Joe Medley: Alabama’s acknowledged emphasis on up-tempo foes ups ante for 2013
by Joe Medley
Aug 04, 2013 | 2898 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama coaches line up for a photo at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sunday. (Photo by Marq Burnett/The Anniston Star)
Alabama coaches line up for a photo at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sunday. (Photo by Marq Burnett/The Anniston Star)
TUSCALOOSA -- Get the feeling that Alabama’s coaching staff has locked in on this up-tempo, spread-offense thing?

Oh sure, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart gave the nothing-new answer Sunday during his annual Alabama media day chat and poked reporters for making a big deal about it, but then there was this.

“We’ve studied a lot of teams in the offseason,” Smart said. “A lot of NFL teams have come here to study fast tempo and running quarterbacks, which is kind of the new trend going forward, so we’ve been able to study with those guys for any ideas. “

That comment fleshed out the special offseason emphasis to which Alabama coach Nick Saban alluded at SEC Media Days, and one gets the picture of a staff that’s had enough. They’ve trained their unquestioned defensive minds on stopping the up-tempo spread, and therein lies intrigue for the coming season.

Can an up-tempo offense, run by a team with comparable athletes, be stopped like Alabama’s Saban-era defenses stop other offenses?

Is this really just a fad, awaiting determined attention from the nation’s collective defensive mind-set?

Can they make it go the way of the “wildcat,” or will it be like that old-school offense that only marketability ever truly stopped?

“I’d still rather see that (the up-tempo spread) than triple-option,” Smart said.

The up-tempo spread is much more fan-friendly than the option, which also spread out defenses but came before today’s widespread use of no-huddle, hurry-up tempo.

Popularity and the up-tempo spread’s proven equalizer qualities mean it’s more likely to stick. It’s catching on in the NFL, and it’s caught on in college football and below.

Some see it as kryptonite for Saban-era Alabama, if the opponent has enough comparable athletes and a coach with an advanced sense of how to use them. That perception comes based largely on two home games Alabama lost against Heisman Trophy quarterbacks -- and maybe bits of other games like the Ole Miss game a year ago -- but it’s there.

It’s there, and one senses that the up-tempo thing has gotten under the skin of Saban and Kirby, the coordinator who had to answer to the boss after that loss to Texas A&M and Heisman quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2012.

“It was a tough loss, especially defensively,” Kirby said. “They came out and attacked us and kind of hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t respond real well early.

“As long as I've been here, I really don’t remember a game quite like that. Closest thing was probably Utah (2009 Sugar Bowl). … I just don't think we did a great job of getting the kids ready for that game.”

That and the reality of this coming season have stoked urgency. Seven out of the 12 teams Alabama will play run hurry-up offenses, which is why players such as linebacker Trey DePriest have dropped weight.

Question is can the up-tempo spread offense be stopped when the team running it has enough comparable athletes?

If so, then surely defensive minds as Saban and Kirby, with the athletes they recruit and hone and an offseason of emphasis, can get it done. Fields are the same width everywhere, and Alabama’s braintrust and foot speed cover them as well as anyone’s in college football.

Better than most.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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