TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Part of preparing for Texas A&M's high-octane offense is bracing for the Aggies' frenetic pace.
It's tough enough to know you're facing quarterback Johnny Manziel and A&M's versatile spread offense. Add in the hurry-up, no-huddle component and any defense sees red flags popping up all week as it tries to match all of it.
But Alabama head coach Nick Saban says the hardest part of dealing with A&M's offense is not the extras: The Aggies are just plain good.
"To me, it's not the scheme," Saban said. "It's not the going fast. It's their ability to do those things and execute extremely well. Their players have a lot of confidence in it, and they do a really good job of it."
The Aggies' numbers are cartoonish. They made a school-record 38 first downs and gained 714 yards last week in a 65-28 victory over Sam Houston State. A&M scored 35 points in the third quarter on 21 offensive plays.
And while it's tempting to discount that performance since it came against the FCS Bearkats, Kevin Sumlin's offense has topped 600 yards seven times in 15 games at A&M.
"This is a fantastic offensive football team," Saban said. "You get 600 yards a game ... you average 58 points a game ... it's a great concept. They have the right kind of players to execute the concept, and they do a very, very good job of executing their plays.
"You can say that they spread you out and run the screen. Well, they go fast, but they execute well. They run screens, but they execute well."
The tempo element is nearly as worrisome. As the up-tempo pace has caught on and more offenses are using it, Alabama has adjusted.
"When you play against it once or twice a year, I think it's a tough adaptation for the players," Saban said. "But we played against it eight or nine times last year. We'll probably play against it at least that much this year, so it's becoming more the norm rather than the exception. Players should be able to adapt to it more readily."
Substitution patterns can be disrupted against the up-tempo offense. When the offense subs, the defense must be allowed to sub as well.
Saban said a big concern when facing an up-tempo attack isn't just getting the right players on the field but also about getting the wrong players off it.
"Can you ever get the guys out if they don't substitute again?" Saban said. "So you really can't play any specialty defense."
With a perennially top-ranked recruiting class and his penchant for using multiple schemes on defense, specialty packages are among Alabama's strengths on defense. The Crimson Tide uses specific blitz formations and personnel groupings for certain down-and-distance situations as well or better than any defense in the country.
Against the hurry-up, however, specialists often get caught watching from the sideline.
"You have to kind of play with the guys that you have to play with," Saban said. "They have to be able to play against everything.
"So you can't play substitution defense at all, which, you know, creates a little bit of a competitive disadvantage, but it is what it is. It's what the rules are, and that's how you have to play."
Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said A&M creates angst with its fast pace.
"I guess the biggest confusion was really knowing where to be, because they go so fast with their offense," Pagan said. "It's such a high tempo. I guess the only confusion is trying to know where to be and know your assignment from that position."
Conditioning takes on a more crucial role, too.
"It can be exhausting, but Coach Saban has done a good job of getting us in shape this week," Crimson Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri said. "We've done a lot of stuff with the high tempo."
Not just this week. Free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said Alabama has worked against fast-paced, no-huddle offenses since the summer.
"It's very difficult," Clinton-Dix said. "It's a mindset thing that we preach about all the time: If it's in your mind, you'll be fine. You just have to stay locked in and do your job and stay accountable."