The "script" has become an integral part of the college football world in the last few decades. Coaches are using the limited practice time to rehearse their scripts, install new plays and get the entire offense on the same page.
Generally, the script runs anywhere from 15 to 25 plays, and teams can do real damage while operating off of their script. The blend of new plays that surprise the defense and familiar plays scheduled at the right time work together to really pump life into an offense.
We saw Alabama utilize a brilliant script in this very game a year ago against LSU.
The Crimson Tide used motions, shifts, tempo and great play design to catch the LSU defense off guard. Nick Saban's team did the same in 2009, in the SEC Championship Game against the Florida Gators. So expect the Tide to come out attacking in January as they look to gain an advantage against a very good Notre Dame defense.
Instead of working up 25 plays, let's look at the first 10 for today's purposes. If I was Doug Nussmeier or Nick Saban, here is what my first 10 would look like against the Fighting Irish.
First up? A stretch zone run with Eddie Lacy. We've talked extensively about Alabama and the Power-O here at Your Best 11, so to kick the game off running a zone would be a decent bit of self-scouting. Less risk than going for a play-action bomb that could end up incomplete and take the Tide off schedule, but still not the play Notre Dame has prepared for during its long layoff.
With the zone, you get the physicality of the run game to set the tone, but you also get a chance to go out of character in the run game. LSU did much of the same to Alabama this season to the tune of Jeremy Hill's 107 yards.
Next play would go hurry-up tempo into a shotgun set. Lacy lined up to the right side. Kelly Johnson in motion across the formation, and then we'd run power out of what looks to be a pass set.
Following the zone run, the quickness to the line to get into a more traditional pass set would help limit Notre Dame's ability to adjust on the fly. Then, by running power to the strength, the Tide would be getting into their bread and butter.
Which would bring me to the introduction of Amari Cooper to the championship stage. A zone run, then a power run would lead me to the play-action big hitter.
After a couple of successful runs early, Zeke Motta and Matthias Farley will likely have to be active against the run. On the third play we would go traditional run set and then push for Cooper over the top. The freshman has been a reliable weapon, and he is capable of burning past defenders, especially if they have eyes in the backfield.
With a big shot taken, we go back to the run game, this time with a weak-side power run. This play has become increasingly popular as teams show run to strength, defenses adjust and then the teams run to the weak side.
It is essentially a counter play where everything looks like it is going to the strong side, but the H-back and strong-side guard are pulling to the weak side to shift the numbers in their favor. This great play will force the Irish to react, keeping them on their heels instead of allowing the defense to dictate things.
Then we would look to push the tempo again, this time with quarterback A.J. McCarron in the shotgun and receivers getting involved quickly by going with double slants. This really simple play gets the ball out of McCarron's hands quickly and allows the receivers to try and make a play on their own.
Keeping that same personnel package in the game, we would line up in the same formation again, but this time we would shift to a pro set. That would allow for the hiding of a wide receiver in the backfield in the traditional spot occupied by the H-back. From there, we would go with a sluggo-wheel combo.
The outside receiver would run a sluggo, or a slant and go, route. The route puts pressure on the corner to attack the quick pass and then ride the receiver to the safety as the receiving threat turns upfield. The receiver hiding in the backfield would sneak through the line, to the flat, and then out and up the field.
McCarron has an easy choice to make: hit the sluggo if the safety leaves room down the seam, or take the wheel route on the sideline. It is an either-or proposition, and both are throws that McCarron can make.
We would still roll with the tempo game plan here as we look to find Cooper for a back-shoulder fade following up the previous play. This throw is for McCarron. He needs to hit one of these and feel it out against the Irish early so that through the game he can gain some confidence. This is the throw he tanked against the Bulldogs, and killing that doubt demon early is high on my agenda as a coach.
Especially since I'm going to need a big play out of McCarron at some point, I don't need the throw against Georgia hanging in his head.
After pushing McCarron to make a play, we get back to relying on our massive offensive line. Not by running the ball, rather by dialing up a screen play and letting the big boys get out in front of T.J. Yeldon to open up some running room. An easy pitch and catch for Alabama and a play that will force guys like Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Prince Shembo and Louis Nix III to have to redirect in order to have a shot at making a play.
With the Irish on their heels and a few pass plays in a row, we get back to the ground-and-pound by dialing up another zone run, this time with Yeldon. Allow the freshman speedster to run to daylight behind the stretch zone and let your offensive line get on Notre Dame's best player, Manti Te'o.
Finally, for my 10th play, I am dialing up the play action again, looking for tight end Michael Williams in the seam to take advantage of a sniffing safety. Pair that with Cooper sprinting to take the top off and a safety valve for McCarron to dump off to, and there is a real shot at success.
Scripts are not set in stone. Downs-and-distances often lead to more improvising and adjusting the script as the game goes on. However, in an ideal game, set scripts are designed to get you some early scores and set the tone for the game. In this contest, look for Saban to change things up, get a bit complex in order to find some success against Notre Dame's elite defense.
Rehearsed plays are a big asset to teams, I expect both sides will have their scripts well practiced. Fireworks could ensue in the first few series for each team. That being said, as the game wears on and teams settle in, expect Notre Dame-Alabama to be the epic slugfest that we have all been anticipating.