Alabama coach Nick Saban has finally relented, albeit reluctantly. He said college football has officially become an offensive game.
“It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore,” Saban told ESPN on Friday. “It’s just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them [in a 41-24 Alabama win]. That’s not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren’t going to score. You were always going to be in the game.
Considering the source… well, I mean, that’s the question now, innit? Do these words carry any weight for Kirby Smart, coming from his mentor? Or does Smart take a different lesson from that 17-point loss?
That’s what Graham Coffey pondered in this post.
Nick Saban built Alabama into a dynasty with Smart as his right-hand man by pulling in as much talent as possible. He took that talent and built strong defenses designed to stuff the run without bringing help from the secondary, and brought in corners and safeties who could cover wide-receivers in man coverage. On offense, he bulked up the line and made sure the Tide were immovable up front. He stuck stud running-backs behind those big lines, and played a ball-control style of football.
14.3, 12.6, 14.1, 7.7, 11.6, 15.1, 18.8, 13.9, 13.7 – That’s how many points the Alabama defense surrendered per a game from 2008 to 2015, Kirby Smart’s last year as the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator. At no point did the Tide rank lower than 5th in the nation in points surrendered per a game, and they won four national titles during that nine year span.
When you know your defense is going to shutdown the opposition’s offense you don’t have to take very many risks on offense, and Alabama didn’t. During that same span from 2008 to 2015 Alabama fielded plenty of very good offenses, but they never played offense at an elite level.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s been the blueprint in Athens since Smart’s arrival and up to a point, it’s served the Georgia program well.
Graham makes a good point reflecting on how the two teams in the 2015 Georgia-Alabama game looked versus the way they looked last Saturday.
There have been people comparing Smart to Mark Richt after Georgia lost to Alabama again last weekend. Anyone who is honestly considering the idea that Georgia’s program is in the same place now as it was then should simply go back and watch the 2015 Georgia vs Alabama game.
In that game Georgia fielded a team that looked like a bunch of high-schoolers next to the Tide. Alabama had superior athletes. Go back and watch the game from last Saturday and you will see two teams that look like equals in almost every way.
The difference last Saturday boiled down to one area.
When the two teams met on Saturday night one had a quarterback who was capable of reading the field quickly and wide-receivers with the ability to take the top off of a defense. One did not.
Mac Jones and his receivers versus Stetson Bennett IV and his receivers was the only lopsided matchup on the field, and it swung the game in the Tide’s favor in the second-half.
I think Kirby already knew what Saban was articulating after he was on the receiving end of the LSU offense in the SECCG. That’s why he made the hard decision to replace a valuable recruiter in James Coley with Todd Monken. And even in the eyes of a tyro like me, it’s obvious that the move is a success.
Smart’s problem in the short run is that he doesn’t have the personnel to keep up with the Joneses (pun intended). Whether that’s because of Bennett’s skill set limitations, the pandemic-related limits on preparation for a new scheme this season, or, more likely, a combination of the two, he’s got to calibrate an approach from here that both gets Georgia back to the SECCG and gives the offense a legitimate chance to trade punches for a full sixty minutes.
That’s one helluva balancing act, if you ask me. And it won’t be made any easier by Smart’s natural instinct to fall back on what he called “our brand of football“. Ironically, I feel better about where things are headed in the longer term, assuming Monken sticks around, than I do about the next six weeks. We shall see.