We’re living in the time of Nick Saban’s worst nightmare.
Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional — and successful — offense. But Nick Saban’s defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.
Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.
Take it a step further and look at Alabama’s two-game losing streak in the postseason where Oklahoma (spread and tempo) and Ohio State (spread) combined to score 87 points and reeled off 966 yards.
Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban’s defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.
“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it,” Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. “He’s making the evolution himself.”
Saban doesn’t want to evolve, damn it. He wants to accumulate more talent than anybody else and then beat the crap out of you with it. He doesn’t want to win by having to outscore the other guy’s attack.
The problem he’s running into is that he doesn’t have a better angle on defending the spread than anybody else. And while losing a game or two isn’t a big deal for most college football programs, it’s brutal for an SEC West team expected to make appearances in the CFP annual routines. That razor-thin margin for error is what’s forcing him to experiment on offense. Which in turn is an admission of sorts that what Alabama’s been doing on defense isn’t working as consistently as it used to.
It’s a problem across the conference, of course. It’s just magnified in Tuscaloosa. And it makes me wonder, if ‘Bama continues to adapt to defending the spread, how Saban defends Georgia’s power running game when his team comes to Athens this season.