The old reputation for Alabama was a defense that decimated opponents, complemented by an offense that demoralized them.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart had a hand in those teams in Tuscaloosa. His defenses from 2008-15 ranked in the top five nationally in scoring defense seven times and in yards per game allowed six times.
Now it’s the Alabama offense among the national leaders. The Crimson Tide is fourth in yards per game, second in yards per play and second in scoring.
“We’ve changed our offense quite a bit relative to what our players are capable of doing, and I said before the season started this year, we were going to have a different kind of team this year,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It certainly worked out to be that way. I think it’s the best personality for this group on offense that we could possibly have relative to the players that we have.”
The defense isn’t far behind, ranking sixth nationally while allowing 282 yards per game and third nationally by allowing 13.8 points per game.
Alabama’s offense this year hasn’t been like the ones that Smart routinely faced in practice as Alabama’s defensive coordinator, but it isn’t totally unprecedented.
“I was there during some of Lane (Kiffin’s) time, where it was very high-paced, high-scoring, up-tempo, and Lane always leaned on that,” Smart said. “He certainly wanted to do that as much as possible. They’re doing a really good job of it now. They can mix tempos. They can run power game at you. They just can score faster doing it another way, and they’ve certainly got a lot of talent at the wide receiver position, quarterback position, like I’ve talked about.”
The closest facsimile to Alabama’s 2018 offense statistically might be its 2014 team, in Kiffin’s first season. The foundation of that offense, built on a passing attack that featured Blake Sims and Amari Cooper, isn’t the same as 2018. But both teams took their strengths and featured them to maximize success.
Few of Alabama’s opponents have been able to slow the Crimson Tide this year. Smart knows it’s no easy task, no matter how he tries to tackle it.
“You’ve got to be able to cover people,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to affect the quarterback. You’ve got to try to make them one-dimensional, but sometimes one-dimensional for them is they’re OK with it. They want to be able to attack you down the field, attack you vertically, and you’ve got to play good football.”
Smart said his defense isn’t as experienced as it was in 2017. This unit will be tasked with stopping Alabama — or at least slowing the Crimson Tide down.
“Look, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s going to go out there and stone-cold these guys,” Smart said.