Oliver Discusses Alabama Defense

Bill Oliver's masterful design of Alabama's defensive game plan against heavily favored Miami would have delighted the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The innovative schemes subdued the powerful air attack of the Hurricanes as the Crimson Tide tasted sweet victory in the 1993 Sugar Bowl game. Allowing no offensive touchdowns, the underdog Crimson Tide triumphed decisively 34-13.

We have talked to players from that undefeated 1992 national championship team about the 2009 Alabama team that meets Texas in the Rose Bowl today for the national championship. This is the fourth of four parts and this one is with Bill Oliver, one of the great defensive strategists in college football history.  

Alabama and Texas are both 13-0 with the Tide ranked first and Texas second. They will meet in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena at 5:30 p.m. PST (7:30 central time) with ABC televising the game.  

Coach Oliver on comparing the two UA defenses - "The biggest thing is I think there are similarities because the 2009 defense is not any bigger than the people we had in 1992.  When you sit and talk about individuals across the board there is no question that some of the '92 are superior to the '09 and some of the '09 are superior to the '92.  It's not really fair to try and compare.  The only thing I would try to compare is the won-lost record and it's identical."   

Coach Oliver on the 2009 UA defense measuring up to the 1992 UA defense and is it a fair question – "Yes, it is fair to a certain degree but there is not that big a gap in any way, shape, form or fashion.  I'm telling you the '92 people could run.  They could fly and they were extremely sound.  You never saw any deep passes given up.  We forced a lot of turnovers.  It was a team that won some games without a lot of scoring on offense.

"There are not many people who have a linebacker like Rolando McClain.  He's one of the best linebackers that's ever played at Alabama.  This guy runs like a defensive back.  Runs like a big-time wide receiver.  Runs like a big-time tight end.  Runs like a running back.  He could probably go over there and play offense.  He's in a class by himself.  We certainly didn't have anybody like that but you take the shoe and put it on the other foot. There are not many Antonio Langhams and George Teagues running around either." 

Coach Oliver on other 2009 standout defenders – "I think the coaching staff has done a very good job of using Javier Arenas.  He's a guy that can play like a safety/nickel/dime guy.  They can put him closer down inside to rush the passer off the edge but this is one of their means of getting to the quarterback."   

Coach Oliver on the coaching personnel strategy of 2009 and 1992. – "They are utilizing the players they have across the board of the total depth chart.  They are trying to get the best players in the game particularly since (Dont'a) Hightower has gotten hurt.  Had he not gotten hurt I don't think you would be seeing some of the things played the way they're playing.

"Since he is hurt and gone they've had to improvise.  I think they've made some very smart decisions in what they've done with the utilization of their personnel.  We did some of the same things in 1992 that people never noticed.  For an example, there was a ballgame with Nebraska and Texas a couple of weeks ago and all I heard was the commentators talking about Nebraska playing Texas with six or seven defensive backs.  People didn't even know when we played Miami in 1992 we had seven defensive backs in the game somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 per cent of the time.  When it wasn't six it was seven.  Nobody else did it back then in college football.

"The reason we did it was to create problems for Miami and entice them to do something they didn't know they were doing.  One of the major reasons was to throw the fade route.  First of all seven defensive backs sitting in the meeting room going over the plan were all on the same page.  People thought we were blitzing every down but we rushed three most of the time.  We enticed the quarterback to check to the fade and things of that nature.  We knew with a high percentage the things we had to defend against and it was made to order for us.

"We had some things we were extremely afraid of if they did it such as the underneath screen.  I was very leery of that particular play.  We had a spy guy; if he missed the tackle, we're in trouble.  We had great execution.  It was to entice them to reduce the total offensive package just by our alignment.  If we can reduce the offense by 90 per cent, it doesn't leave much.

"If they changed we would have had to change but they didn't change one iota. Gino Torretta (Miami quarterback) was going back and letting the ball go before his foot hit the ground.  We didn't even have to rush the passer because he was letting it go before the rush could get there.  We had the wide receivers double-covered.  If we were going to entice them to throw quickly, why did we have to blitz?  We had to blitz enough to let them know we would do it.  We were very fortunate that whatever we called was on the money but that's because our players did a very good job of executing it also.  We were a great tackling team." 

Coach Oliver on game planning against a former staff member – "They know some things about one another but what they look at is what they are doing in 2009.  They haven't got time probably to go back and look except to just maybe go through a film real fast from 2008 or 2007.  I don't think that has anything to do with it at all.  I think it's the best of what they do is what they look for, what they think they really have to stop.  I do know that Alabama had a lot of changes against Florida as opposed to the Auburn game.  That sort of makes it a little fuzzy for getting ready." 

Coach Oliver on Texas quarterback Colt McCoy – "These teams are not big gadget teams.  The biggest gadget Texas has got is McCoy going back to throw and has got receivers spread out all over creation.  All of a sudden he pulls it down and runs it because he can fly.  He's got great vision.  He knows where to run with it as it unravels.  I would fear that as much as anything in this ballgame.  You have to try to defend everything they do.  It starts with the run.  It would worry me just playing man-to-man with the receivers and McCoy running right behind your back numbers.  I'm not sure McCoy can do things consistently if you keep it to a minimum from what I've seen because of his height.  He's got a good arm.  They are more of a ball control type passing attack." 

Coach Oliver on 2009 UA defense – "If you're multiple, you can rush three defend with eight, rush four defend with seven or rush five defend with six.  If you rush six, you're going to defend man-to-man across the board.  That is your total package right there and Alabama has that and we had it in '92.  The biggest thing is to understand what you've got called and the theory behind what you called.  If you're going to rush three, you've got to do a great job of really reacting on the football when you're playing man, zone or whatever.  If you're playing man with some people free, get good tight coverage.  Who will take McCoy?  Do you have a spy guy? 

"It's hard for one guy to tackle him.  If you rush five you have one extra rusher from your base and the ball has got to come out of the quarterback's hands quicker.   If he throws it you have a better chance of filling the areas and him pulling down the ball and running it.  Where is the weakness?  Screen passes or maybe throwing deep because you have ample time to block five.  He is good in the pocket and throwing on the move but he has a tendency to move more though.  When he drifts and people like Shipley start dragging across hitting those void spots, that is the danger area." 

Coach Oliver on the SEC vs. the Big12 – "The interesting thing to me is I still have a lot of respect for the Southeastern Conference.  I just don't think that league out there overall can compare.  You can run statistics up against the teams in the lower echelon.  But I do know this – it's going to be different for Texas.  Alabama can run and I think overall Texas will be the fastest team Alabama has played.  I just hope everybody will be focused enough to go out there and do everything they're supposed to do.

"I know that Coach Saban does a great job of handling these type things because he's been there.  He knows exactly about human nature of people.  You really have to close all of it out and sit down and take the film and just analyze it.  The players will know what kind of game plan they've got.  If it's a darn good one they'll be totally focused to take it and put it to use and win the ballgame.  I believe that.  Back in '92 our players genuinely believed because we had a very complicated plan.  The biggest part was getting certain groups on and off the field.  They did a great job of believing in what we were going to do and they took pride in executing it and had fun during the game."

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