By CHRIS WILSON
Despite winning 12 national championships and 20 Southeastern Conference titles, the tide rushed out quickly on the University of Alabama’s 1997 football season; but, the Crimson Tide’s revamped offensive scheme could help bring back the Tide.
The Tide’s 4-7 record last year was only the second losing season in 14 years for Alabama. A program rich in winning football tradition, the last two losing seasons for Alabama football date back two years before Paul “Bear” Bryant began to skipper the Crimson Tide in 1958. Bryant coached the Tide under his houndstooth cap for 25 years notching 323 wins, 85 losses and six national championships.
With 48 bowl appearances, the Crimson Tide hold the National Collegiate Athletic Association record for appearances in the postseason. But, the 1997 Alabama squad failed to win a home game for the first time since 1955.
“Alabama having a down season is really misleading,” said Norm Chow assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the BYU football team. He said Alabama’s winning tradition allows the Tide to attract some of the best talent from around the nation.
“They’re good. Four and seven means absolutely nothing to us,” Chow said.
Even though Alabama is expected to finish near the bottom of its six-team conference, BYU is obviously preparing for the Tide of old. But, in this first-ever meeting, the Cougars might see a reflection of themselves in the Tide.
Experiments over the last few years with the ‘I’ formation and tinkering with a split back approach proved unsuccessful for the program. The philosophy this year is a “one back” set.
With only one player in the backfield, the traditional fullback and other run-oriented positions can be replaced with wide receivers. The one-back offense, then, is a four wide receiver, wide-open passing attack that delegates the running responsibilities to one man — Shaun Alexender.
“If you can spread the defense, which is what a one-back offense is designed to do, then you should be able to run the ball,” said Alabama offensive coordinator in an interview with the Birmingham Post-Herald. “And if the defense stacks up on the offensive line, you should be able to throw.”
The 6-foot-1 Alexander was one of the top running back prospects coming out of high school in 1994. At Kentucky’s Boone County High, Alexander rushed for a total of 3,166 yards and 54 touchdowns his senior year.
After signing with Alabama, Alexander set the school’s single-game rushing record, going for 291 yards on 20 carries against Louisiana State University. But, foot injuries hampered Alexander’s performance throughout last season.
Even with the new offensive strategy, Alexander might ultimately determine the success of the Crimson Tide. John David Phillips, who only attempted three passes in game situations last season, will be expected to execute the precision passing offense that only returns three starters this year.
The Alabama defense, ranked near the bottom of the league in every major category last year, returns seven starters. And, the team as a whole has very few upperclassmen because of NCAA sanctions that ended two years ago.