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Summer Scheming ‘21: The Alabama Crimson Tide

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Miami faces the Tide in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend in 2021.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 11 CFP National Championship - Alabama v Ohio State Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nick Saban is undoubtedly the greatest college football coach in the history of the game. After a 7-6 start to his Alabama tenure in 2007, Saban has rung off double-digit winning seasons in every single season from 2008 through 2020. Under Saban, the Crimson Tide won three BCS National Championships and have won three College Football Playoff Championships as well.

Info: Miami Hurricanes v. Alabama Crimson Tide / neutral site in Atlanta, GA.

Day/Time/Channel: September 4, 2021 / 3:30pm / ABC

Saban has done this all while other powers have come and gone. Urban Meyer has had two dynasties in that time, Jimbo Fisher’s FSU dynasty was just a blip on the radar compared to Saban. LSU and Auburn have been a thorn in Saban’s side but only for a short while.

Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers have been the most consistent threat to Coach Saban’s reign of terror over college football. Swinney’s Tigers have put up 10 straight double-digit winning seasons and have claimed the College Football Championship twice. But no one has shown the staying power of the Tide and Coach Saban.

2020 Record/Ranking: 13-0/1st in the AP Poll.

2020 Data: 48.5PPG scored (2nd in FBS), 19.4PPG allowed (13th in FBS).

Bowl Game: Won the College Football Championship 52-24 over Ohio State.


Personnel

Key losses: Jaylen Waddle, WR; DeVonta Smith, WR; Mac Jones, QB; Patrick Surtain II, DB; Alex Leatherwood, OL; Najee Harris, RB; Landon Dickerson OL; Christian Barmore DL.

The Crimson Tide have 15 (tied with Georgia for the most in the SEC) players on the Athlon All-SEC pre-season team, including Bryce Young who has hardly taken a meaningful snap of SEC football.

Alabama v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

On the first team, the Tide have WR John Metchie III and OL Evan Neal; and on defense they have linebackers Will Anderson and Christian Harris, as well as S Jordan Battle.

Metchie was a big play threat for Alabama in 2020. Metchie caught 55 balls for 916 yards (16.7 yards per catch) and six TD’s. Anderson logged 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks a year ago, while Harris led the team in TFL’s with 13, and added six sacks of his own. Battle made 66 stops with an interception last season.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The 2nd team offense has three Bama players in QB Bryce Young, TE Jahleel Billingsley, and OL Emil Ekiyor. Transfer LB Henry To’o-To’o, CB Josh Jobe, and S Malachi Moore round out the defense. Young threw one touchdown in 2020 and should’ve taken more snaps with how many blowouts Bama was a part of during the COVID season.

Billingsley caught only 18 balls but scored three times a year ago. To’o-To’o, a transfer from Tennessee, had 47 tackles and a sack last season for the Vols. Jobe had a team high 11 PBU’s a year ago while Moore had six PBU’s and three interceptions.

The other selection of note is third team RB Brian Robinson. In 2020, Robinson ran for 483 yards and six touchdowns in limited duty as a back up to Harris.


Bama Scheme on O

The Alabama Crimson Tide have offensive coordinators, but their number one priority is to run and adapt the “Bama Offense” to the personnel, while maintaining the same language in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban was greatly influenced by Lane Kiffin, and no matter how many OC’s come and go (this one being Bill O’Brien) the Bama O will click because of the consistency in language and message.

The Tide use all of the fixin’s of a modern offense. They’re in the shotgun and pistol, they use play-action passing off of a solid run game as well as RPO’s. The Tide will use motion for matchups and incorporate screens with a modern passing attack. Their QB’s don’t always run as much as other programs but they’ll be called on to run when needed.

How do you lose to the Bama offense? If you’re trying to let the Bama machine roll through you for 50 yards you’ll play a traditional defense and try to stick Tuf Borland on DeVonta Smith. Ohio State stuck to a traditional 4-4 defense, using slow linebackers on speedy slot receivers, and got gashed. It was never even close.

How do you beat the Bama offense? Bama is the time to bring out the safeties and play some form of a Tite front defense. Will they maul you with Robinson and their big O-Line? Yes. But the game will be over much faster if the DC allows Bama’s receivers to just run right by them. Come exotic, bring pressure (Manny Diaz will love that) and try to get Young uncomfortable.

Above- This is a diagram of the Tite front from MatchQuarters.com’s @The_Coach_A. 3-3, 3-2 call it what you want but keep the offense guessing and stay fast.


Bama Scheme on D

The Tide are a traditional 3-4 defense since Nick Saban arrived. Look around the college football landscape and see his former assistant coaches, most of which were DC’s (Lane aside) that are or have tried to emulate his scheme around the country (Will Muschamp, Kirby Smart, etc).

How do you lose to the Bama defense? Try to play strong and slow. Unless you’re built to bully (and really, who is built to out bully the Tide?) misdirection is your key to success. But trying to line up and run inside zone with a QB that rarely runs, without calling a ton of RPO’s, play-actions, reverses, and motions is a slow painful death. If Clemson can squash your base game plan what do you think Saban and Bama will do?

How do you beat the Bama defense? Unpredictable play/players that get them off their OODA Loop, slows their decision making, and forces the players to think rather than react in the confines of the scheme. They’ve hardly lost in the last decade. Don’t entirely change your system for them, just use and adapt it to benefit what works.

So what about misdirection? The teams that have knocked off Alabama in the past have used a space finding passing game, a mobile enough QB, and chaos (See: Manziel, Johnny). Make the Tide move around via motion and shifts, make them slow down via fakes, play-actions, and QB reads.

What concept can Miami use against the Tide? It’s not so much a concept as it is a style of play. Rhett Lashlee is known for the hurry up no huddle and it has to be a prevalent part of the game plan vs. Bama. He used tempo at times in 2020, especially after big plays. Lashlee’s script of the first 10 plays needs to have HUNH involved against an Alabama defense that’ll be in Week 1 form.


Canyonero keys to victory

So how do you beat the Alabama Crimson Tide? Here are the 3 keys to victory against the Tide heading into 2021.

1 You have to play flawless football without trying to. What the hell does that mean? It means the ‘Canes will have to play fast and create chaos without being too careful, but will have to play a mistake free chaos. That’s going to take a whole new level of discipline in orange and green than fans have seen over the past two decades.

2 Take risks as a coaching staff. Miami isn’t lining up and winning a traditional game versus the Tide. It’s just not happening. Bama has 29% more Blue Chip players than Miami. Open the game with an onside kick, go for two, go for it on 4th and short, take some deep shots, trick plays... it’s a kitchen sink game.

3 D’Eriq King. If King is healthy Miami has a much greater chance of winning than if they have to run Jake Garcia or Tyler Van Dyke out there. I know this is a no brainer, however, King can’t be hobbled at all. He has to be able to move the pocket, be a threat to run in the run game, and a threat to scramble in the passing game. Hell, King needs to be able to roll off of a jet sweep and be a throw-back option for the WR.

Way too early prediction: Bama by 20.