Nick Saban May Be the Guy Who Sends the Spread to the Scrapyard

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Nick Saban May Be the Guy Who Sends the Spread to the Scrapyard
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, there was a coach at Texas named Darrel Royal who invented an offensive scheme called the wishbone, and won a national championship with it.  At the time, it was just as innovative as the spread. 

After QB Scott Hunter left, Bear Bryant was looking back at two of his worst seasons at Alabama, and an outdated offense.  Coach Bryant took a vacation to Texas to visit his old buddy Royal and learn this new offense.  The year before, USC whipped 'Bama pretty bad, and Bryant wasn't having any more of it. 

He installed the wishbone "under wraps", and in the opener, USC didn't know what hit them.  With QB Terry Davis and RB Johnny Musso (one of my all time favorite Bama players) leading the way, the wishbone was a big hit.  After seeing Bama's success, most the SEC offensive philosophy went from the air to the running game. When SEC legends Pat Sullivan and Archie Manning left, so did passing in the SEC. Everyone was running the wishbone, or some version of the option running game. 

In itss heyday, the wishbone offense was almost unstoppable when run by a great option QB and the right combination of RBs. 'Bama had great success with it, but I never saw any team run it to perfection as well as Oklahoma did.  At one point, the Sooners were averaging more than 500 YPG rushing, and in some games were running the ball for damn near 700 yards. I haven't checked, but I bet there is some footage of it on YouTube.  

Anyhow, after a few years, defensive coordinators started designing schemes to slow it down, and not long after, they learned how to stop it. In the SEC, the man who officially killed the wishbone was Steve Spurrier.

Just when defenses in the league had finally figured out the run option, Spurrier came to Florida and brought the Gators to national prominence with a passing attack called the "fun and gun," and Florida's offense ran through the rest of the SEC like crap through a goose for close to two years before anyone started slowing it down.  

The spread offense was just taking off in the NFL, and soon it was picking up steam in the college game. The most extreme version of the spread offense I ever saw was at Mississippi Valley State. They decided to get rid of their running game completely and throw the ball on every play. 

They put up ungodly passing numbers (having a receiver named Jerry Rice didn't hurt), and the national exposure they got is one of the things I believe made everyone take notice . Pretty soon, offensive coodinators and head coaches were recruiting players specifically for the spread, and if was run right, nobody could stop it. 

If any coach found out about the spread, it was Nick Saban in his last two games the previous season. Saban is a defensive guy, and you can bet that watching Utah wax 'Bama's ass in the Sugar Bowl was something he didn't forget about.

You don't see so much of the spread in the NFL anymore, because corners and safeties often are better athletes than receivers.  And at what position has Saban been pulling in the cream of the crop?  That's right, boys and girls...defensive backs. 

Nick Saban has been crucified, villified, and believed by some to have a pointed tail and carry a pitch fork...and that's why Alabama fans love him so much. Believe me, all 'Bama fans know every shot at our coach is proof that he is feared. The media and opposing fans can say all they want, but most of them would take Saban over their own coach in a heartbeat. When there is a coach who has proven he can excel anywhere, and he comes to Alabama, success is inevitable.

This leads to my theory: I think Saban and his staff are trying to build a "prototype" of the defense that will eventually send the spread offense out to pasture with the wishbone. Yes, someone will always run some form of it just like the option running game is still used, but Saban's ego took a giant hit after the Utah game, and I guarantee that he will make damn sure it won't happen again. 

Many people will tell you that "motivation" can beat talent, and that's true to a certain extent, but let's face it: Today's version of big-time college football is more or less a minor league for the NFL, and talent is going to beat out motivation nine out of 10 times.  You just can't hunt anymore without the "big dogs", and Saban is loading up talent on both sides of the ball. I believe his plan is for Alabama to be as close to an NFL-type team as anyone in college football, especially on defense. 

I wish college football was still a true "amateur" sport, but it isn't, especially among the "elite" power schools.  When people (sports writers and those who parrot them) start throwing around the "E" (ethics) word and make Alabama and Nick Saban a prime target, it doesn't bother me anymore, because nobody is innocent.  Alabama "made their bones" by building a rich tradition that took many decades. 

They are a "brand name" because they earned it. Most of the things I read about Alabama on blog boards these days is that we are "cheaters" and our coach is a backstabbing liar. Having grown up in the state of Alabama and being a hard-core Tide fan since the '60s, I take this about the same way that many people outside the South believe we marry our sisters and run barefooted to our out-houses to drink corn liquor (I've traveled extensively with the military, and a lot of folks actually still believe this). 

My response is that my outhouse has a satellite dish and a wet bar, and I don't have sex with my sister because she's an Auburn fan. My other response is that Nick Saban is NOT going to get beaten by a spread offense again, and others will learn from watching Alabama's defense in the coming years. Nick Saban will get his statue at Bryant Denny, and when his run is over, Bama will have more national titles in their trophy case. 

College football power runs in cycles, and it's Alabama's turn at the top again.  As with all Tide fans, I once took winning for granted, but now I know it's only one step from the penthouse to the outhouse. The next time anyone  takes cheap shots at the Tide, just remember that your own school walks the same path. 

Mark my words: Saban's future defenses will shut down the spread. And no, he's not leaving Alabama.  They go together just like "peas and carrots."

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