Is this the same Nick Saban?

Is this the Nick Saban who once famously asked if high-speed rabbit ball was “what we wanted football to be?” Has he transformed like Optimus Prime, no longer a semi-truck but a full-fledged advocate of Fast?

Perhaps not completely, although several of the answers on his Thursday night radio call-in show certainly revealed a different side of Alabama’s head football coach. You knew it was the real Saban and not a cleverly disguised Android when he fielded a routine question about the use of the swing pass and turned it into a five-minute doctoral level coaching clinic. That’s pure Saban, who does the best job in the game of explaining technical football concepts in layman’s terms. If there is any broadcasting in his future, that’s the No. 1 skill he brings to the table.

“We’re only throwing it when it’s an advantage for us to be able to throw it,” Saban said about the slant. “We probably have six to 10 different RPO (run pass option) things that we throw that are different pattern combinations. But they all work better when there’s 6 guys in the box.

“One of the (things) we have tried, and (offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) has done a good job to this point, is we have four receivers that are very explosive guys and you can get those guys the ball in numerous ways. We’ve tried to enhance different ways to get those guys the ball so it’s not just running RPOs or running pass patterns down the field. We actually motion those guys, throw them bubble passes. Well, those passes are really like runs. We’re blocking the perimeter. It’s like a quick pitch in the old days.

“It’s like the first play that Henry Ruggs scored on in the New Mexico State game (a quick toss that went for a 75-yard touchdown). We really only blocked one guy on that play. The other guy missed his block. But (Ruggs) got the ball in space, we blocked one guy (and) missed one guy and he ran by the guy we missed. So we blocked nobody and scored a touchdown.

“What kind of plays do you know in football where you don’t block anybody or block one guy and score an 80-yard touchdown? So throw me in that briar patch.”

That is the modern-day baseball analogy. No one looks for a walk, a sacrifice and a single to score a run. Everyone swings for the fences. Alabama’s offense is the same and that answer might contain another answer, one that addresses a common question about “what happened to Alabama’s running game?” Perhaps it hasn’t disappeared so much as it has been transformed by all the big sluggers in the lineup. The result isn’t “classic” but the point production has been tremendous.

Alabama will play that fast or faster against Southern Miss on Saturday. USM, blessed with a good quarterback and a couple of speedy receivers, will try to keep up by doing the same thing. Certainly, the defense can help. The running game can improve, even if it’s not the rock-solid foundation that it has been for Alabama teams of the not-too-distant pass. But the times, they are changing — and fast.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt