The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide look like easily the most dominant team in the country so far. Thanks to a newly high-scoring offense, paired with the usual strong defense, Bama is arguably better than ever.
But despite the massive leap forward in the passing game and possible improvement at the team level as well, Bama’s only actual weakness throughout the Nick Saban era has somehow gotten even worse.
This, from Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings, pretty much says it all about 2018 Alabama:
First, let’s back up. For almost a decade now, Bama’s poor kicking has been a national joke, the only thing people can actually laugh at the Tide about.
Last season, senior kicker Andy Pappanastos missed two field goals in the national title game against Georgia, including a game-winning attempt for 36 yards:
During the 2011 LSU-Alabama round one, Bama missed field goals on its first three possessions, including this 49-yarder.
Oh yeah, and this one was a pretty consequential miss lmao:
Bama’s kicking was never the worst in the country, and it rarely swung games, but seeing a flaw so glaring in a team that annually brought in the No. 1 recruiting class was always entertaining. If nothing else, it was fun for everyone else to see the Tide being imperfect at something.
This year, it’s gotten even worse.
The Tide haven’t been good at kicking since 2009, when Leigh Tiffin hit 86 percent of his field goals. Since then:
- 2010: 76 percent, or right about national average
- 2011: 64 percent
- 2012: 75 percent
- 2013: 65 percent
- 2014: 64 percent
- 2015: 69 percent
- 2016: 76 percent
- 2017: 68 percent
And that’s just the start of it.
Against Arkansas, the Tide missed their fourth extra point of the season, tied for second worst in the country behind Georgia State and New Mexico. Every year, about 40 FBS teams go through the entire season without missing even one extra point.
The last time the Crimson Tide missed four extra points in a season was back in — ironically enough — their good field goal year, 2009. Bama missed 43 of its 47 extra point attempts. The Tide are on pace to cruise past that number of misses this year.
At least the kickers get plenty of practice, due to this offense.
Thanks to the incredible quarterbacking of Tagovailoa, Bama is more terrifying than ever:
Midway through the damn season, he has yet to throw a fourth-quarter pass. Even the run-heavy QBs in this sample — Cam Newton in 2010 (117), Lamar Jackson in 2016 (163) — threw more than that in their easy six games. But that’s not really a critique, is it? That if he’d thrown fewer first half touchdowns, he’d be around more to throw them in the second half?
This is nuts! We have truly never before seen what he is doing right now.
And because he plays for Saban’s title-winning death machine, I fear we are almost underestimating him. He’s the far-and-away Heisman favorite at the moment, but we still aren’t appreciating enough what he is doing right now.
Alabama’s either in the top five or just outside it in the following stat categories: Offensive S&P+, Rushing S&P+, Passing S&P+, third down conversions, completion percentage, passer rating, passing yards per completion, scoring offense, team passing efficiency, total offense, and on and on.
One irony of all this: Tagovailoa is part of the kicking unit, meaning he contributes in some way to Bama’s biggest strength and biggest weakness.
The former backup QB has retained the job despite taking over as the starter. I’m sure he’s doing a fine job of holding, though. If the kicking gets bad enough, maybe he can just start throwing trick play passes.
Bama’s kicking got off to a shaky start during the season opener against Louisville.
Jones was the initial starter, but Saban later named Bulovas the starter, putting a potential end to the Alabama position battle that had some actual drama to it:
What in the bleeping bleep is going on with Austin Jones? After missing a field goal, a point-after-attempt and having several wobbly other PATs that went through last week against Louisville, the Temple grad-transfer missed two PATs against Arkansas State and found himself on the bench. Joseph Bulovas took over and was a marked improvement.
The thing that is truly baffling is why Jones was the primary placekicker to begin with. Nick Saban hired assistant Jeff Banks whose specialty is coaching Special Teams to monitor this aspect of the game instead of an afterthought that it had been in the past. Was the fifth-year senior that much better in practice than the redshirt freshman Bulovas?
“I said earlier that the specialists need to perform,” Saban said after the game. “Obviously, when you miss two extra points, that’s not a good thing. I thought Joe did a good job when he went in there. Those two guys have been in close competition the whole time. I think it has a lot to do with confidence and sometimes when you lose your confidence, things don’t go right.”
All of this is funny, but it has yet to matter. It could in the postseason, though.
Down the stretch when Alabama has to play teams like LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn, this could cost the Tide a game, depending on the situation. But it’s even more likely that this could bite Bama in the SEC title game or Playoff, when the games will likely be a lot closer than what we’ve seen so far.