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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Alabama-Texas: Kirk Herbstreit breaks down game within game between Nick Saban, Steve Sarkisian

There will be plenty to take in when Saturday when Texas visits Alabama, but Kirk Herbstreit revealed what he believes will be the game within the game.

The ESPN analyst on Wednesday pointed to the chess match between Nick Saban’s defense and Steve Sarkisian’s offense.

“Incredibly gifted, talented guys,” Herbstreit said about Texas’ running backs. “I think that we talked a little earlier about (quarterback) Quinn Ewers is going to get a lot of attention and he should, but I think Sark’s system has always been about balance, and it’s always been about not abandoning the running game.

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“A big part of what he does is run the football to set up the play action. He has so many looks on his play action and RPO game that look like they’ll run. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense. If you’re running the ball effectively, man, it really allows you to hit some big plays potentially in that pass game.”

What will be key, he said, is how well the Tide defense contains the running game without moving the chess pieces up.

“If that’s negated and you’re running into a wall, which is what Alabama tries to do with their three-four scheme, … not to get too in-depth, but they two-gap you, which means those big defensive linemen aren’t going to have a lot of stats, but they’re going to eat two offensive linemen up,” he explained. “They’re basically building a fence as you try to run the football. Then those edge guys try to keep the contain. So they’re trying to essentially build a wall against your run game. If you can run the football, which they were able to do at times last year, it’s tough to do, especially between the tackles, but if you can get that going, then I think, as I said, it opens up what Sark really wants to do is create one-on-one opportunities.”

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It really comes down to whether Sarkisian can get Saban to walk down one of his safeties.

“Nick Saban loves to play with two deep safeties as much as he can, and if he can get away with that and not have to get one safety down in that run support role and he can keep him back, it’s having the best of both worlds,” Herbstreit said. “Two safeties back to prevent the deep shots, and then also being able to hold up against the run without that safety down.

“If you ever see Saturday that safety start to be like, ‘Uh-oh, we got to get him down,’ you know Sark’s going, ‘Oh boy, here we go. We got him where we want him. Now we can create some one-on-one chances for Xavier Worthy and some of these other guys.’ That’s a game within a game, but the running game to me and the balance of Texas is essential if they’re going to go in there and win this game.”

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Herbstreit will call the Longhorns-Crimson Tide game in Tuscaloosa at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The game will be live streamed on fuboTV (free trial) with Chris Fowler and reporter Holly Rowe.

Mark Heim is a reporter for The Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Heim. He can be heard on “The Opening Kickoff” on WNSP-FM 105.5 FM in Mobile or on the free Sound of Mobile App from 6 to 9 a.m. daily.

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