TUSCALOOSA — Alabama guard Chance Warmack has an interesting theory why the Crimson Tide’s offense is hot in the red zone, and it involves a particular emphasis by offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
“The mindset is just when you get in the red area, it’s a different attitude. Coach says you have to set your hair on fire,” Warmack said. “When we get in the red zone, we’re all looking to score.”
Back up a minute: Set your hair on fire?
Warmack grinned, nodded once and said firmly, “Got to set your hair on fire.”
Whatever it is, it has worked for the Crimson Tide, which has scored on all six of its trips inside the 20-yard line in this season’s two games. More importantly to Alabama head coach Nick Saban, five of those scores were touchdowns.
“We’ve done pretty good job offensively in red zone,” Saban said. “So far. That’s always been a point of emphasis for us.”
Last year, Alabama scored on 88 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line, which wasn’t that far behind national leader Stanford, which was successful 97 percent of the time. It was well ahead of the nation’s worst red zone team, New Mexico, which was at 61 percent on its way to a 1-11 season.
But only 55 percent of the Tide’s red zone trips results in touchdowns, not much better than New Mexico’s 50 percent. So when Saban said it’s a point of emphasis, he means it. After all, imagine how last year’s 9-6 home loss to LSU might’ve turned out with better red zone production.
In this year’s two games, Alabama has used several different formations inside the 20. Against Western Kentucky, the Tide scored three times in the red zone by using three receivers, a tight end and a running back, and everybody except the running back went out for a pass. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron then found his receiver for a touchdown.
Against Michigan, the Tide used some heavier formations that used an H-back, Kelly Johnson, or a fullback. Alabama even lined up in the I-formation inside the 20.
McCarron said it’s the offensive coaches who have made the effort to give the Tide plenty of weapons to use inside the 20.
“Everybody has done a great job of coming up with some different plays for us, different looks, not staying in one type of scheme on offense,” McCarron said.
“It’s kind of putting the defense in some different situations that they’re not used to.”
Still, McCarron said it’s up to the players to make it work, and inside the 20, it’s harder than it is the other 80 yards of the field.
“When you’re down that low, it limits what you can do,” he said. “Timing’s got to be faster. Everything has to be faster. So it definitely does limit some things you want to do. I think that’s why you’ve got different plays from the 25 down to the 12, then down to the 7, then to the 3.”
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always that hair-on-fire thing.
“At the end of the day, we have to go out and execute what the coaches have planned for us,” McCarron said.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of that so far, but we just have to stay on top of it.”
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