The Ingredients For Winning Title

Duffy Daugherty, one of college football's legendary figures, had some memorable observations. "Football isn't a contact sport," he said. "It's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport." And this: "When you are playing for the national championship, it's not a matter of life or death. It's more important than that."

The fans of Alabama football would agree with that.

Duffy Daugherty was the longtime, successful coach at Michigan State (yes, the Spartans had good coaches before Nick Saban). Daugherty was also one of Paul Bryant's best friends. In later years they would convene at a Las Vegas casino and offer live commentary on a big screen telecast of the Super Bowl for the "fans."

Although Bum Phillips gets credit for the quote, Daugherty was the first to say of Bryant, "He can take his and beat yours, or he can take yours and beat his."

In today's world of college football, where linebackers weight 260 pounds and run 4.5 40-yard dashes (see number 30 for Alabama, Dont'a Hightower), do the schemes and systems – the Xs and Os – become more important than ever?

Football has evolved into a very serious chess game over the past 15 years or so with the shotgun formations, empty sets with five wides, one-back sets with quarterbacks rarely going under center, and a sophisticated passing attack that, quite frankly, is almost impossible to slow down.

But with all the innovations and reincarnation that make up modern offense, it's defense that wins championships. The teams that stop the run and give up the fewest points are consistently America's best teams. History bears that out. Every national championship team since 1992 has finished in the top two in at least one major defensive category: fewest total yards, fewest rushing yards, or points per game.

Bottom line is simple. Keep people from running the football on you and you reduce the number of points a team is going to score and most of the time you are going to win.

Case in point: Alabama Defense. Statistically Alabama has finished in the top two the past two seasons in total yards allowed, rushing defense, and scoring defense. Those winning formulas add up to wins on the field. You don't go 26-2 and and 16-0 in the SEC without playing lights out defense.

"Alabama has the most sophisticated defensive package of anyone in football and that includes the NFL," said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. "They have the most confusing blitz packages of anyone in the game and they confuse quarterbacks better than anyone and bring pressure virtually on every play from every position on the field. It's truly an amazing defensive system and right now no one does it better than Alabama."

Maycock said Saban's defensive philosophy and terminology are not for the faint of heart. You put this defensive package and the understanding of it somewhere else and it's going to be successful ( See Michigan State and LSU)

Look at 2007 when Alabama took the two best teams in the country that year ( LSU and GA) to the final play before losing two heartbreakers with less talent and depth but with great understanding of the defensive system. Bottom line is the system gives you a chance to win games you might not have a chance to win because the coaching and the scheme are so good. Now fast forward to 2009 and one BCS title later and you start to see what great coaching, understanding and the best talent in college football can do.

I am sure a lot of you have been watching the ESPN All Access Alabama the past several nights and are hearing terms like " Under Under Under, Flow Pass Rule" and "Under O Zone Alert Bump," which are some of Alabama's defensive calls in certain situations. And then you watch the teacher in action when Saban says "Cross!....... That's it ...Match three..... that's it right there ..that's it right there!" Saban says, "Don't expand when Y goes across ...right? Because when Y goes across You try inside out on the outside guy because we are playing flood. Aight .......SIX Adjusted Fist. Under O Six Adjusted Fist lets go!"

There are some smart kids playing college football these days and it takes a lot of time, reps and performance to grasp the defensive system at Alabama.

"The playbook does look like a phone book when you first see it and if you want to play you have to know it inside and out," Said junior All-America candidate Mark Barron. "You have to have a good understanding of what it is we are trying to do and that comes with doing it and being out there. The biggest thing is understanding why we do what we do and when we do it."

Said Dont'a Hightower, "The first year I was out there I really didn't understand why we were doing what we were doing, but I had Rolando (Rolando McClain) and Javy (Javier Arenas) there to help me understand the concepts and by the middle of the season I began to understand why we do certain things in certain situations. Being out last season enabled me to fully grasp what we are doing and now it's my job to lead this defense, get people in the right places and take ownership of our defense."

New corners Dre Kirkpatrick and B.J. Scott, Phelon Jones , and Robert Lester have all played in the system and have experience about the dos and the don'ts.

The Xs and Os are indeed the how-tos of football and it helps when you have some of the best talent in America executing it. The moral to the story is pretty easy to figure out. I believe Saban and his coaching philosophy are good enough to beat anyone, anywhere even if his talent isn't as good.

The big question is whether Alabama repeat. Can this team be better than last year's, which might very well have been the best team at The Capstone ever. The talent is there. The depth is there. The desire is there, too. In other words, the recipe to be national champions is there, but "Can the ingredients go into the bowl and come out like we want it to?" said Saban.

Senior Quarterback Greg McElroy knows all about Xs and Os and all the talk about repeating. McElroy offers a simple conclusion. "We've been to the summit, so how could you settle for anything less," he said. And with this history lesson from ol' Duffy Daugherty, this Alabama team hasn't had to deal with this set of circumstances in a long time.

"My only feeling about superstition is that it's unlucky to be behind at the end of the game," said Duff. It Might be awhile before this team allows something that catastrophic to happen. You see, it's a matter of Xs and Os and the size and shape of your "Joes"! Alabama is in good shape on all of those fronts.

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