Plenty on Bill O’Brien’s plate as Alabama prepares for rematch

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January 6 – There were times last November when Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien wasn’t the most popular member of Nick Saban’s coaching staff.

In a trivial 20-14 home win over a mediocre LSU, the Crimson Tide was limited to 6 rushing yards, and an Iron Bowl move to a mediocre Auburn three weeks later resulted in a 10 deficit. -0 on three quarters. O’Brien had countless detractors at this point, but the 24-22 comeback in four overtime against rival State, followed by a sparkling performance in the Southeastern Conference Championship game last month , quickly erased the negativity.

Alabama racked up 536 yards on Georgia’s much-vaunted defense in the whipped 41-24 upset inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, cementing a Heisman Trophy for sophomore quarterback Bryce Young and continuing what was a pretty wild run in O’Brien’s first season at Tuscaloosa that followed seven successful years as the head coach of the Houston Texans in the NFL.

“It was a great experience,” O’Brien said this week on a Zoom call. “It’s great. We have a lot of great kids to coach. They work hard, they love football and they are great teammates. The coaching team led by Coach Saban is one of the best. coaching teams that I’ve ever been a part of, and that says a lot, because I’ve been on a lot of coaching teams.

“It’s been a lot of fun coaching a guy like Bryce and the rest of the guys on offense. I can’t say enough about this program and how grateful I am to have this opportunity to be here and to be here. trying to do my part to help this team win. “

Heading into Monday night’s National Championship rematch between seed Crimson Tide (13-1) and third seed Georgia (13-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, a lot is being written about the success. of Saban against former assistant Kirby Smart and contrasting Young, a former five-star signatory, with his Georgian counterpart Stetson Bennett, who arrived in Athens as a replacement.

Still, it’s hard to find a more important element for Monday’s game than O’Brien, unless it’s Jameson Williams, with these two having to work together in an attempt to tackle the loss of his fellow junior wide receiver. by Williams, John Metchie. The biggest blow to Alabama’s 29th SEC crown was losing Metchie late in the first half to a ripped ACL after already amassing six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Williams torched the Bulldogs for 184 yards and two scores on seven receptions, and it’s no secret that award finalist Biletnikoff is a focal point for the revenge-ready Bulldogs.

“We’re always finding ways to put the ball to all of our guys,” said O’Brien. “Our guys are really smart. You can move them around. You can do a lot of different things with them, but broadly speaking, I’m probably going to try to stay on top of the fray here in this Zoom session.

“All of our guys are really capable, and they’re excited about the Monday night opportunity.”

REPLACEMENT OF METCHIE

Metchie’s injury occurred during Alabama’s last halftime practice, which culminated with an 11-yard run from Young that put Alabama in front 24-17. Five games into the second half, Young and Williams connected for a 55-yard touchdown for a 31-17 lead, and a 42-yard intercept return by Jordan Battle early in the fourth quarter extended the advantage to 38-17.

Since the dynamics of Alabama’s offense have changed several scores, it’s hard to assess how the Bulldogs defended the Metchie-less Tide in the second half or how they’re planning on Monday night.

“I guess they tried to play a little too high,” said Williams. “That’s all we saw. We saw additional defenses, but that was about it. I don’t think it affects us in many ways, and I think we’ll have plans for it. get around.”

When Cincinnati dumped 27-6 in the Cotton Bowl last Friday, fifth-year senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. carried much of Alabama’s offensive load with 26 carries for 204 yards. Williams had a team-high seven catches for 62 yards, while rookie Ja’Corey Brooks added four receptions for 66 yards and the grueling touchdown just before halftime that took him to 17- 3.

Junior Redshirt Slade Bolden and tight ends Jahleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu caught the Bearcats and expect to be aerial options on Monday as well.

“Ja’Cory stepped in before Metchie came out,” Williams said. “You saw him in the Auburn game when I couldn’t play. He stepped up and made a big play, a really big play, and in the SEC Championship after Metchie came out he also played a very good ball there. I would say Ja’Corey is doing very well at the moment. “

O’Brien said: “Ja’Corey has been really important to us. He’s had some big catches in the last few games, and that has been important to our team.”

Alabama finished the Cotton Bowl without goaltender Emil Ekiyor and center Chris Owens, so the uncertainty is factored into O’Brien’s task as well.

ACHIEVE SUCCESS

O’Brien has worked with many outstanding receivers over the past 15 seasons, starting with Randy Moss and Wes Welker as assistant to the New England Patriots, Allen Robinson during his two years as head coach of Penn State in 2011-12, and DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson during his stint with the Texans.

Williams is also showing the potential for stardom in the NFL, with the 6-foot-2, 189-pound St. Louis having compiled 75 receptions for 1,507 yards (20.1 by catch) and 15 touchdowns this season since his transfer from the. Ohio State.

“I’ve coached a ton of great receivers, and Jameson has great speed, is a great road runner and is a very competitive guy,” said O’Brien. “He’s a very instinctive player. He’s a very intelligent player, and he’s a player who goes out and trains every day like it’s a game.

“The big guys have those traits. Everyone’s built differently. Everyone’s got different skills and different speed and things like that, but the better ones have these traits, and Jameson is in that category.”

O’Brien was asked this week about the Bulldogs pressing Young eight times but never sending him back to Atlanta, and he replied, “That’s an interesting statistic. When I watched the movie, I saw a lot more times than that. They have a big forehead. “

Monday night could represent the 15th and final game O’Brien is Alabama’s offensive coordinator if he decides to return to the NFL ranks, although that hasn’t been a topic this week. What dominated his time was this rematch, and no one has seen more revenge in recent years than O’Brien given that pro teams face division enemies twice per season.

“It’s tough, because you have to go back to the drawing board, so to speak,” O’Brien said. “You have to start over, but you have to watch the last game. You have to go back and review the whole season – your season and theirs – which has been a long week.

“They just have great defense, almost like a generational defense. They have a lot of great players and coaches on this side of the ball so it will be a challenge for us.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.


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