Nick Saban on Alabama's identity shift: 'Good defense doesn't beat good offense anymore'

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Even in the most surreal college football season in living memory, Alabama remains a terrifying juggernaut under Nick Saban. But something has been quite different in recent years.

And Saban is well aware.

Speaking with ESPN on Friday, the Alabama coach stated the obvious to anyone who has been following Alabama in recent years. It’s no longer possible to smother teams on defense, so you have to score even more to win.

"It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn't beat good offense anymore," Saban told ESPN on Friday. "It's just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them [in a 41-24 Alabama win]. That's not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren't going to score. You were always going to be in the game.

"I'm telling you. It ain't that way anymore."

Alabama currently ranks second in the nation in points scored per game with 48.5, but 37th in points allowed at 28.8. That imbalance hasn’t cost the Tide much so far this year, as they currently sit at 4-0 following an emphatic win over Georgia.

Alabama’s offense has found a new gear

FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2020, file photo, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban leads his team as they march on campus, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The mid-week news that Alabama coach Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19 added a challenging backdrop for the season’s first Top 5 matchup. Saban figures to be communicating his marching orders and input from home while offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is manning the show within the football building. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)
Nick Saban will take wins however he will get them. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)

Saban’s teams have been skewing toward more offense in recent years, basically since Tua Tagovailoa took over and started incinerating defenses with his NFL-quality receiving corps. Mac Jones has been a suitable replacement at quarterback this year as well.

Here are the Tide’s ranks in points scored and allowed between 2015 and 2020, starting with the earliest years:

Points scored: 30th, 15th, 15th, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd

Points allowed: 2nd, 1st, 1st, 12th, 13th, 37th

Alabama was never a slouch on offense even when it was Saban’s signature run-focused attack, but it’s at a different level now thanks to a full embrace of the forward pass. As ESPN noted, Alabama has topped 35 points in 17 straight games, the longest streak in the nation.

It’s not something Saban seems too happy about:

"I don't like it," he said with a wry smile. "But we just have to make sure we have an offense that's that way and that explosive, which we have."

The obvious caveat here is that offense and defense operate independently of each other, like in a run vs. pass dynamic. Saban isn’t saying you have to sacrifice one specific thing for another, he’s saying you have to be able to constantly put up points because offenses are just so good these days.

However, Saban did note that there’s an apparent talent drain occurring at the lower levels of football, noting that star wide receiver DeVonta Smith impressed at cornerback when preparing to be Alabama’s emergency option at the position:

"None of these skill guys grow up playing defense, from junior high, high school or whatever," Saban said. "So all of the best athletes end up playing offense. One of the best corners on our team is [Smith]. This year in camp, I trained him at corner. He can cover anybody, and he never played defense in his life because he was on the offensive side. You don't think Jaylen Waddle would be a good defensive back?"

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