ATHENS – When gazing at the nation’s leaders among college football defenses, Alabama doesn’t stand out statistically so much as it leaps off the page, stomps on cars, knocks over skyscrapers, swats away missiles and terrorizes women, children and offensive coordinators.
The Crimson Tide rank No. 1 nationally in total defense. Also No. 2 in rush defense, No. 3 in pass defense, No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in red zone defense. It has shut out four opponents, held seven to 10 points or less and all except one to 17 or less.
Which begs the question: All except one?
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin relatively humbled Nick Saban three weeks ago with his hyperventilating, no-huddle offense. The Aggies upset then No. 1 Alabama 29-24, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions, accumulating the second-most yards (418) and the most red zone possessions (five) of any Tide opponent.
The most amusing thing about this was it came after Saban had questioned the “fairness” and “player safety” of Sumlin’s scheme, because that sounded better than saying, “I can’t substitute players. Make him stop.” (That would make him sound flawed.)
Which leads me to this four-word suggestion for Georgia going into Saturday’s SEC championship game against Alabama: Step on the gas.
The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on six of their first seven possessions in last week’s 42-10 win over Georgia Tech. No drive lasted longer than two minutes, 42 seconds. It was the SEC meets Formula 1.
One acknowledgement: Georgia had the advantage of going against Georgia Tech’s defense, which hasn’t really stopped any scheme this season (59th in total defense, 84th in scoring defense). But the Dogs’ offense has become increasingly proficient in a fast-pace, no-huddle offense this season.
Quarterback Aaron Murray also has been at his best and most efficient of late. Since the fourth quarter of the Florida game (17 quarters), Murray has 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. In the last four starts, he has completed over 74 percent of his passes (71 of 97).
“We can go very fast, relatively fast or we can be at the line of scrimmage for a long time,” Mark Richt said when asked if Murray has become increasingly comfortable in a fast-pace offense. “We have three different tempos we use. We’re not like the Oregons of the world, where just about every single play we’re going at break-neck speed. But we can go at a pretty good pace.”
Georgia has managed to do this despite losing arguably their two best receivers for the season, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett.
Richt cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M.
“I don’t know if it was the tempo they had problems with as much as (Heisman favorite) Johnny Manziel,” he said. “He creates problems obviously for everybody because he can scramble, so it changes the mindset of defenses. Not to say the tempo wasn’t an issue as well.”
Georgia tight end Jay Rome, who had a 24-yard touchdown reception in the Tech game, said, “I feel like when we speed things up and [make] plays, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
Receiver Rhett McGowan, who also had a touchdown against the Jackets, said, “Of course, as a receiver, I love it. When we have a lot of receivers on the field, it spreads out the defense, puts pressure on their (defensive backs) and also takes somebody out of the box, which means our running backs can make plays.”
(Murray did not make himself available for comment this week on the offense. Or anything else.)
This isn’t to suggest that an up-tempo no-huddle offense is the only way to beat Alabama. But it’s the only thing that has worked this season.
Besides, I figure any concept that prompts Saban to sound almost shaken — “We should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety. You can’t substitute defensive players. You go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they’re snapping the ball as fast as you can and all your players are walking around and can’t even get lined up.” — is worth several pages in a game plan.
Because not much else against Alabama has worked.
– By Jeff Schultz