It will be more of the same for Alabama this week as the Crimson Tide plays its fifth game of the year.
“We haven't faced one play of huddle all year long,” Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban pointed out.
On Saturday Bama will be at Ole Miss in perhaps the top game in the nation this week. Both teams are 4-0 overall and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference games. The Tide is ranked first in the Coaches Poll and third by the Associated Press and the Rebels are 11th in both rankings. CBS will televise the game, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. CDT.
While Alabama will not see a huddle from the Rebels, the big concern for the defense can be what they see that is an illusion. The situation is complicated for Bama because, Saban said, “They have really quality players in a lot of positions.”
Saban said, “I think when you play these teams they do a really good job of running the ball, especially on the perimeter. I think you have to understand that a lot of their running plays don’t really count in running statistics. If you have more guys in the box than they can block, they fake the ball to the back and throw a smokescreen, or bubble screen, or flare the guy out there and throw him the ball and block the perimeter. Those things all count as passes.”
It works the other way, too.
Saban said, “They run the guy on the rocket sweep and toss him the ball, it counts as a pass but is really a run.
“When you play these kinds of teams, sometimes their statistics are distorted relative to how they really move the ball because a lot of their short passing plays complement their running game and they’re all tied together.
“So it’s the quarterback’s decision as to whether ‘I throw this pass that’s like a run, like a toss sweep except it counts as a pass; or we go ahead and try to block the play and try to run the play that we had called.’
“In most cases if you have more in the box than they can block they’re going to throw the ball some kind of way. And several of the teams that they’ve played have tried to play them that way, try to take the running game away from them as much as they could.”
Saban said Ole Miss has been able to exploit those defenses with pass plays to the perimeter.
The defense against the Rebels must be able to stop the run, Saban said, “and still not have to load the box to do it, because if you do they’re going to hurt you in the passing game.
“I think their offensive line is good, I think their runners are good, and fast,” Saban said. “You have to be able to play both things and certainly play very good leverage on the perimeter.”
A big part of that is playing with eyes.
“In every formation the keys are a little bit different,” Saban said. “But when you play teams that run gap plays, which they do, where they pull guards a lot, which they do, then the action in the backfield is not the only focus. In fact they’ll float everybody one direction and pull guards the other direction and run quarterback counters.
“Well, you have to key the guards, you have to know what the guards are doing. You have to know what the flow is.
“The position and the formation tells you what you can anticipate and that’s why I think it’s so important to have experienced players. Trey DePriest is very smart and very experienced. Last year he and C.J. (Mosley) did a really good job of reading plays when we play theses teams that have lots of multiple formations.”
Saban called Saturday’s game Bama’s biggest challenge of the season. “They have a lot of tricks and gimmicks that you have to cover, make sure that your players know how to defend and respond to, which takes away from your ability of practicing against the nuts and bolts stuff that you’re going to run 90 per cent of the time, but you really have to be able to defend.
“We’re not where we want to be yet on defense, but I think our coaches do a really good job of gathering information, making adjustments on the sideline. We know the system well, we have a lot of people who have been in it for a long time. We all know how to adjust it to whatever they’re doing. And we’ve made good adjustments; we’ve done a good job in that regard.
“This is sort of the way of the world now, which I think we've made some progress in how our players play against that. And we're a team that can create by playing against this offense a lot more often. I do think that it takes a lot of poise on the defensive players' part, especially when they go fast.
“I think our players have gotten more accustomed to it and we've probably practiced it a little bit better and prepared a little bit better for it.”