When it comes to football, nobody is more obsessed with sweating the small stuff than Alabama’s head coach. So, I’m fascinated with the attention he’s paid to Junior’s decision to speed up the Tide’s offense last season and the rather broad hints Saban’s making that some of that may have played into the defense’s collapse at the end of the year.
“If we’re going to be a no-huddle team like we were last year, I think we have to manage the season better with our team,” Saban said, “because I think at the end of the season last year, we ran out of gas a little bit.”
Now understand, while the pace may have been breakneck by Saban’s standards, it was middle of the pack by FBS ones – Alabama ranked 72nd nationally last season in plays run per game. But that’s enough for Saban to draw his own conclusions.
“Which is like a couple, three more games,” Saban said. “And our players showed it. So we’re going to have to do a better job of keeping our team where they need to be so that we can finish strong.”
What’s really interesting about this, when you parse his remarks, is that he’s more concerned about muddying his team’s identity than the energy level. Read this and see what you think:
“It’s interesting that we set records last year on offense, passing, our total offense, points,” Saban said. “I’m talking about records all time. But yet, there was something that we lost in doing that. Before we would just line up and physically dominate the line of scrimmage and the other team knew what we were going to do. It really wasn’t a secret but they couldn’t stop us.
“So, even though we had much more balance, much more diversity, I think we lost a little bit of that. And I think it’s important that we sort of gain that back so that we are a physical, relentless, competitive-type team that nobody wants to play. But we play with that kind of toughness because that’s been the trademark. That’s help us have the sort of success that we’ve had. So I’m a little apprehensive about giving up that quality and not having that identity as a team, especially in a league that is sort of built on those kind of intangibles.”
The irony here, at least for me, is you can make a valid argument Georgia’s 2014 offense had the identity that Saban believes last year’s Alabama’s squad lacked. Despite running more than five fewer plays per game than did ‘Bama, Georgia managed the best average yards per offensive play in the conference, and led the conference in scoring. Even though it played one less game, Georgia outrushed Alabama by about 450 total yards, and almost by a yard per carry.
The big question now is what Saban does to counter what he perceives as the flaws in Alabama’s game last season. Does he instruct Kiffin to rein it in? Does he stick with Alabama’s version of the no-huddle and try to adapt better on defense? You know he’s going to chew on it until he comes up with something.
In any event, it could be a story line to keep an eye on in the weeks leading up to October 3rd.