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Matt Hinton

Alabama's West Coast Rorschach Test

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

It's a fact that people with different backgrounds, psychologic makeups and sensibilities may perceive the same set of facts quite differently. Take, for example, this description of the offense being installed by Alabama's new offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain -- do I detect a whiff of the dreaded "West Coast"?

Thanks to the new wrinkles added by first-year offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, with an offense that encourages completions rather than going deep, running backs are suddenly vital in the passing game.

The fact that Coffee reeled in six receptions for 79 yards on Saturday was the latest indication. Freshman running back Mark Ingram had three catches for 31 yards, as well.

"We're doing a lot of things with the backs," said quarterback John Parker Wilson, who was 17 of 30 for 309 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. "Whether it's bringing them out of the backfield, or putting them in a read, it's not just the check-down routes. They're in the pass plays now."

McElwain had hinted safe, secure, rhythmic passes would be part of the solution. Asked why his offense is considered "quarterback-friendly," he said he wasn't sure. But he added about the signal-caller: "He better throw completions."

"It is our responsibility to make sure that we are efficient in what we do," McElwain said. "Get the ball out of our hands, get rid of any turnovers, and put the ball in the end zone."

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Crimson Tide partisans, no doubt, take their senior quarterback's 309-yard, two touchdown scrimmage and the promise to "put the ball in the end zone" as a sign of an explosive attack, a return to the relative gunslinging that resulted in 41 points against Arkansas and Tennessee and 34 against LSU. Skeptics, no doubt, read "encourages completions," "efficient," and "safe, secure, rhythmic passes" as a sign that McElwain has little faith in Wilson -- who justified his apprehension by throwing two picks against a largely rebuilding secondary -- and the resulting emphasis on keeping JPW out of trouble is destined to end in the same lo-fi frustration as the 12, 14, and 10-point efforts in November losses to Mississippi State, UL-Monroe and Auburn, respectively.

The article goes out of its way to avoid the term "West Coast," which, in addition to being meaningless jargon, isn't so en vogue as it was when Al Borges brought a similar concept to Auburn in 2004. But you make dinner with the groceries you have, and the emphasis here on passes to running backs makes a lot of sense when you consider a) those backs weren't particularly effective between the tackles, and b) they may be the best receivers on the team. All bets on the receiving corps are off, of course, until there's some kind of verdict on Julio Jones, but among the returning wide outs, only one, Nikita Stover, averaged more than ten yards per catch last year -- and he only caught ten passes. Returning leader Mike McCoy, who caught 28, averaged a meager 7.4, with a long of 23 yards and one touchdown. This is not exactly "explosive," and unless Jones, Stover and/or incoming B.J. Scott approximate the downfield prowess of departed D.J. Hall, Matt Caddell and Keith Brown (the senior trio averaged 14.1 per catch with 13 touchdowns), long live the well-placed swing pass.

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Photo courtesy US Presswire

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