TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban knows it has become irrelevant whether frenetic, no-huddle offenses are what he wants college football to be.
In the case of No. 6 Texas A&M, they’re also awfully hard to slow down. That is the challenge Saturday for the top-ranked Crimson Tide at the Aggies’ Kyle Field. Preparing for this kind of up-tempo offense was a focal point for the Tide during the offseason.
Alabama (1-0) was helpless against it in the first quarter of last season’s loss to Texas A&M (2-0) before catching on and nearly rallying from a 20-0 deficit. The no-huddle offenses have become a staple of the college game — whether Saban likes it or not.
Southeastern Conference opponents Ole Miss, Kentucky, Auburn and Missouri also run variations.
“There’s obviously some things you can’t do, and you have to realize that you can’t do these things,” Saban said. “I think we’ve all adapted to it more and more because we play against these teams more. When you play against it once or twice a year, I think it’s a tough adaptation for the players. But we played against it eight or nine times last year. We’ll probably play against it at least that much this year, so it’s becoming more the norm rather than the exception.
“I think that players should be able to adapt to it more readily. I know that we’ve tried to prepare our players for it more and more because you always say, ‘OK, what did we see? How much did we see it? How does our practice reflect that?’ ”
Saban caused a stir in October when he wondered aloud: “Is this what we want football to be?”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, who runs his own variation of the no-huddle, offered different takes at SEC Media Days about whether fast-paced offenses present an injury hazard to defensive players who can’t get relief from subs. Malzahn said he initially thought that theory was a joke, and Bielema countered that he’s no comedian.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t about to downshift.
“We’re going to go as fast as we possibly can,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything to support the player safety argument. Anything that’s within in the rules, that’s the way football is. That’s any sport. Whether it’s baseball and you’re stealing bases or whether it’s basketball and you’re a fast break, full-court press team, that’s within the rules.
“Just because you don’t want to play that style doesn’t mean that that’s not the way the game should be played.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. Sumlin’s offenses have ranked in the top three nationally in total yards four of the past five years at Texas A&M and Houston. Through two games against weaker competition, the Aggies have amassed 117 points and 1,200 yards. Alabama allowed just 153 points in 14 games last season.
Texas A&M wide receiver Malcome Kennedy said coaches have stressed tempo even more for this game.
“The offense is going to move very fast,” said Kennedy, who scored what proved to be the decisive touchdown last season. “Coach has already said that we’re focusing on tempo this week. Us being able to run and pass, and we know it got on their nerves last year. So we want to be like that this year, and hopefully it will turn out well.”