“We’re going to have to execute,” said Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, when asked about using trick plays. “They’re a very, very good defense. They’re veteran guys at every position. They’re very rarely out of position. That will be a challenge.”
No. 2-ranked Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) is approximately a three-touchdown favorite over Auburn (6-4, 4-3) and the Crimson Tide is expecting everything but the kitchen sink from the Tigers.
“Oh yeah, I’ve said it before there’s always going to be something we’ve never seen,” said Alabama safety Robert Lester. “We just can’t panic. We’ve got to play what we see. And we’ll get to the sideline and adjust to it and be ready for it the next time.”
Without dissecting the definition of “trick play,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said it’s the general nature of Malzahn’s offense to produce plays that create uncertainty within the defense.
“First of all, Gus does a great job with their offense,” Saban said. “They’ve been very, very productive. He does a very good job of using the players they have in roles they can be productive in. They have a lot of gadget plays, crazy plays, whatever you want to call it. The big thing is you’ve got to get your players on defense settled enough to change personnel. They’re going at a fast pace. They’re doing a lot of things that can disrupt defensive players. The most important thing is you get lined up where you can play and the players are confident in what they’re playing, not all running around, trying to get lined up and making adjustments that are going to put them in a bad position.”
The strength of Alabama’s football team is its defense. The Crimson Tide ranks first in the nation in scoring defense (8.4 points per game), rushing defense (74.6 yards per game), passing defense (121.3 yards per game) and total defense (195.9 yards per game).
And while Malzahn ducks the trick play question, Auburn’s players expect there will be a few in the game plan.
Facing a team with no apparent defensive weaknesses almost demands a certain level of deception when it comes to play-calling.
“Coach Malzahn, he likes to keep people off balance,” said Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley. “So that’s something we’re going to try and do. We know we can’t let them pin their ears back and rush and we know we can’t let them bring more than normal in the box.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik doesn’t expect either team to stray very far from what it does best.
However, he says both teams will almost certainly add a new wrinkle or two, not only on offense, but on defense.
“Every game, you have a little bit of that, there’s no question,” he said. “Really, that’s true on offense and defense. We’ll always have that. It’s not going to be any different than any other week in terms of what new wrinkle here and there that you throw in there. They do the same thing. Your opponent every week doesn’t just come and do the exact same thing every week, meaning they’re going to stick to their base of what they do, but they’ll hide it with a different formation, or they’ll create a new way to get to the same play. I think everybody does that. We’ve done that all year, both offensively and defensively. It’s just part of what you do every game.”
Chizik was philosophical when asked if the Tigers may tend to take more risks in Saturday’s game, given their underdog role.
“We go into every game right now deciding what we feel gives us the best chance to win,” he said. “Is some of that risky? Maybe. Is some of it low risk? Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Obviously, we understand the importance of winning the game, so we’re going to do whatever we have to do that we feel gives us the best chance to get that accomplished.”
Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said the Tigers have already targeted some things that could work against Alabama, but that gadget plays will probably be introduced later in the week.
“We’ve found some things we think we can take advantage of,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I’m not going to get into details or everything. Coach Malzahn’s one of the best in the business when it comes to other team’s tendencies and using his players to the best of their potential.”