Alabama football will exploit Fresno State on special teams

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 02: The Alabama Crimson Tide take the field against the Florida State Seminoles prior to their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 02: The Alabama Crimson Tide take the field against the Florida State Seminoles prior to their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Alabama football, as long as Nick Saban is head coach, will always exploit teams like Fresno State on special teams because he uses his top players.

Alex Scarborough of ESPN provides a great look into how Saban’s tactics on special teams helped control the game against Florida State last Saturday. The strategy was sound, but he also used many of his starters on offense and defense to execute the plan.

This method is the norm in Alabama football.

Alabama’s star running back Damien Harris said as much to Scarborough: “Special teams isn’t a play off […] We look to take advantage of that. We want to change the vertical field position. So the best guys are going to play. That’s just kind of what [Saban’s] motto is and how he goes about it.”

With that mindset, Fresno State is in big trouble this Saturday.

The odds are already stacked against the lower-ranked school to put forth a competitive effort against Alabama’s amazing defense and fairly potent offense. Add to the mix the fact that Fresno State will likely have many non-starters on their special teams and one doesn’t need a crystal ball to foresee bad field position for them all game long.

“After all, how many upperclassmen running backs with 1,000-yard seasons do you find playing on punt coverage?” states Scarborough. “Just take a look at a sampling of Alabama players who have blocked punts or field goals the last three seasons: Harris, Minkah FitzpatrickA’Shawn RobinsonRonnie HarrisonJonathan AllenKenyan Drake. All are either in the NFL or about to be.”

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Yet, why risk these players to injury? Special teams is widely known in the football universe to be the most dangerous of the three squads. The nature of special teams is to either protect or chase down the ballcarrier at all cost. Assignments often go out the window when blocks come out of virtually nowhere, rocking players either by clean or dirty hits that get overlooked by officials.

The chaos can be alarming to some players. Saban’s top players don’t see it that way.

Saban has preached that the next play is the only thing that is important. If every player does his role effectively, championships will come. “So guys are just willing to do anything, sell out, do anything to make a play,” according to Harris.

The risk is far outweighed by the reward if one thinks about it. Special teams is only considered less important because of the overemphasis of the offense and defense. Even if Alabama had the greatest quarterback to ever live, a stacked set of receivers, and elephants for offensive linemen, it would still be hard for them to score touchdowns if they have to start every drive deep in their own end.

Special teams is not a play off because the ball is the most important part of the game. If a team can start drives consistently close or in the opponent’s end of the field, the odds are much better for the team to win. It’s that simple. Putting lesser players on the field, to allow starters a break, only hampers the offense and defense.

What does it come down to? Conditioning.

Scott Cochran, the Alabama football Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, is the key component to this philosophy. No matter what Saban would say to his players, if the entire team wasn’t conditioned to play every down in four quarters, like Cochran preaches, the star players wouldn’t have the gas to burn on special teams.

Next: Wednesday Practice Notes & Saban Meets the Media

At present, no school works as hard to train their players to condition like Alabama, which is why special teams will continue to be an advantage for the football team. When Cochran has everyone on the sidelines putting up four fingers to represent the Fourth Quarter Program that he runs, it signals the ultimate end of the opposition. No team, not even Fresno State, has players who never seem gassed. When their starters take a break on special teams, Alabama finds a way to pin them back or get in the endzone.