Alabama ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense last season. Florida State’s defense ranked in the top 25.
Two teams played them both, and gave both defenses fits: Ole Miss scored 43 on Alabama and 34 on FSU in losing efforts, and Clemson scored 35 on the Crimson Tide and 37 on the Seminoles, defeating both.
With No. 1-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Florida State facing off Saturday in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open the season, who better to provide some insight into the showdown than Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Matt Luke, Ole Miss’ co-offensive coordinator last season and now the interim head coach of the Rebels?
Both offenses used up-tempo approaches to keep the Alabama and FSU defenses on their heels.
“I think the philosophy for us was to try to go fast and try to eliminate some of their ability to substitute where they can’t use their depth as much,” Luke said. “Try to keep the same guys on the field for prolonged drives without subbing.”
Ole Miss would try to get its third-down play call relayed and the offense lined up immediately after a second-down play, for instance. The idea wasn’t just to tire out the defense, but to limit it.
“Obviously they’re both very well-coached on the defensive side of the ball,” Luke said, “so if you can go fast it eliminates some of the checks that they can do and maybe some of their blitzes and things they call that they’ve game-planned for.”
Swinney’s Tigers did the same, running 81 plays against FSU and an exhausting 99 against Alabama.
Whether either Alabama or FSU will try to go warp speed against the other remains to be seen.
Playing either team, Swinney said, is a challenge.
“Very similar, I mean you’re talking about two of the best teams in the country,” he said. “Florida State has got, and Alabama, you can just check the recruiting rankings: They’re going to recruit the best of the best every year, so very, very similar programs and similar in how they build their teams.”
There’s another thing Swinney can tell you about the Seminoles: They don’t give up. FSU was down 14-0 to Clemson early and came back to take the lead, and trailed Ole Miss 21-3 in the first quarter and 28-6 late in the first half before storming from behind.
“They’ve got a toughness to them and they don’t go away,” Swinney said. “I’ve been in games with them where we got a big lead and next thing you know, you’re fighting for your life.”
Swinney expects the game to live up to the hype.
“(Florida State is) just a team that the 11 they put out there is just as good as your 11, nine times out of 10,” he said. “So you have to out-execute them, out-perform them. They’re not going to give it to you.
“Alabama’s not going to give you anything. You’ve got to earn it, they’re going to be able to match up with you and they’re going to be fast just like you’re fast, so that should be a heck of a ballgame.”
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.