26 November 2009
Auburn may not have the best offense that Alabama has faced this year, but it may be the one best tailored to face a Nick Saban-coached defense, which typically relies on a lot of defensive audibles and formation-shifting.
A lot of teams run a little hurry-up here and there these days, but what most teams do is hurry up to the line of scrimmage and then take their time running a play once they get there. The point is not so much to accelerate the game as it is to simply deny the defense the opportunity to make a situational substitution (e.g., bring in an extra DB, a pass-rusher, or whatever personnel may be appropriate).
Auburn’s hurry-up is intended to accelerate the game. Not only do they come to the line in a hurry, they snap it in a hurry. Alabama will have to change its defensive philosophy because it will often not have time to shift its defensive formation or play-call.
There’s a downside to this strategy for the Plainsmen: underdogs tend to have their best chances by shortening the game, i.e., running clock. Auburn’s hurry-up strategy tends to make the game longer, that is, there will be more plays in the game. Time is always on the side of the physically superior team, which can always begin to assert its superiority at any time.
Generally, when the Tiger O and Tide D are on the field, it will be strength-on-strength and the attention will be on the Gus Malzahn-Nick Saban chess match. Saban has already sent messages to offensive gurus Bobby Petrino and Dan Mullen this season. Will Friday make it a trifecta?
Things shape out to be less interesting from a neutral observer’s perspective – but plenty interesting from a Tide fan’s perspective – when Alabama has the ball. Auburn’s defense is simply weak, weak against the pass and even weaker against the run. Mark Ingram should have a field day.
By the way, if any of you have been following my columns this year, you know that I have written extensively about what I have seen as Saban’s and McElwaine’s plan to keep the passing game viable so as to bring a balanced attack into the end of the season. To my mind, that effort was successful and Alabama has ensured that Auburn, Florida, and (Texas?) will not be able to concentrate their defensive gameplan on a single offensive facet but will instead have to prepare to stop both running and passing attacks.
Now we’re there, and there’s nothing left but three big games, no “later” to be preparing for. Now is now, and Alabama is going to go with whatever works. The successful effort to develop a balanced offense means that the Tide can tailor its offensive gameplan to attack the opponent’s weakness. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alabama runs 50 times against Auburn – but even if they do, Florida is still going to need to prep for the pass. That much has been established.
One particularly interesting thing to watch for both teams will be red-zone offense. Auburn excels at red-zone conversion offensively, while Bama excels at denying red-zone conversions. On the other side of the ball, those excellences are flipped, as the Tide has struggled to cash in in the zone, while the Auburn D has struggled to stop red zone touchdowns. In other words, it will be strength-on-strength when Auburn is in the Zone, weakness-on-weakness when the Tide is looking to cash in.
Finally, the Javy watch: Javy finally got a chance to post some punt return yardage last week, and took advantage with 68 total PR yards. He still needs 104 to break the all-time NCAA record, and three games left to do it.
Happy Turkey Day, and Roll Tide!
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