Eye on Alabama

CLEMSON - Why does Alabama present more problems for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning than any team in recent memory? CUTigers.com talks with Clemson's fourth year coach to find out.

Put yourself in Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's shoes for a moment.

In his last game, he faced an Auburn team that changed offensive coordinators three weeks before Clemson's matchup with the SEC West team in the Chick-Fil-A bowl.

In his next game, he's facing another team from the SEC that has also changed recently offensive coordinators in Alabama.

Talk about confusing. How do you prepare for a team when you don't really know what to expect because of a change in offensive philosophy?

A closer inspection of Alabama's offensive statistics from a year ago reveals why head coach Nick Saban probably wasn't too upset when offensive coordinator Major Applewhite left for Texas to take over the Longhorns' running backs. Overall, Alabama finished 60th in rushing, 59th in passing and 64th in scoring and was ranked in sixth or lower in the SEC in every possibly offensive category.

This year, with former Fresno State offensive coordinator Jim McElwain running the show in Tuscaloosa, the Clemson coaching staff has been watching film of not just one team this summer, but two.

"We are watching a lot of Fresno, and watching a lot of Alabama," Koenning said. "You kind of go back there and put all of these charts together and see where the two teams together. You look at Alabama's plays and look at Fresno's plays and see where they come together. You see what's common."

Koenning says this matchup will be slightly different than what he expected to see at Auburn for the bowl game, primarily because he knew what to expect with then newly hired coordinator Tony Franklin.

"Tony Franklin was going to run Tony Franklin stuff," he said. "I started to try and get playbooks off of eBay. You knew that was the case. But you left a little bit of doubt because you wanted them thinking you didn't know what was going on.

"This one is way beyond that. Coach Saban is a guy that is in control of his ship and he usually has a hand on the wheel and doesn't let go of it. In the same sentence you say he's also a defensive guy and coaches the DBs and how much can he effectively do [on offense]?

Overall, Alabama finished 60th in rushing, 59th in passing and 64th in scoring and was ranked in sixth or lower in the SEC in every possibly offensive category in 2007.
"You get a sense it's going to be a lot of the Fresno stuff. You just kind of try to speculate. We are watching it. We've got everything broke down every which way we can. If we thought there was oil down there we'd drill a well right now with the price of oil."

While McElwain was only in Fresno a year, he still directed a massive turnaround in his team's offensive production in 2007. Under McElwain, Fresno State improved from 23 points per game in 2006 to 32 points per game in 2007 and from 338 yards to 406 yards per game.

The team also improved its overall record to 9-4 from 4-8 the previous season, including a victory in the Humanitarian Bowl over Georgia Tech.

Koenning says what makes it even more difficult is the fact that Fresno State was so multiple in its formations and play calling.

In addition, keep in mind the Tide also has a senior quarterback returning in John Parker Wilson, one of the top returning backs in the SEC this year in Terry Grant, as well as the top wide receiver recruit in the nation in the class of 2008 in Julio Jones.

"The thing you see with Fresno, they were somewhat different on offense every stinking week," Koenning said. "There was all kinds of different stuff. So this is going to be one of the hardest game plans to ever put together because you really don't have any idea of what's going to happen."

Also keep in mind Koenning put together a pretty good game plan against Auburn in the bowl game.

Clemson limited Auburn to just 17 points through four quarters, before eventually falling in overtime 23-20.

"It's going to be a challenge," Koenning said. "There's no question. We don't know [exactly what Alabama will do]. We are speculating a little and just trying to get better at what we do."

CUTigers.com Top Stories