AL.com, on Tuesday, published some comments made by Saban related to Alabama’ performance versus the hurry-up and spread it offenses. The comments were made after Bama’s first scrimmage and are very insightful:
“You know, in all honesty, guys, you all make way too much of this,” Saban said. “I mean, the last game (Auburn) had 21 points against us with 30 seconds to go in the game, and I don’t think anybody held them to 21 points all year long. I saw them score 60 in the SEC Championship Game or whatever.”
“So when you look in it deeply relative to how the other teams do, do we need to play better or do we play as well against those teams as maybe some other teams?” Saban asked. “I guess you could make the case for that.
“We do a good job of scheming people when we play them. We do a good job of telling our players how they need to play things and how to stop what they do. And when you play a no-huddle team, you can’t do as good a job of that. They don’t recognize it as fast. And I don’t care how you practice it, it’s going to be difficult unless you’re a no-huddle team yourself. And that has a downside because how do you coach the players? Can’t coach them between plays because everything’s about how fast you go.”
“We’re going to improve on it. We’re practicing it better. We need to improve on it. But I think we need to improve on defense, period,” he said. “I think we need to improve in coverage. I think we need to improve in mental errors. I think we need to improve how we strike people up front. I think we missed too many tackles today, so we’ve got to tackle a whole lot better. And we can’t give up big plays. And we’ve got to be able to pressure the quarterback better.
“So I think if we can do all those things better we’ll probably play against everybody better.”
I think the easy thing to do is to glance at the stats or the scoreboard and say Nick Saban’s defenses are struggling mightily against these new-fangled offenses. But the real answer is much more complex and I think these comments by Saban give us great insight into how the question should be answered.
Yes, there are issues that have to be handled when playing against a HUNH. Things are much faster and it’s much harder to make adjustments and coach your players. But at the same time, there are other factors as well. For example, if your own offense is inefficient or fails at inopportune times, the defense can become overwhelmed. If Alabama makes one more timely first down in the fourth quarter against Auburn, we could be talking about a four-peat now instead of how to defend fad offenses.
I also think that at the onset of this offensive phase Saban’s teams were somewhat outmatched. I don’t mean that in terms of athletic ability, but rather defenses appear to need different type athletes to match up well with HUNH offenses. We’ve the subtle shift (or maybe not so subtle) in the type of defenders being brought to campus. That’s likely to continue until this phase of the game ends or moves to something else.
But also, the players you have, have to be able to play. Last year, Alabama’s cornerbacks struggled and the defensive line play wasn’t up to recent standards. Throw all of that together and you have trouble.
In the end, though, these are all excuses. You have to put together a game plan to win. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. My guess is, though, this year’s game plan will be a lot better, at least defensively.