|by David Hood|
Former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi is credited with that quote, a quote from a bygone age, coach and football era that still resonates today.
In fact, I was reminded of that quote during the adrenaline-fueled fourth quarter of Clemson’s 25-24 victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve as I watched player after player – all on LSU’s vaunted defense – collapse in exhaustion on the turf of the Georgia Dome.
It was after that game – perhaps a week or so after – that I went back and watched (we football nuts do this kind of thing) Alabama’s win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and I heard CBS announcer Gary Danielson make the comment that the only way to be an elite team in today’s college football world – and by elite he meant SEC-caliber – was to run a conventional two-back, I-formation offense.
His thinking was that you can’t spread the field on teams that have great athletes – like Alabama and LSU – and expect to beat them. In many ways, you can’t fault his thinking - the SEC has won the National Championship each and every year for the past seven years, and Alabama has been the main culprit with its knock-em-off-the-ball style of play.
However, during the SEC’s seven-season run, Florida won two of those seasons with Urban Meyer’s spread offense, and Auburn won a few years ago running Gus Malzahn’s spread behind quarterback Cam Newton.
That got me to thinking about next season – Alabama will again be one of the favorites to return to the BCS National Championship Game, and with that college football fans will have to hear about not only the dominance of the SEC, but how that particular style of play is the only way to a championship.
In the words of Lee Corso – and I hate to invoke his name – not so fast my friend.
Alabama’s defense looked awesome against Notre Dame in the title game, but anyone who had watched a down of college football season knew that was coming. Notre Dame needed a superlative offensive effort to beat the Crimson Tide, and they simply didn’t have the horses on the offensive side of the ball to contend.
Lest we forget, this was a Notre Dame team that finished with less than 200 yards through the air six times during the season and finished 54th nationally in total offense, just ahead of Duke, East Carolina and Central Florida. Their offense was plodding, slow and methodical, and if you are going to beat Alabama, you aren’t going to accomplish that by letting them line up, call defensive signals and substitute at will before the snap.
Most teams in the nation aren’t going to beat Alabama by lining up and running the I-formation and hoping to get several explosive plays out of the 60 plays per game that type of offense engenders. It’s not going to happen.
So, how do you beat the kind of defense that has 5-star recruits at each and every position? All you have to do is take a look at what Texas A&M did to Alabama on the Crimson Tide’s home field in early November for the recipe.
You have to wear those big bodies down, move them all over the field and use speedy skill players to run circles around the bigger players that are recruited and built – yes built – to stop two tight end, two back, straight-ahead rushing attacks.
Texas A&M moved to the SEC in 2012 from the Big 12, and college football pundits across the country – especially those who worked for the four-letter network – laughed at the thought that the Aggies could come in and compete in the mighty SEC with a “Mickey Mouse” offense full of gimmicks. It can’t be done, they said.
Yes, it can.
In their first season in the league, the Aggies led the SEC in scoring offense, total offense and passing offense. And guess which team led the SEC in rushing offense? That’s right, it was the Aggies at 235.1 yards per game and led the league with a 5.6 yards per carry average.
That "gimmicky" offense helped the Aggies go to Tuscaloosa and beat the No. 1 Crimson Tide – they out-rushed the Tide 165 yards to 122 and put up 418 total yards and 29 points.
That brings us to Clemson.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris drew some criticism on the message boards as the Tigers prepared for LSU when he said Clemson’s offense wasn’t going to change its personality because of the opponent. There were some that said Clemson’s offense needed to slow down the pace, give the Clemson defense time to rest and work more time off the clock.
Some pointed at Clemson’s lack of offensive success against South Carolina in the season finale as the reason his type of offense wouldn’t work against a defense as talented as LSU’s. Morris, in the days leading up to the bowl, scoffed at those notions and said the loss against the Gamecocks had more to do with how much his offense DIDN’T have the ball rather than how much they had it. In other words – he wanted to come out against LSU and wear the big uglies on LSU’s defensive line down. He wanted to run 100 plays and have LSU’s defense gasping for air at the end of four quarters.
His plan worked to perfection – helped along the way by Clemson’s defense – as Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd enjoyed perhaps his best night as a Tiger by shredding LSU’s defense to the tune 36-of-50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns in taking the offensive MVP award. Clemson more than doubled LSU in yardage gained with 445 yards to 219, and ran a whopping 100 plays to 48.
Both teams will likely be ranked in everyone’s Top 10 to begin next season, and both teams will use their HUNH-style of offense to win games, calling plays so fast it will be hard for defenses to substitute and leaving defensive coordinators guessing at what is coming next.
And, if any team in the country is going to knock Alabama off its lofty and well-deserved perch, it just might be the kind you least expect. The kind of team that doesn’t want to beat Alabama at its own game, much like Notre Dame. It will be a team that will force Alabama to react and win at a different game, one which favors the fast and the furious.
To quote Vince Lombardi yet again, ““I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org