Tide Prepares For Florida's Spread

Rolando McClain

Two of Alabama's most outstanding defensive players have a little disagreement about the spread offense the Crimson Tide will face when Bama meets Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game Saturday.



Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain hates to play against the spread offense employed by Florida. Crimson Tide cornerback Javier Arenas enjoys the challenge of the spread.?

McClain and Arenas do agree that defensive players must be disciplined when playing against the spread.

Alabama and Florida meet at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) Saturday in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the SEC title. CBS will televise the game. Both teams are 12-0, including 8-0 in SEC games. Florida is ranked first in the nation, Alabama second. The winner goes to Pasadena to play for the national championship on January 7.

This is a rematch of last year's SEC championship game, won by Florida, 31-20. The Gators outscored Alabama 14-0 in the fourth quarter to take the win. Florida went on to win the 2008 national championship.

McClain said it should be helpful to Bama's defense that the Tide played against the Gators last year "and they have pretty much the same guys back. There was a little change at receiver."

He added, "You can never be too comfortable, especiall facing (Florida quarterback) Tim Tebow and (Gators Coach) Urban Meyer. You just have to expect they are going to do something new. I expect it to be a good game."

McClain was asked if he enjoyed playing against a spread offense.

"I hate spread offenses," McClain said. "I like down-hill teams and down-hill running backs. That's my style of football. I like to hit somebody almost every play and that's just how I am.

"Pretty much every team we've played has been in the spread. I'm used to it now. Not that I like it, but I obviously have to defend it."

The key, McClain said, is for defenders to be disciplined, to play their assignments. ?That, he said, was Bama's breakdown in the fourth quarter of last year's championship game.

"It seemed like in the fourth quarter, everyone was trying to do extra things and we just have to do what we've been doing," he said. "If we had just continued to do what he had been doing, instead of everyone trying to be the hero, we would have been just fine. If everybody would have played their own assignment, we would have been just fine."

Arenas has a different perspective of the spread from his cornerback position. He said he loves to go up against the spread. "I love any type of challenge," Arenas said, "even if it's a spread offense and guys who throw the ball all game or if it's guys who are going to run the ball and play-action you. When you're a defensive back, you take on that challenge."

Arenas says he doesn't see a lot of difference in the Florida passing game of 2008 and this year's Gators attack. "Man, they've still got great receivers, but I think you saw the ball going towards the receivers more last year than the tight end," Arenas said. "But they treat him like a (wide) receiver, so nothing really changes."

Arenas agreed with McClain that "the secret to stopping it is being disciplined. If you're covering a guy, don't let him get on top of you. If they are running the ball, play your assignment; take on your block the way you're supposed to take it on and do what you have to do.

"Don't try to do too much.

"I think we learned from our mistakes last year and I think we know what we don't need to do in the fourth quarter. Just keep doing what we've been doing. I think some of us lost our way in the fourth quarter of last year's game. We have to stay focused and stay poised.

"Losing your posing, getting out of control, trying to do something you shouldn't be doing. It'll bite you, and it bit us last year."

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he doesn't see a lot of difference in Florida's offense this year. "Other, probably, than the way they utilize their personnel. Their personnel groupings are a little bit different because they are getting two or three in there now instead of Percy Harvin being the guy that joined those guys in the backfield last year a lot.  They do a lot of the same things; they just put them in there and do it. 

"That doesn't make it any easier to defend.  Conceptually, they run the same plays.  They always give you a lot of multiples in formations and adjustments.  They get in a lot of empty and reload.  They do a lot of the things they did a year ago, I think the way they present it is a little bit different.

"Last year, they hardly ever got in regular, just regular two back, tight end and two receivers, they do that on occasion this year.  I think it's all a function of utilizing the personnel that they have.  It's not really conceptually changing the philosophy of what they do on offense."

Saban said, "I think we played fairly well against these guys last year for three quarters of the game and didn't get things done in the fourth quarter like we needed to.  We didn't make some plays on critical third downs, especially in the red zone that they were able to convert into touchdowns on three occasions.

"We've probably played against more of that type of stuff and I think that hopefully we understand what we need to do better, but it's still when they spread you out it comes down to the personnel mismatches that they create and how your players respond to what they need to do to try and get them covered.  Sometimes when  you get these guys covered, 15 (Tebow) takes off running with the ball, which is another issue and problem you have to try and solve defensively because not only do you have to play pass defense, but you have to worry about him running for a first down as well."

Saban said, "It's really a one game season.  I don't know the way you go about preparing for the game or practicing for the game really can change.  I think the point of emphasis to the players is it's a one game season.  We need your heart, we need your spirit, we need your mind and we need your commitment to everybody trying to do their best job in this particular game because the opportunity that you created for yourself is certainly the action that we should be anticipating and expecting and everybody wanting to do.

"But other than that, I don't think, if there was a better way to practice, we would do it so we could get in the game. Having an extra day off, we will end up practicing 15 minutes longer today than we usually do on Monday and maybe end up getting a little more point of emphasis to get ahead a little bit, but other than that, I don't think there is anything different that we do."

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