Nick Saban needs Alabama football defense, a mainstay for years, to meet Ohio State challenge | Hurt
There was a time when nimble little reptiles could scurry between the rocks and shrubs on this planet, but there was no question that the Tyrannosaurus rex, huge and fierce, was king of the world. Then something happened, the giants were gone and those nimble little reptiles, better adapted to changing times, thrived.
Nick Saban has used the metaphor and he might as well have used the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Ohio State’s 42-35 CFP Semifinal win, as a teaching video to go with it. The transition was coming and against the most explosive teams, the best path was going to be scoring more than those 42, because defenses, even the biggest and best-coached, might have a hard time holding the other teams under that.
Enter Pete Golding.
Ohio State might be able to derail Alabama’s offense at the CFP Championship Game on Monday night but no one has done it yet and, for Alabama fans, confidence is high that no one will.
But there’s a haunting refrain that keeps being repeated, a code picked up by a radio telescope that signals that the evil alien warship approaches. “Ole Miss 48 ... Florida 46 ... Ole Miss 48 ... Florida 46.” Those numbers have been repeated over and over and over this week as dire warnings, hints of doom.
Most people understand that football isn’t what it used to be, but most people in Tuscaloosa, whether their football DNA extends back to the Bryant years, or just the BCS rematch for the title against LSU (the standing ovation given by the Alabama students to LSU’s basketball team when the Tigers crossed midcourt for the first time remains an epic trolling), there’s something about numbers like that that shakes the subconscious.
Golding, and his boss, Saban, view it differently. You aren’t going to shut out the best teams, and Florida and Ole Miss were both as explosive as dynamite at the skill positions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t at least slow them down, control them from exploding over and over again.
“The biggest thing is fundamental execution,” Golding said on his CFP Zoom call earlier this week. “I don't think we ever come out of a game looking up at how many points (were) given up, how many did we keep them to. There were several games where we kept them low in scoring but still didn't execute. They just didn't take advantage of it.”
If that sounds even scarier, Golding explains the idea in more detail.
“Against teams like Ohio State that go tempo, teams that are multiple, the key is having all 11 guys on the same page with their cleats in the turf, you’ve got to make them execute and you’ve got to be able to contest every play.
“A lot of their chunk plays come up in the run game when there's a gap short because a guys misfit it or they weren't set, they weren't ready because of the tempo with it. You can't give these guys those plays. They're going to make enough contested plays because they've got really a lot of good players at the spots where you've got to contest everything.
“They are balanced and they do a really nice job in multiple different down and distance of staying balanced based on what you are in. So the mental errors, that number has to be small. Then you've got to tackle in space. They're going to create some match-ups in space to where we have got to get them on the ground and get them in 3rd and long situations, make obvious passing downs. I think that's one thing, whether it was Florida, Ole Miss, or even a couple times last week versus Notre Dame, you've got some opportunities on 2nd down and 7, to make it 3rd and 8, 3rd and 11s. You miss a tackle in the backfield, you get a penalty, you look up, now it's 3rd and 2, 3rd and 3, 3rd and 1, and you got five of those, and those are hard to stop. So then they move the chains and then they've got another set and here we go.”
Golding isn’t saying that preventing points isn’t important. Obviously, it is. But it’s also about getting off the field enough times, because those will be times when the Buckeye defensive coaches have the headaches.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt