to 31st in points per game over that span. Featuring several future NFL players at offensive skill positions, those N.C. State teams ranked in the top half of the Football Bowl Subdivision in pass percentage in all three seasons under Drinkwitz.
But at Appalachian State last year, the offense ranked 110th in pass percentage as Drinkwitz switched to a more run-based approach with running back Darrynton Evans, a third-round pick of the Tennessee Titans this past April.
"They were an extremely effective running team," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They had a very good back [Evans] who ran it inside, ran it outside, ran it on the perimeter. And [they] also featured quarterback runs in terms of what they did, which always sort of creates a little bit of an extra gap on defense that everybody's got to be conscious of trying to fit."
Based on Missouri's current personnel, it seems like they'll be closer to the Appalachian State style than the N.C. State style. The Tigers have running backs Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie returning, questionable depth at receiver and a lot of size on the offensive line.
According to Missouri beat reporters, tight ends coach Casey Woods also said the team would like to retain a powerful, downhill running game with multiple looks and personnel groupings. He described the offense as "pro ideals with a college spirit."
Mobile quarterback Shawn Robinson, a transfer from TCU who was ineligible last season, is expected to start for Mizzou, which would add another element to their new offense.
"When you can run the ball effectively, play-action passes, RPOs [run-pass options], all those things sort of fit right into how you attack people on the perimeter, [and] I thought they did an outstanding job. I would assume that, depending on who plays quarterback for them, they'll be doing some of those same things."
Appalachian State also threw in some quirks, like hiding the running back behind the offensive line on third-and-2 against Louisiana-Lafayette last season.
With a talent disadvantage, no spring practice and at least seven players out due to COVID-related reasons, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Missouri sprinkle in some trickery against Alabama on Saturday.
"Honestly, being that this is the first game of the season, I'm expecting they are going to throw a lot of things at us," Moses said. "Probably things that we're probably not used to. Probably things that we haven't seen on film. So you have to be prepared at all times."