Tide looks to build offensive consistency

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Sabanisms are a dime a dozen. Now in his fifth decade coaching football, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has plenty of phrases he'll call on like "positive energy" and "mental discipline." But the expression he's used most often this season has been "consistency of performance" -- in other words, how well a player or a team performs each day.

It's a coaching cliche and an obscure concept, sure, but it's also highly applicable to this team and especially this offense. From week to week, there's been no telling which Alabama will show up: the offense that struggled to run the football and convert on third down against Virginia Tech and Colorado State or the offense that ran the ball effectively, set up play action and moved the chains against Texas A&M and Ole Miss?

The ups and downs have been bothersome to a coach who relishes consistency. Not knowing whether the execution will be there from game to game has been understandably disappointing for Saban. Even during a week where Alabama should throttle a subpar Georgia State team that's arguably the worst in the FBS, he harped on the idea of maintaining their level of play.

"The question now is, are we going to be able to build on this, continue to improve as a team, not be satisfied with where we are, so that we can improve and get better execution and improve consistency in the things that we do and how we play," Saban said on Monday.

The hope for Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is that the offense can do just that and build off a strong performance against Ole Miss in which Alabama exceeded its per game average of first downs, third-down conversions and total offense. The Tide dominated time of possession and won the turnover battle thanks to a balanced offensive attack that featured two 100-yard rushers for the first time all season and a quarterback who got the ball to eight different receivers, six of whom had at least three receptions.

"I felt like we did good," AJ McCarron said following Saturday's game. "I mean, I didn't look at the stats or anything, I don't pay attention to that. But I feel like we moved the ball good."

Kevin Norwood, who tied a team high with five receptions Saturday, put it in a more positive light: "It's a huge step forward. I think we've figured out a lot of things. Of course there's a lot of things we can work on, but it's good momentum for us heading into these next games."

The next four weeks don't figure to much of a challenge compared to the start of the season as Alabama turns its attention to Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. The four schools are a combined four games below .500 and only Arkansas is ranked in the top 50 nationally in defense, albeit precariously so after giving up 923 yards of offense the past two weeks.

The offense, which has been plagued by inconsistency, has a chance to reverse that trend starting this weekend against the Panthers, who allowed more than 600 yards of total offense to West Virginia three weeks ago.

UA right guard Anthony Steen said the offense played with something to prove against Ole Miss, and it showed. Continuing to build upon that, though, will be the challenge.

"We knew we should have played better against Colorado State and we wanted to go out there and show everybody that we're better than that, and I think we did," he said. "But I think there's room to improve after watching the film."

Said Saban: "You can be critical about kicking three field goals, can be critical about a lot of things, but if you’re critical it’s only because you have expectations for something that this team still needs to improve. I think everybody is committed to trying to do that. That’s what we’re going to be committed to.”