By Michael Casagrande, firstname.lastname@example.org
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Although unbeaten, the Alabama offense just can't win.
It can't score, throw the ball down the field or take the pressure off running back Mark Ingram. The complaints come from all directions as third-ranked Alabama prepares for No. 9 LSU's visit Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Talk-radio callers cry bloody murder, but there is no panic from within.
Opposing defenses have started packing in to stop Ingram, the SEC's leading rusher. The conservative, short passing game employed against Tennessee didn't do much to keep the safeties honest.
"Well, I think first of all to get it down the field you've got to throw it down the field, and we probably haven't done that as frequently as we need to," coach Nick Saban said. "I think we have to be more aggressive in that part of what we're doing. I think we have the plays to do it. I think we have to have confidence in the players to be able to go execute those plays and give them an opportunity to make plays."
Sticking with the "take what the defense gives you" mentality contributed to the lack of deep passes against Tennessee and South Carolina. Without the big plays, Alabama had little room for error as four drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns.
"There is a risk/reward," Tide quarterback Greg McElroy said. "If one guy is covered, another guy is usually open. Sometimes you want to play a little more conservatively, and when the defenses have been playing like they were, we have been playing pretty conservatively on offense trying not to give them a short field."
McElroy admitted some of the hype about his early-season success "maybe might have" gotten to him, but he insisted he's not in a mental rut. He completed 18 of 29 passes against Tennessee after his four-turnover performance against South Carolina.
"To me, I see a guy who has a very good throwing motion and a guy who can make the throws," LSU coach Les Miles told reporters in Baton Rouge on Monday. "I don't know that I would characterize his play as slumping. To me, I think he's making good decisions with the ball and getting the ball to the guy who he is supposed to give it to."
As the traditional pro-style offense experienced growing pains, the new-age "wildcat" offense has been expanded. That lone offensive touchdown in the past three games came at the end of a drive late in the South Carolina game, when Ingram ran five of the six plays for 64 yards out of the wildcat formation. His 4 yards to the end zone, though, came on a conventional pitch from McElroy that sealed the 20-6 win.