Return of 'wad ball'? Alabama spread here to stay, but defense 'catching up,' Saban says

Alabama coach Nick Saban started with a joke that he didn't actually know what the term 12 personnel meant, but he ended with an answer that hit on the roots of the spread offenses that have taken over college football in recent years.

That personnel, for the record, is made up on one running back and two tight ends and has became less and less common in NCAA offensive attacks that have prioritized three- and four-wide receiver sets and stretching the field.

"I think things always sort of cycle," Saban said, speaking as SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama. "And I think that the trend ... has been very productive to be in the spread and to spread the field with three and four wide receivers and four-open formations, and implement RPOs and lots of screens and spread the field and make the defense defend 53 yards wide and 100 yards deep, which has not always been the case."

Saban pointed to current Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin as one of the chief architects of the Crimson Tide's offensive attack, which has continued to dominate the college football landscape by pouring points on the board to support an always stout defense. LSU's offense has seen a similar transition, shifting from the ground-and-pound, low-scoring, defense-first approach. The 2019 Tigers team that dominated en route to a perfect season averaged 48.3 points per game. This past season's title-winning Alabama squad averaged 48.4 points per game.

When the Tigers and Crimson Tide met twice in the 2011 season, the latter of which came in the national championship, both teams scored a combined 36 points over eight quarters and overtime.

"I do think that defenses are catching up and creating more issues with some of the things that they do and people who get back in regular formation as we do, we’ve never ever abandoned that," Saban said. "that’s always been a part of what we do to run the ball, people have a more difficult time adjusting to that, which used to be the starting point of where you taught everything that you did."

But as that trend becomes more and more popular, the tight and traditional offensive attacks -- which Saban refers to as "wad ball" -- will become increasingly more effective as defenses move away from prioritizing it in their prep and gameplan.

"I can see that there maybe some movement back in that direction to more conventional-type football," Saban said, "to make people spend a little bit more time on the direct runs and things that you create in regular formation.”

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MORE FROM SABAN

KEYS TO LONGEVITY IN COACHING

“I think that’s simple. You’ve got to win. So what does it take to win? I think that answers the question better than anything. And I think you have to have culture in your organization which probably comes from the mindset of the people in your organization to have goals and aspirations for what they want to accomplish and what they want to do, and I’m talking about players as well here. And they have to have a good understanding of what does it take to accomplish those goals and aspirations to be the best that they can be. And how do they have to edit their behavior to be able to do that, and can they have the discipline, self-discipline, on a daily basis to execute and do the things they need to do, make the choices and decisions that they need to make so that they can be the best that they can be.”

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ON COVID VACCINE, POSSIBLE MANDATES WITHIN CONFERENCES

“I think there’s two issues when it comes to vaccines. First of all, we’ve had a large majority of our players who have gotten the vaccine, and we’ve given every player on our team the choice to do that. I think there’s a couple things to consider. First of all, you have a personal decision, which comes down to risk. Risk of COVID, relative risk of the vaccine, because it’s the same thing. We don’t really have a lot of knowledge about how this stuff’s going to affect people in the future. So that’s a personal decision that everyone has the right to make. On the other hand you also have a competitive decision to make because you’re going to be a part of a team. So how does the personal choice and decision you make affect the team. ...

"These are choices and decisions that every player has to make. Our approach has been, I think we’ve had three medical doctors sort of give lectures to our team about the pros and cons of the whole COVID circumstance, the vaccine circumstance so that they can make intelligent decisions about what they do. And I think that we’re pretty close to 90% maybe of our players who have gotten the vaccine, and I’m hopeful that more players make that decision, but it is their decision.”

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Follow Jeff Nowak on Twitter @Jeff_Nowak or contact him by email at jeffrey.nowak@audacy.com