USC Football: How the 2016 Alabama Offense Matches Up

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been three years since Lane Kiffin coached the USC football team, but the Trojans will be looking for a familiar yet updated agenda out of Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

Historically, nothing says USC football or Alabama football like I-formation and power. But with times a-changin’, former Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin has taken his traditional pro-style attack and gradually adopted more and more modern looks as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.

The only problem for Alabama is that the updated offensive scheme mimics exactly what USC has done offensively since Steve Sarkisian was hired before the 2014 season.

Only, the Tide deploy the deepest and most talented team in college football, while luring teams into believing they’re a run-of-the-mill, no frills offense.

Here’s an in-depth look at Alabama’s attack, as it goes up against Trojan defense coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s defense.

Kiffin’s Two-Quarterback Shuffle

For the third time in four seasons, Lane Kiffin will enter the season without an undisputed starting quarterback. Alabama plans to rotate a pair of unproven arms.

In 2013, that meant disaster for USC, as Kiffin’s inability to make a decision affected Cody Kessler’s confidence and ultimately played a large role in his infamous LAX sacking.

But last year, being indecisive was a good thing for Kiffin and Saban, as playing both Jacob Coker and Cooper Bateman early in the season allowed for separation to naturally emerge. Coker won out and Alabama got the last laugh with a national title.

For Saturday against USC, Saban announced that it’ll be the redshirt junior Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett sharing playing time.

READ MORE: Saban to Play Two Quarterbacks vs. USC

In many ways, it’s a fascinating decision. Or perhaps more accurately, a simultaneously surprising and unsurprising one.

As recently as last week, reports out of Tuscaloosa had true freshman Jalen Hurts ‘winning over’ teammates and coaches. A dual-threat option and quite possibly the future of Alabama football, Hurts turned a lot of heads and had seemingly beat out Barnett.

“Only real decision for Alabama coaches is what is the best way to develop hurts?” 247Sports’ Shannon Terry tweeted last week. “Unless there’s a significant change, he will be the quarterback by midesason.”

Having a midseason quarterback-in-waiting is a peculiar position to be in, considering he’s been pegged by Saban as the current third-stringer.

Youth is the culprit, but couldn’t the same be said for Barnett? He’s yet to see the field. Then there’s Bateman, who has only appeared in four games and lost his only start.

The latter brings familiarity however, which is all Alabama is asking for in Week 1. The Tide’s quarterback position isn’t one requiring momentous occasions and dynamic skill.

So while Hurts could give the Tide the best chance to win in a vacuum, Bateman and Barnett will be looking to manage the game, provide schematic experience and get the ball in the hands of the skill players.

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If everything works out for Alabama against USC, you won’t even remember who started or when Saban made the switch. Last year, they played two quarterbacks at AT&T Stadium against Wisconsin, scored 35 points and cruised to victory.

But should one of them falter, it would give the Trojans a vital lifeline, in what could be a drag-em-out grudge match. It’d also light a fire for Hurts going forward.

Ridley and Howard: A Pair of Talismans

Gone is Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, but don’t think for a second that Alabama doesn’t have elite playmakers.

Led by receiver Calvin Ridley and tight end O.J. Howard, the Tide –much like USC– return a significant portion of a potent receiving corps, which should make the transition to a new starting quarterback easier.

Ridley was a breakout star a year ago as a 20-year-old freshman, racking up 89 catches for 1,045 yards to replace 2014 Bilnetnikoff Award winner Amari Cooper.

“He reminds me so much of Marqise Lee [with] his explosiveness and burst,” Clay Helton said last week. “You hold your breath every time he touches it. He’s one of those guys who’s the biggest threat because he can run by you, but also can catch short and run long. That’s a scary animal.”

SEE ALSO: 10 Best USC Wide Receivers Ever

Ridley will likely be the recipient of the Kiffin Effect, with the offense funneling the ball in his direction. However Howard, along with junior receiver ArDarius Stewart, gives Alabama significant balance on the perimeter, which could force defenses into one-on-one coverage.

After being a dormant but Fred Davis-like weapon, Howard proved once and for all in the National Championship Game why he was the nation’s No. 1 tight end coming out of high school in 2013. He caught five passes for 208 yards, while scoring his first two touchdowns since his freshman season.

It all puts a heavy onus on USC’s secondary, a position group ripe with experience and talent themselves.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s penchant for shaking up formations and molding a game plan will likely play in a role in how USC chooses defend the pass game.

Expect several different looks, including plenty of nickel defense in hopes of drawing favorable matchups on passing downs.

With one of the nation’s best cornerback duos in Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall, plus ball-hawking safeties in Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay, the Trojans have options.

Jackson’s speed feels like the right suitor for Ridley, while the physical nature of Marshall’s game could see him cover a flanked-wide Howard in a pinch, to spot inside linebackers Cam Smith and Michael Hutchings.

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Does USC Have a Chance vs. Alabama’s O-Line?

For a while, it’s been expected that Alabama’s offensive M.O. will rely on a considerable edge at offensive line over the Trojans’ inexperienced front seven.

If they can run downhill, grind the clock and make for an easy game to manage at quarterback, USC would seemingly be behind the eight ball.

The Tide have one of the nation’s most-prized NFL Draft prospects in Cam Robinson at left tackle, and have been stalwarts both up front and in the backfield under Saban.

Since 2009, Alabama has rushed for 5.23 yards per carry or more in every high-profile Week 1 matchup but one. That was in 2013, when they sported a 2.53-yard average and didn’t hit the century mark against what turned out to be a Top 10 rush defense of Virginia Tech.

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Simply put, no team in the world has shown an ability to consistently plug in new players without a drop off like the Crimson Tide.

However, despite all of that, this might be a relatively opportune time to face them.

That 2013 offensive line, which was coming off a national championship season like year’s squad, had only 39 cumulative starts to their name before the season opener.

Alabama’s projected 2016 starting lineup features just two returning starters on the line, along with a pair of young, unproven sophomore running backs –Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris– who combined for just 261 yards last season.

Plus, two of the three new faces on the offensive line are at pivotal spots, with redshirt junior Bradley Bozeman earning the job at center, while true freshman and five-star talent Jonah Williams will likely get the benefit of lining up at right tackle, directly across from Porter Gustin.

The difference is that USC’s defense isn’t anywhere close to being as well regarded as the vaunted Bud Foster defenses of Virginia Tech.

Gone are five seniors on the defensive line, which compounded with a season-ending injury to Kenny Bigelow during spring camp.

Yet with a new regime in place for camp, the Trojans’ front seven performed better than expected, anchored on the line by senior nose guard and Utah graduate transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.

No question, there’s still a lot to prove on the field, especially against Alabama. But don’t count out Pendergast’s ability to work magic here.

SEE MORE: How USC’s Defense Fits Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 Scheme

The 2013 and 2014 seasons –the first of which with Pendergast on board– saw USC saddled with the worst of the NCAA sanctions, in terms of roster depletion and a lack of depth on defense.

It led to staggering first half and second half splits in rush defense, as the Trojans simply wore out and became susceptible to big plays on the ground.

In 2013, opponents ran for just 3.28 yards per carry before halftime, compared to 4.65 yards afterwards, including 76 percent more carries gaining at least 10 yards, despite 10 fewer carries.

A year later under Justin Wilcox, it was much of the same. Opponents averaged 3.12 yards in the first half and 4.57 in the second, with 68 percent more 10-yard pickups on 13 fewer carries.

That all changed in 2015, with USC allowing 1.78 fewer yards per carry in the second half.

What’s it mean against Alabama? The hope for the Trojans is that they’re better equipped to handle the classic second half barrage from the Tide than before.

But while there’s more bodies overall, their collective numbers can’t yet make up for a lack of in-game chemistry and experience. They’ll have to grow up fast in Week 1, which allows for grading on a curve.

Should the Trojans contain Alabama under 200 yards rushing, that would likely force Kiffin into throwing the football more than expected, putting his green quarterbacks in risk of making rookie mistakes.

It can happen. But will it?

Alabama’s Projected 2-Deep on Offense

Wide Receiver: Robert Foster (RS Jr.) / Calvin Ridley (So.)Left Tackle: Cam Robinson (Jr.) / Matt Womack (RS Fr.)Left Guard: Lester Cotton (So.) / Dallas Warmack (So.)Center: Bradley Bozeman (RS Jr.) / J.C. Hassenauer (Jr.)Right Guard: Ross Pierschbacher (RS So.) / Alphonse Taylor (RS Sr.)Right Tackle: Jonah Williams (Fr.) / Korren Kirven (RS Sr.)Tight End: O.J. Howard (Sr.) / Hale Hentges (So.)Wide Receiver: Calvin Ridley (So.) / Gehrig Dieter (Sr.)Wide Receiver: ArDarius Stewart (RS Jr.) / Cam Sims (Jr.)Quarterback: Cooper Bateman (RS Jr.) / Blake Barnett (RS Fr.)Running Back: Bo Scarbrough (So.) / Damien Harris (So.)

USC’s Projected 2-Deep on Defense

Defensive End: Noah Jefferson (So.) OR Rasheem Green (So.)Nose Tackle: Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (RS Sr.) / Khaliel Rodgers (RS Jr.)Defensive End: Malik Dorton (RS So.) OR Rasheem Green (So.)Predator: Porter Gustin (So.) / / Hill OR Betiku OR MurphyOutside Linebacker: Uchenna Nwosu (RS So.) / Jabari Ruffin (RS Sr.)Inside Linebacker: Cameron Smith (So.) / Olajuwon Tucker (Jr.)Inside Linebacker: Michael Hutchings (Sr.) / Quinton Power (Sr.)Cornerback: Adoree’ Jackson (Jr.) / Lockett OR LangleyCornerback: Iman Marshall (So.) / Harris OR JonesStrong Safety: Chris Hawkins (RS Jr.) OR Leon McQuay (Sr.)Nose Tackle: Marvell Tell (So.) / Ykili Ross (RS Fr.)