Commenting the Alabama-Clemson game, a commentator noted that Clemson would run many "side" plays and try to wear down the Alabama defense. Apparently that didn't work, given the result.

How would a team wear down the other team (without similarly wearing itself down)? Does it "fake" several plays and run one, so several sets of defenders are exhausted on each play?

Another reason this might not work is because players are freely substitutable in football (unlike e.g. baseball, where it is once per person per game). Or is the whole idea to force the other team to use "second-string" (and presumably inferior) players?

I guess if one team's players were a lot bigger/stronger than the other's, they could wear down the other in trials of strength such as those occasioned by draw plays and "off tackles". But that didn't appear to be the case in last night's game.

3 Answers 3


I think "side" plays was meant to mean "sideline" plays - i.e., plays that involve a sweep, a toss, or otherwise require defenders to run all the way to one sideline. Those can be quite exhausting, as you have to run a lot - and all eleven defenders will be running full bore.

The offense, on the other hand, won't be running all that hard; after all, the way a play works, the offense goes somewhere and the defenders have to run to that place to stop them - so they have to run a lot more.

Substitution of course can help, and having a deep bench with lots of quality players helps. Good defenses are often not the ones with one or two stars, but with five or six linemen and five or six linebackers who can rotate in and play well.

And - I wouldn't say it didn't work. 40 points is a huge number of points for that defense to have given up (only Ole Miss scored as many on them this year, and even most good teams only scored in the teens).

  • It might also be worth mentioning the substitution rules that this can take advantage of in a hurry up scheme.
    – wax eagle
    Jan 13, 2016 at 20:37

Coaching football for a long time I will make some comments about the announcers saying this about two of the best college football teams in the country:

  • the defense doesn't work harder than the offense. This might be true for a poorly coached team where the offensive line watches the play after it passes them but is not true for top college and NFL teams. Watching this weekends playoff (NFL) games it was exciting seeing offensive lineman 20 yards downfield making a block.

  • Alabama and Clemson and most NFL teams are all well versed on defense to handle hurry up offenses. Saban in particular has had trouble with hurry-up offenses in the past and has actually tried to get rules put in place to slow down the game. I am POSITIVE Alabama practiced hurry up D every day at practice.

  • In college more than the pros the hurry up offense is a staple of the spread and read option package. It in essence allows the QB and RB to take turns carrying while the defense works every play. I guess if you ran wide the defense might work a little hard but so would your o-line and back - and receivers might have to block.

  • the attrition strategy is based on one of two things. Either you have more players at a certain quality than the other team does or you can wear down the other team faster than your team wears down. This was never going to help Clemson. Alabama is loaded, Clemson knew this. The announcers are just spouting off generic mumbo-jumbo.

  • the REAL strategy last night by Clemson was using the hurry-up. The hurry up did two things. The first is a given of any hurry up strategy - the defensive and offensive lines get worn out after 4-5 plays, so they just stand there. The offense can pass the ball as the defense has little pressure but the offense can't run the ball effectively. Well that's what happened. But the kicker for Alabama was that after their d-line got worn down they lost their attack zone responsibilities and lost containment. This allowed a running QB the ability run - given that he was in better shape than the lineman. This was the only real attrition advantage on the field last night - the fresher running QB vs worn out d-line. Once Alabama put a quicker (and less likely to get fatigued) spy in the game they did better defensively.


In general the opposing defense must be engaged during every down because they never know what the play is going to be, while the offensive players know what play is being run. Also, with "side" plays or short pass/runs that keep a drive sustained, keeps the defense on the field even with substitutions can over the course of the game wear a defense down as well.

  • 1
    So it works like a "full court press" in basketball?
    – Tom Au
    Jan 12, 2016 at 15:00
  • It depends on the team strategy and how they would classify their approach
    – whyzar
    Jan 12, 2016 at 17:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.