SEC Football: Why Nick Saban Is Afraid of Johnny Manziel and the Spread
The Texas A&M Football team brought a hurry-up spread offense to the Southeastern Conference in 2012 that took the league by storm. Alabama head coach Nick Saban is not a fan of that type of offensive approach, because he has consistently struggled to beat such up-tempo spread offenses throughout his career.
College football has evolved from a game dominated by power running games, to a game where offenses are spreading the field to create one-on-one matchups with defenders. The Aggies employed the offense when they traveled to Tuscaloosa and shocked Alabama with a 29-24 victory.
Saban has come out and publicly stated his disdain for hurry-up spread offenses. He claims the offense makes football unsafe, but the real reason he does not like them is because he fears what they can do to his defense.
This is a look at why Saban is afraid of Texas A&M and its offense.
The Spread Counteracts Alabama's Inherent Advantages
By its very nature, the spread evens the playing field in college football. Ideally, the top programs with the best coaches and facilities will recruit the top players and win the most games. They will be dominant at the line of scrimmage because they can recruit the top offensive and defensive linemen.
The spread offense changed all of that. With the spread offense, you can widen the offensive line splits so the pass-rushers are farther away from the quarterback. Greater distance correlates with greater time to get a pass off.
Oftentimes in the spread, the quarterback is running a one- or three-step drop. That means that an offensive lineman only needs to hold his block for one to two seconds before the ball is out. The combination of the pass rush being spread farther away and shorter drops creates situations where mediocre offensive linemen can be effective against great defensive lines.
This completely negates one of the major advantages for elite football programs. Middle of the road programs that do not have the horses to stand toe-to-toe in the trenches with the top programs can be effective on offense and score points.
This means that Alabama's advantages in the trenches is mitigated against spread teams. When you have a team like A&M with elite offensive linemen who also run the spread offense, they can overpower elite defenses like Alabama.
Saban Has Historically Struggled Against Offenses Like A&M
It is easy to understand why Saban speaks out against the hurry-up spread when one consider's his record against the offense when it features a mobile quarterback. Saban is 0-3 at Alabama when facing spread offenses run by mobile quarterbacks.
He lost to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl and to Texas A&M in 2012. In those three games his defenses have allowed an average of 268 yards and 29 points per game.
The Alabama defenses in those three season allowed an average of 179 yards and 12.9 points per game. Saban obviously has no idea how to defend a spread offense with a mobile quarterback.
The hurry-up spread offense with a mobile quarterback at the helm appears to be Saban's kryptonite.
Johnny Football Is the Perfect Weapon in the Spread
Johnny Manziel is the perfect weapon in the Aggies' spread offense. He is an accurate passer and possesses a terrific blend of speed and escapability.
Manziel can embarrass a defense with his arms or his legs, and often does it with both on the same play. Once he masters the A&M passing playbook, it will be almost impossible to defend the Aggie offense.
If a defense drops everyone into coverage, Manziel will simply wait until a receiver finds an opening in the zone. If they blitz, he will use his elusiveness to escape the blitz and complete passes against the man coverage.
If he sees the slightest crease in the defense, he will scramble. Defenses have tried to put a spy on him but he is faster than most linebackers or safeties he faces.
When opposing defensive linemen beat the Aggie offensive line, it leaves openings through which Manziel can scramble. Defensive coordinators are left with the option of advising their front seven not to get too far up the field lest he burn them with a long run.
If they sit at the line of scrimmage and wait, Manziel will find an open receiver. It is a "no win" situation in which the defenses are left hoping that the Aggies struggle to execute on that particular day.
Alabama Is Built Like a Pro Team
Nick Saban has purposefully designed the Alabama program after the NFL model. The Crimson Tide play tough defense and run the ball on offense while trying to limit mistakes.
Alabama grinds out wins with an elite defense and an effective offense. The team is not built to come back from large deficits. That is an issue when facing hurry-up spread teams who can score a bunch of points in a hurry.
The Tide was down 21-0 early in the game during their loss to Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. They were down 20-0 after the first quarter against A&M in 2012. Saban's teams are not built to be offensive juggernauts and he knows it.
He knows that if you break a couple of big plays against the Tide defense and score quickly, his team will have trouble winning the game. Saban has seen that exact scenario play out when he has faced spread offenses like that of the Aggies.
Manziel Could Expose Him
Nick Saban is not exactly renowned for being a wonderful person off the field. As Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver reported in January, Saban—when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins—lost the respect of his players and the media because of his dictatorial ways:
When Saban asked him if he had anything to say before he departed, Ayanbadejo replied, "You're a good coach. You should devote more time to coaching and less time to being a jerk."
In college football, especially at Alabama, they will put up with Saban being a jerk because he wins. If Johnny Manziel leads a offensive revolution in college football, Saban will not win as much.
The Aggies and teams with similar offenses could put a blemish on Saban's impressive collegiate record. Right now Saban is viewed as the king of college football. If he loses multiple games to A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin, the media and fans will grow sick of his boorish behavior.
Johnny Manziel and the Aggies' hurry-up offense are a direct threat to Saban's livelihood and image. Take away coaching from Saban and what will he have to define himself as a person?
Saban is an insecure person. The threat of having to deal with people on a personal level and not as the all-powerful coach of the Crimson Tide has to terrify him.