When it comes to the brightest defensive minds in all of football, Nick Saban takes a backseat to no one.
As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk noted in April, that’s part of the reason why several NFL coaches visited Tuscaloosa to pick Saban’s brain in response to spread offenses infiltrating the pro ranks.
However, as Texas A&M’s offensive outburst two weeks ago against Alabama proved, spread offenses are becoming significantly tougher to slow down—even for a mastermind such as Saban.
Could Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze become the next offensive guru to give Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart fits with a hurry-up, no-huddle attack? On paper, the Rebels offense appears to have most of the elements of spread attacks that have given the Tide defense a hard time in the past.
Since 2008, Alabama has lost just seven games, including bowl games—with four of those defeats coming to teams who employ spread offenses. During that span, the Tide defense has allowed an average of 270 yards of total offense per game.
|Year||Opponent||Total Yards vs. Alabama||Result: Score|
|2012||Texas A&M||418||L: 29-24|
|2013||Texas A&M||628||W: 49-42|
cfbstats.com, B/R research
Accounting for the Tide’s losses to spread teams, and their matchups against spread experts such as Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin, Alabama’s defense has given up an average of 351 yards of total offense in nine such games.
It’s worth noting that Alabama has shut down plenty of teams who employ spread attacks in recent years. However, it’s the teams that have the combination of a dual-threat quarterback, a seasoned offensive line, and the athletes to match up with Alabama at the skill positions that have found an increased measure of success against a defense that has been the gold standard in college football.
The Rebels have seven offensive starters back from last season, and they are averaging 490 yards of total offense through three games—an increase of 66 yards from their 2012 figure.
In particular, the Rebels possess a collection of skill talent that will be among the most explosive groups Alabama will face all season. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell are game-breaking talents on the outside, and running back Jeff Scott is a multi-purpose spark plug out of the backfield.
Additionally, quarterback Bo Wallace—who rushed 12 times for 57 yards and a score in the Rebels' 44-23 win over Texas on Sept. 14—is a threat to make plays with his legs.
Alabama held Ole Miss to just 218 yards of total offense a year ago. However, in a game that mirrored Alabama’s efforts against Virginia Tech and Colorado State this season, three second-quarter turnovers and a special teams touchdown helped the Tide earn a hard-fought victory in a game that was closer than the 33-14 score indicated.
Ole Miss is getting 16 points against Alabama? I'm not a betting man, but I may start. The Rebels have an offense to give Bama fits.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 22, 2013
However, the Tide’s 2013 defense appears to be more vulnerable than some of the dominant units Saban has fielded in the past.
Alabama’s inability to generate consistent pressure on quarterbacks and their instability at the corner positions—both problems that were on full display against the Aggies—have amplified the concerns that come with facing an explosive uptempo offense such as Ole Miss.
Is the gap between Alabama’s dominant defense and hurry-up, no-huddle offenses shrinking? This weekend’s matchup against the Rebels will give Saban’s troops a chance to prove if they have figured out how to slow down high-powered spread attacks.