TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Tucked inside the dark, arid visitor’s locker room, University of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart knew what was coming.
A football field away, the Crimson Team, led by Alabama’s first-team offense, was getting ready in the home locker room for kickoff of the Tide’s annual A-Day scrimmage. Quarterback AJ McCarron and his veteran receivers prepared for the final hurrah of spring and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier got his play sheet together, intent on giving the Tide fans a show.
Smart flicked on the projector and laid it all out for the White squad, headed by the first-team defense. He told them to expect the offense to come out hot and fast. He wasn’t looking for last year’s offense that was often conservative and rarely explosive. He told them to be ready for a different look, one that would challenge their ability to limit the big play.
McCarron stretched out his arm under the warm spring sun at Bryant-Denny Stadium, completing 29 of 42 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Phillip Sims, who has nursed a sore shoulder for two weeks, threw the ball 12 times, completing nine passes for 135 yards and two scores.
The offense -- save for a few turnovers -- pushed the envelope and turned in several exciting plays, including three 40-plus yard touchdown passes.
“I felt like overall, it was a fun day,” McCarron said afterward. “I mean I had fun. I’m sure everybody else had fun, too.”
Coach Nick Saban wasn’t smiling at the post-game news conference, but he wasn’t worried either. He didn’t dwell on the offense or the defense after the game had ended and White won the game against Crimson, 24-19. The final exam, as he put it, was over and he’d leave it to the film to decide how well players did individually.
But when asked about the evolution of the offense, Saban paused. With 78,526 fans in attendance and scores of cameras shooting every minute of the action, he wasn’t intent on giving his game plan away.
“You didn’t see anything new,” Saban said of the offense. “Unless you want to just email Michigan what we’re doing, anything new we’re doing. If I saw anything new out there I would have been upset.”
“There may be some things new. We may do some things differently. We have different players.“
In other words, there’s more to come.
Nussmeier has been in Tuscaloosa, Ala, for less than three months, and is just starting to make his imprint on the offense. Saban said the two coaches have talked and insinuated that he’ll begin implementing whatever changes he sees fit in fall practice, away from the glare of cameras.
“Doug has got some new ideas about what he wants to do. I like those ideas,” Saban said. “We’ll do some of those things a little differently.”
Part of the difference will be a focus on creating big plays on offense. Saban has said he wants a more explosive offense like he had at LSU and has not yet captured at Alabama.
“Offensively, one of the goals that we had in recruiting was to find and recruit more explosive players on offense,” Saban said last week. “I think some of the guys we recruited in the last year have kind of shown that. Hopefully, some of the freshmen that we have here now will have an opportunity to do that.”
Kenny Bell, who caught just 16 balls last year, hauled in five receptions on Saturday, including a 47-yard touchdown pass to end the third quarter. He said he thinks there are more players capable of going the distance in the passing game, particularly young receivers like Christion Jones, Amari Cooper and Chris Black, who caught a 44-yard touchdown pass as well.
“I feel like we’re going to be very explosive,” Bell said. “It’s going to open up for the running backs. We’ve got Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon. It’s going to open up for them so they can run the ball but it’s also going to get it so we can open up and spread the ball downfield and make big plays.”