TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t have to look very far for a blueprint to beat Alabama.
He doesn’t even have to leave his own conference.
The last time the Crimson Tide were on the field, it was in the Sugar Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners, who came out with a fresh, hurry-up attack that hit a few big plays and got the Alabama defense to play on its heels.
That, combined with a few untimely turnovers from the Crimson Tide offense, led to one of the biggest upsets of the postseason.
It stands to reason, then, that Holgorsen would look to that game and see how he could apply his spread-out, hurry-up attack to his team's 2014 opener against Alabama. He mentioned on the Big 12 coaches teleconference this week that he’s studied that game and gave Sooners coach Bob Stoops a “congratulations” in the offseason.
So now the question becomes, is Alabama ready to defend it?
“It’s something that is in our plan,” Holgorsen said about an uptempo style. “I don’t care about who [our] opponent is. It’s going to be in our plan to be able to do that, and hopefully within the last year we found a way to do that better than the last year.”
It’s a question that Alabama’s heard plenty of times this offseason. Safety Nick Perry said he gets “sick of hearing everything” about it and is ready to prove that Alabama can slow that type of offense down.
“Nowadays teams like to, they feel like that’s the way to beat us is to throw the uptempo stuff at us,” Perry said. “We also have to work on our weaknesses, and I feel like we’ve been focusing on things we need to improve. That’s one area we have improved on and we’ll show this year.”
While West Virginia’s defense, which ranked 102nd in the country in yards against per game, was a big reason for a 4-8 finish in 2013, its offense wasn’t quite on the same level of incompetence.
It finished 63rd in the country in total offense but put up at least 400 yards of offense five times last season, including a 568-yard outburst against Iowa State to end the year.
Consistency on offense, especially at quarterback, should help the Mountaineers in 2014.
“West Virginia has, I think, a really good team coming back,” Saban said on Monday. “Dana has done a really good job there, especially when it comes to how they've been able to play offense, uptempo, fast, sort of Texas A&M, Oklahoma State style. Try to control the rhythm of the game by the speed that they play at.”
The biggest obstacle the Mountaineers will have to overcome is the talent disparity between the two teams.
Christopher Walsh of Saturday Down South broke down the numbers in a post this week and found that Alabama has 14 5-star and 50 4-star players on its depth chart. West Virginia has no 5-stars and just seven 4-star players.
The Crimson Tide are also motivated by offseason criticism of their defense against these type of offenses and have made it a point of emphasis in preparations.
“Definitely,” safety Landon Collins said when asked if it was a motivator. “We've always been known as a defense that's unstoppable. You can't run the ball or throw the ball on us. That's how we want to portray our defense like we did in previous years.”
The defense against the no-huddle will be a major storyline for Alabama in 2014. It has a chance to make a strong statement in the first weekend of the season.
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