While I'm not the single biggest Nick Saban fan in the world,I have to admit that he is an excellent defensive strategist. Some time back Chris Brown over at Smart Football talked a little about Saban's defensive philosophy, including this nugget: “In all situations, we will defend the inside or middle of the field first – defend inside to outside."
Saban and I may not always agree on scholarship utilization. And his taste in golfing attire is truly horrifying. But about this one thing-defending the middle of the field first- he is absolutely correct. There are a variety of reasons for this. For one, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The significance of this geometric truth is that a running back can get more yards more quickly between the tackles than he can by sweeping wide. He'll also encounter fewer defenders on his way to the secondary, because getting yards up the middle takes the peripheral defenders (corners, outside linebackers, defensive ends) out of the equation. And plays up the middle tend to leave less room for things to go wrong. Fewer blocks need be executed, for example. Again, if you want to play good defense, you have to be strong between the hashes. You then force the offense to take the long way around, giving bad things a chance to happen to them. There's just no way around it. A good defense is strong up the middle.
In the 3-4, being strong up the middle requires three things: interior linemen capable of caving in the center of the offensive line and keeping blockers off the linebackers, safeties capable of playing solid run support but also of covering "centerfield" in the passing game, and linebackers who can play fast and aggressive. Todd Grantham is still finding the guys to fill these roles, but some candidates are emerging. Freshman safety (and O.J. Da Juiceman aficionado) Alec Ogletree is getting more time in the secondary. Redshirt freshman Kwame Geathers is seeing time at nose. And sophomore inside linebacker Christian Robinson has been an anchor at inside linebacker for most of the season.
Christian Robinson is not the biggest inside linebacker, and not the fastest either. But he has just been solid in the middle of Todd Grantham;s defense. He's smart and has good instincts. Perhaps most important, he's a very sure tackler, the kind of guy you can build around for a couple of years (think Tonys, Gilbert and Taylor). I continue to believe that a game is coming when our offense, led by a redshirt freshman quarterback, will not put up 40+ points. If that happens this weekend, we're going to need Christian Robinson, and the rest of the defense, to own the interior of the field and keep things in check to allow their teammates to do just enough to win it. In short, we need the area between the tackles to consistently be Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood. Say, that would be a great name for a pregame cocktail, wouldn't it?Let's make one.
Stir together 2 ounces of bourbon, 2 ounces of apple cider, 4 ounces of orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Mix until the sugar dissolves, then serve over crushed ice. You could probably garnish it with some fresh slices of north Georgia apple (which should be in season) if you were so inclined. Which I'm not, not because I don't like apples, but because there's an inverse relationship between the level of fru-fru adornment applied to any drink and my propensity for consuming it. But to each his (or her) own.
I'll see you tomorrow for the Friday Tailgate, and perhaps tonight for the UCLA-Oregon game, though that's still TBD. As usual your musical suggestions for tomorrow are welcome in these comments or at macondawg(at)gmail.com. Until later . . .