TUSCALOOSA, Ala. >> If Mike Locksley lacks the national cachet of other recent Alabama offensive coordinators, he does have the numbers — and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — on his side.
He’s not a big-name former head coach at a football powerhouse, like Lane Kiffin and (briefly) Steve Sarkisian or a longtime NFL assistant like Brian Daboll. Locksley’s offense might still prove to be the best coach Nick Saban has had with the top-ranked Crimson Tide, which hosts Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
Tagovailoa’s on-field wizardry is getting much of the attention, while Locksley’s working behind the curtain.
“He’s doing a great job calling plays,” Alabama tight end Hale Hentges said. “He really is doing a good job of mixing up the run, the pass, the play-action screens. And he’s making a very natural flow to all of our plays and that’s what has made us have success. Just because of his ability to call plays. He’s an offensive genius. He’s really good.”
Even Saban conceded after Saturday’s 45-23 dismantling of Texas A&M that this might be his best passing offense. It was the first time the Tide, averaging a nation’s best 56.7 points per game, had failed to score 50.
“I think the diversity and the number of playmakers this team has, certainly ranks it up there with one of the best,” Saban said. “And we knew this was the kind of team that we were going to have.
“But when you win a game (like Texas A&M), they had 72 offensive plays and we had 61 and their time of possession was greater than ours. So if we were as you put it the best we’ve ever had, it wouldn’t be that way. We would be able to control the game, control the line of scrimmage, finish the game. Run the ball when we need to run it. We may throw it as well as anybody we’ve ever had but that’s not all there is to it.”
Louisiana coach Billy Napier was Alabama’s receivers coach from 2013-17 and is impressed with the collection of talent.
“There’s no question that the personnel on offense is as good as it’s ever been at Alabama relative to the total combination of players at every position,” Napier said today. “I think the quarterback makes them different.”
Locksley came to Alabama as an offensive analyst, then replaced Napier as receivers coach and was promoted after Daboll headed back to the NFL. Still working with the receivers, he is a former Maryland offensive coordinator who served the final six games as interim head coach in 2015. He was New Mexico’s head coach for three years before that.
It’s low-key compared to the resumes of Kiffin and Sarkisian. Both were head coaches at USC while Kiffin also led Tide rival Tennessee and Sarkisian was at Washington.
All those coordinators have had plenty of talented players to work with, but this Alabama team is spreading it around as much as any. Tagovailoa has been connecting with a number of targets, led by Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith. Tight end Irv Smith Jr. has emerged as a big weapon and Hentges caught two touchdown passes against Texas A&M.
Jeudy is averaging 21.5 yards on 17 catches while scoring six touchdowns. DeVonta Smith has 14 catches for 260 yards.
Six players have caught touchdown passes and four running backs have had at least 22 carries, with none reaching 40 yet.
So far Alabama is accomplishing one of the goals Locksley stated at Alabama’s media day in early August.
“It’s always been my opinion as an offensive coordinator, when developing an offensive system, that you want to identify who your playmakers are and you want to find ways to get them all involved,” he said. “We’re a much better team when guys all feel like they have some ability to help.”