It's Not The Tempo; It's The How

Much has been made of the trend in college football to run a fast-tick offense, the Hurry-Up-No-Huddle or Tempo Offense. Alabama Coach Nick Saban is not a proponent of the scheme, primarily because his background is defense and by denying the defense the opportunity to make substitutions, it limits defensive strategy.



This week Alabama will go to Texas A&M, where the Aggies run a fast-paced offense. Nick Saban understands why A&M goes fast-paced with its personnel. He also said, "It's not the scheme. It's not the going fast.

"It's their ability to do those things and execute extremely well in terms of what they do. And their players have a lot of confidence in it and they do a really good job of it.

"It's a great concept. They have the right kind of players to execute the concept and they do a very, very good job of executing their plays. You can say that they spread you out and run the screen. Well, they go fast. Well, they go fast but they execute well. They run screens but they execute well."

It will be Alabama's job to attempt to disrupt the A&M offense when the No. 1 Crimson Tide takes on the sixth-ranked Texas Aggies at Kyle Field in College Station Saturday. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CDT with CBS televising the game.

Saban said it is the kind of game that is exciting for both teams – "two outstanding teams." He pointed to the Aggies being off to a great start (2-0) after an excellent 2012 season. In Texas A&M's first season in the Southeastern Conference last year, the Aggies had a signature win, beating Bama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa. It was the Crimson Tide's only loss in a national championship season.

The "avenge factor," both teams being highly-ranked, Bama having won the last two national championships, and the Aggies featuring 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel has made this the most anticipated regular season game of the year. The outcome can reasonably be expected to have SEC and, perhaps, national championship implications.

Alabama opened the season with a 35-10 win over Virginia Tech in Atlanta and then had an open date last weekend. Texas A&M has played two games at Kyle Field, wins of 52-31 over Rice and 65-28 over Sam Houston State. Saban said, "Texas A&M is a fantastic offensive football team. You get 600 yards a game, you average 58 points a game. They did very similarly statistically last year over time."

Last year Texas A&M led the SEC in scoring (44.5 points per game), rushing (241.1 yards per game), passing (316.5 yards per game), and total offense (558.5). Alabama, on the other hand, led the league in scoring defense (10.9), rushing defense (76.4), passing defense (175.6), and total defense (250).

Saban said there are things a defense can't do against a tempo team and that "you have to realize that you can't do these things. I think we've all adapted to it more and more because we play against these teams more. When you play against it once or twice a year, I think it's a tough adaptation for the players. But we played against it eight or nine times last year. We'll probably play against it at least that much this year, so it's becoming more the norm, rather than the exception. I think that players should be able to adapt to it more readily. I know that we've tried to prepare our players for it more and more because you always say, 'Okay, what did we see? How much did we see it? How does our practice reflect that?'"

In a hurry-up-no-huddle offense, if the offense substitutes, the defense has to be given time to substitute. But that's not the end of the problem. If the offense doesn't substitute again, you can't change back to the players you had in. "So you really can't play any specialty defense," Saban said. "You have to kind of play with the guys that you have to play with. They have to be able to play against everything. So you can't play substitution defense at all, which, you know, creates a little bit of a competitive disadvantage

"But it is what it is. It's what the rules are and that's how you have to play."

Saban said he knows that A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel "is going to make some plays. He's a really, really good player and I think he's a really good passer. And I think athletically he extends a lot of plays, but he extends a lot of plays to pass. It's not like he's just a runner that only extends the play scrambling and takes off running. He did that a few times and is capable of doing it. He will do it if he needs to do it. And he's very instinctive of when he should and shouldn't.

"He does a great job of keeping his eyes down the field so that when he does scramble, he can find people that are open. And their receivers do a really good job of playing what I call 'scramble rules' in terms of how they adjust their routes relative to how he scrambles.

"The guy's going to make plays. He's a good player. I think what you try to do, though, is don't allow him to make plays because of what you did incorrectly on defense. That's where the discipline part comes in.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a passer. His passing statistics certainly show that he's a very effective passer and they're very effective in their passing game, and he does a good job of implementing that passing game. He has a tremendous athletic ability to extend plays and is instinctive in doing that. He's going to scramble. I think trying to do a good job of not letting him get in positions where he can make those plays and have the good discipline down the field to stay matched in your coverage and not start looking at the quarterback.

"I told our players [defensive backs], ‘There are a lot of NFL games on Sundays. You want to watch the quarterback, go watch those games. But if you start watching this guy in our game, you're going to get busted. It happened in our game last year. We've got people covered pretty well, you look back at the quarterback and their receivers do a good job of extending the play and getting away from it. He finds them and makes big plays.

"You're not going to make him be a pocket passer, because if someone's not open, he doesn't throw them the ball. He's going to extend the play to run or to make a play throwing the ball. I think throwing the ball first for him is what he does. He will run and he can run, he's an effective runner. He's really fast."

Saban was asked if he had seen any indication that Manziel can be rattled on the field. The short answer was ‘No.' The Tide coach said that he had seen early in 2012 that Manziel might have faced situations that were difficult because of his lack of experience, but "as the season went on he became an extremely effective playerl...a fierce competitor."

The issue of a so-called "spy" – a player who would be assigned to Manziel on every play – was almost dismissed by Saban. "I think when we play against a player like this, all 11 players on defense are really, really important, because if one guy doesn't do his job, then they are going to take advantage of it."

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