One of the teams coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday had 778 yards of offense in week one, and it wasn't Alabama.
The Mercer Bears piled almost 800 yards of offense and 69 points on Point last Thursday. Of course Point University is an NAIA school and is obviously at a very different level of size and skill than the defending national champions, but all week Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has said that the Mercer offense is unique and a challenge for his defense to prepare for.
So what makes this offense so different?
"The easiest way to categorize it would be there’s a lot of three back runs, even though it isn't what people would recognize as the wishbone," Saban said during the weekly coaches teleconference. "Between the motions and so forth you know it's kind of a combination of running three back type runs that are not in spread out formations.
There are a lot of bunch formations, and there's a lot of motions and adjustments that players have to make. So this is totally unique to anything that we’ve played against and will play against the rest of the season."
During his weekly radio show, Saban compared the Mercer offense to the style of offense that Georgia Tech ran under Paul Johnson in the 2010s. While Johnson was head coach from 2008-2018, the Yellow Jackets never finished outside of the top ten in the country in rushing yards per game and were top four in nine of eleven years.
Mercer's offense is different though than Georgia Tech's, which ran a more traditional triple option. Saban said the Bears are semi-wishbone and semi-spread. Mercer uses sweeps, motions and reverses to spread the defense out and force the defenders to be disciplined and decide who they will follow.
While they had over 500 yards rushing in week one, the Bears are also not afraid to go through the air and had three separate players throw touchdowns last week including a 47-yard deep shot from Carter Peevy.
These type of run-heavy offensive schemes have given Alabama and Saban trouble in the past (see Georgia Southern in 2011 and the Citadel in 2018.) It is difficult in prep work for the Crimson Tide defense because it is so different from anything they have seen in the past and will likely never see again during the season.
"This has been a very challenging week for our defensive players," Saban said. "None of the carryover, none of the coverages none of the things that we typically do are we doing, so it's all new adjustments. So the biggest concern is is can we execute those things correctly."
Saban said the key for the defense when facing these "little different offenses" is discipline. Each player has to know their assignment, stay within the assignment and not get caught up in the motion of the offense.
"When they do run option elements, will be will be able to have the discipline defensively so that everybody does exactly what they're supposed to do?" Saban said.
In Mercer's previous trip to Bryant-Denny in the fall of 2017, the Bears did not score and lost 56-0. However, they were under a different head coach and ran a completely different type of offense. Saban called the program really, really improved.
We will soon find out if this unique Mercer offense is able to cross the goal line against the 2021 Alabama defense when the two teams kickoff Alabama's home schedule on Saturday at 3 p.m.