Dabo Swinney discusses Alabama OC change, challenges behind playing a true freshman quarterbackBy Matthew Speakman | 01/03/2017 12:50pm
Alabama shook the surface of the college football world when head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin decided to ‘mutually part ways’ on Monday. The decision came as a surprise to most people, and left many wondering how Alabama would change with newly-hired Steve Sarkisian taking over the position.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney does not expect Alabama to be much different when his No. 2 Clemson Tigers take on No.1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
“You've got some nuances that might be a little bit different maybe from a play call or something like that, but you're not going to – it's not like they're going to come out and run the triple option,” said Swinney in a teleconference on Tuesday. “They're going to dance with who brung 'em. They're going to do what they do. It's just as simple as that.”
Alabama has won 26-straight games following its win over No. 4 Washington in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. A large part of this has been the team’s ability to score points in bunches behind Kiffin. The team averages 39.4 points per game.
“Why would they change?” Swinney said. “They've been incredibly – nobody has stopped them. They've been incredibly successful. The quarterback has played very, very well. They've run him. They've got outstanding backs. They've got the best receivers we've seen, a great tight end. They're going to do what they do.”
One interesting story line coming into the national championship is the same one that has remained with the team throughout the season- true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts has played in multiple big games all season, but those seem to pale in comparison to the stage that he will take on against Clemson.
Swinney, who played Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson as a freshman during the 2014 season, discussed the challenges behind playing a freshman at quarterback.
“You're just now starting to coach him. And so there's some challenges there. How he's going to handle certain venues and things like that and respond to adversity?” Swinney said. “Those are probably the biggest challenges, and just experience, just limited – it's not like – I don't care how good a player you are as a freshman, you're going to be better as a junior. You just get better with time.”
Kiffin spent a lot of time interacting with Hurts, developing him as the season went on. As both the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Hurts mostly had Kiffin's voice in his ears. A challenge that faces Alabama is Hurts’ ability to adjust with a new mentor calling the plays and coaching him throughout the game.
Swinney believes that Hurts, despite being a freshman, has more experience than some veterans in college football.
“I think you've got to be smart, and I think that's what Alabama has done. But he's not a freshman anymore,” Swinney said. “The guy has played, what, 14 games. I mean, heck, he's well on his way into his junior year. I mean, this guy has played a lot of football, more football than some of the guys that start as a junior in college.”
Alabama and Clemson will square off in the CFP National Championship on Jan. 9 in Tampa Bay, Florida.