Roll Tide in the red zone is red hot

‘You have to set your hair on fire’ approach has ’Bama at No. 1

Extending the football across the goal line has been Alabama’s specialty, thanks to big backs such as Eddie Lacy and a creative red zone scheme. “You have to set your hair on fire, like my position coach Jeff Stoutland says,” guard Chance Warmack said. “When we hit the goal line, we know we have to execute and score. We take pride in that.” Enlarge photo

David Quinn/Associated Press file photo

Extending the football across the goal line has been Alabama’s specialty, thanks to big backs such as Eddie Lacy and a creative red zone scheme. “You have to set your hair on fire, like my position coach Jeff Stoutland says,” guard Chance Warmack said. “When we hit the goal line, we know we have to execute and score. We take pride in that.”

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.

Sometimes Alabama gets creative inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, like inserting hulking noseguard Jesse Williams at fullback. Other times the top-ranked Crimson Tide opts for more straightforward, power football by inserting four tight ends to complement a big offensive line.

Whatever the approach, Alabama practically has been unstoppable inside the red zone. The Tide (4-0) has 13 touchdowns and three field goals when getting inside the zone after beating Florida Atlantic 40-7 on Saturday.

Attitude helps, too.

“You have to set your hair on fire, like my position coach Jeff Stoutland says,” guard Chance Warmack said. “When we hit the goal line, we know we have to execute and score. We take pride in that.”

It shows, so far. Only six teams nationally have been perfect in as many trips into the red zone.

Having powerful backs such as Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon helps. So does an offensive line that might be among the nation’s best.

As if those weren’t enough, Alabama can mix and match supersized personnel to bulldoze defenders.

Against Arkansas, Alabama lined up on the 1 with four tight ends, and T.J. Yeldon scored.

Lacy likes that formation of hefty blockers, too.

“That’s never bad at all. It helps out a lot,” he said. “The defense can’t really get through them. They play physical, and they allow us to do what we’re capable of doing.”

Williams, a 320-pound lineman, lined up at fullback with three tight ends in the same situation in the second quarter. Williams mistakenly headed left when the play went right in his new role, but Lacy still scored from a yard out.

Former Tide noseguard Terrence Cody used to moonlight as a lead blocker, too.

“Everybody likes seeing Jesse Williams on the goal line,” Warmack said. “He’s big. He can bench 600 pounds. He brings a tremendous job as far as just executing on the goal line. We really love him for doing that.”

The Tide’s numbers might partly be attributed to the less-than-impenetrable defenses it has faced so far: Arkansas (105th in points allowed), Western Kentucky (70th) and Michigan (75th). Alabama, though, largely is to blame for those low early-season rankings.

It’s still notable given that was one area Alabama didn’t fare all that well during its national title run last season. The Tide scored on 51 of 58 red zone trips (88 percent) last season but produced touchdowns on only 32 of them (55 percent).

Lacy has accounted for four of the seven red zone rushing touchdowns. AJ McCarron has spread the four passing scores in that situation around to 6-6 tight end Michael Williams and wide receivers Christion Jones, Kevin Norwood and Amari Cooper.

The only time Alabama settled for a short field goal before Saturday’s game was Jeremy Shelley’s 22-yarder in the first half against Michigan.

“We’ve practiced down there a lot,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I think that players just get comfortable in that part of the field. But I really think if you’re going to be a good red zone team because the field shrinks, it’s more difficult to pass the ball. You’ve got the same number of players in a lot less space playing pass coverage.

“You can take advantage of that if your players understand how to do that defensively. But if you can run the ball, I think that’s the really good start of being a good red zone team. You don’t get behind in the down and distance, you don’t have to throw it so much, because it does get tight down there in terms of spacing.”

“We’ve practiced down there a lot,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I think that players just get comfortable in that part of the field. But I really think if you’re going to be a good red zone team because the field shrinks, it’s more difficult to pass the ball. You’ve got the same number of players in a lot less space playing pass coverage.” Enlarge photo

April L. Brown/Associated Press file photo

“We’ve practiced down there a lot,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I think that players just get comfortable in that part of the field. But I really think if you’re going to be a good red zone team because the field shrinks, it’s more difficult to pass the ball. You’ve got the same number of players in a lot less space playing pass coverage.”