Alabama Football: 4 Adjustments Nick Saban Needs to Make Against the Spread
After publicly stating his feelings about the proliferation of spread offenses into the college game, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will likely spend time in the offseason making defensive adjustments in advance of the 2013 season.
According to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, Saban shared some of the challenges that fast-paced offensive attacks pose to opposing defenses.
You have to adapt on defense, your players have to adapt and it can be stressful in terms of communication and keeping their focus and energy level where it needs to be to play at that pace. It is what it is, so we try to get our players ready to do that.
So what specific areas will he try to counter teams like Texas A&M when they square off next season?
Alabama has several ways to tweak its normal tendencies—whether it be trying to control the tempo when it possesses the ball or making adjustments in personnel and schemes.
Here are four adjustments Saban needs to make against teams that employ a spread offense.
4. Play Ball Control on Offense
Perhaps the Tide’s biggest weapon against spread teams resides with their offense—specifically, their ability to control the clock and wear opponents down by pounding them on the ground.
With a physical offensive line that thrives on controlling the action in the trenches, Alabama’s offense can effectively handcuff spread teams by limiting their possessions and keeping their defense fresh.
Saban has a veteran quarterback in A.J. McCarron and one of the finest set of skill players in the country, which gives the offense everything it needs to play ball control when necessary.
3. Contain the Edges
Spread offenses thrive on getting skill players in favorable matchups and banking on them winning individual battles in space.
Alabama’s base 3-4 scheme relies on big and physical defensive ends whose main focus is generating a push while maintaining leverage on their gaps.
In the Tide's only loss last season, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was able to make plays with his legs by breaking the pocket with little resistance.
Moving forward, the Tide must remain disciplined in their assignments and that starts with containing the edges and swarming to the ball in space.
2. Play More Nickel and Dime Coverages
One of the main areas spread teams catch defenses off guard is by creating mismatches before the ball is snapped.
With four- and even five-wide receiver sets being employed in spread looks, isolating linebackers and safeties in pass coverage usually becomes a one-on-one matchup that favors the offense.
Saban has always placed a heavy emphasis on having versatile defensive backs that play with the same tenacity against the run and pass.
Employing an extra defensive back also gives Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart more flexibility with blitz schemes and coverages.
1. Adjust Substitution Patterns
When spread offenses go uptempo and run no-huddle, the pace can overwhelm defenses and cause all kinds of problems with regards to normal substitution patterns.
When defenses have hands on their hips and the offense is back on the line of scrimmage and ready to go, it’s pretty much checkmate at that point.
Alabama already substitutes vigorously, but it must organize its personnel groups and prepare them to enter and leave the field at a quicker pace.
The offseason is a perfect time to work on challenges like these, and with Saban representing one of the game’s most advanced defensive minds, expect the Tide to be innovators of change on the defensive side of the ball against spread offenses.