Ex-Auburn OC Lashlee set to face Alabama again and he recalls recipe to success vs. Tide

Rhett Lashlee has seen a few Alabama defenses in his day so the Miami offensive coordinator knows what he’s stepping into Saturday.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Hurricanes’ season opener with the Crimson Tide, the former Auburn offensive coordinator heaped praise on the Alabama defensive past and present. He called Alabama a “complete” defense and he knows why “everybody’s considering them the best defense going into the season.”

That said, there’s an undeniable confidence brewing in Coral Gables about the plan to attack the Crimson Tide defense at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday in Atlanta.

“If you look at the history,” Lashlee said entering his second year with Miami, “not many people give them trouble but the ones who have had a quarterback -- with the exception of LSU and Joe Burrow a few years ago -- they have a quarterback who can also hurt you with his feet.”

And that’s where D’Eriq King becomes a factor.

The senior quarterback who transferred from Houston ran 130 times for 538 yards (4.1 per attempt) last year while completing 64.1% of his passes with 23 touchdowns to five interceptions. The only question is his health after tearing his ACL in the Dec. 29 Cheez-It Bowl but Lashlee said King is operating at 100% this preseason.

Alabama’s traditional issues with dual-threat passers weren’t lost on King.

“The teams that beat those guys, they usually move their quarterbacks,” he told reporters in Miami on Tuesday. They throw the ball downfield and get extra yards with their legs. They have a really good defense. Everybody knows they have a really good defense but we just have to take our chances and take our shots and I have to play ball rather than stay in the pocket and hand the ball off.”

Lashlee knows this from his four seasons at Auburn that started in 2013. That was the year of the Kick Six Iron Bowl when quick Nick Marshall and crafty play calling troubled the Tide defense. A year later, the Tigers broke an Alabama record for most yardage allowed (630) in a 55-44 loss.

“And Nick (Marshall) was a big part of that,” said Lashlee, who was not the play-caller in those games. “It was the difference between ‘13 and ‘14 and probably the ‘15 and ‘16 seasons when we played them. We had a different guy at quarterback those years. I’m really excited we have D’Eriq King at quarterback going into this game, I can tell you that. But the challenge is still pretty great.”

Ex-Auburn OC Lashlee set to face Alabama again and he recalls recipe to success vs. Tide

Rhett Lashlee was Auburn's offensive coordinator from 2013-16 and now he holds the same position at Miami.

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson developed a reputation for making quarterbacks think twice on passing plays last year. He isn’t concerned with the chatter around Miami’s dynamic offense in relation to the Tide’s past troubles with that scheme.

“We don’t listen to all that stuff,” Anderson said Tuesday. “We just try to go out there and just do our job. We just get the plays that the coaches give us and we just do it to the best of our abilities. We play football. We just want to play fast and play physical.”

Lashlee sees plenty of that watching tape of Alabama’s defense -- one that he said was unfairly maligned at times last year. He notes the youth of the 2020 group. And when people mention the 647-yard Ole Miss performance that knocked 2014 Auburn off the top spot for Alabama yardage allowed, Lashlee points out that was only Week 3. Florida came the closest to beating the Tide, losing 52-46 with 462 offensive yards in the SEC title game but Lashlee saw a few consistencies between that and the Ole Miss game.

“They were able to put some points up and what I noticed was nobody was open. They made a lot of one-on-one contested catches,” Lashlee said. “Both Ole Miss and Florida would probably tell you they played lights out and made a lot of plays to get those opportunities. But they’re not much easy that’s going to be out there and, in both cases, those teams still lost the game.”

Miami played two top-15 teams a year ago and didn’t have much offensive success. Clemson held the Hurricanes to 210 yards in a 42-17 loss early in the season before No. 14 North Carolina allowed 314 yards in a 62-26 Tar Heel win Dec. 12. King threw for a season-low 121 yards and ran for 84 in the loss to Clemson.

And this, of course, isn’t the same style of defense Lashlee saw from Alabama back in 2013 and 2014. The beefy thumpers who once played middle linebacker have given way to quick, athletic guys like Henry To’o To’o and Christian Harris.

Things look different on the outside, too.

“I’d say one of the things they have now that they didn’t have in the past is they have two elite edge pass rushers,” Lashlee said. “Will Anderson, he’s as good as they come. (Chris Allen) on the other side too. In the past, they’ve had good run-stopping d-lineman. They had a lot of good pressures to get their pressure.”

In all, when looking at the Alabama defense, Lashlee said there are “just not any weaknesses.”

A few moments later, he noted the possible avenue to an upset is often driven by a quarterback exactly like the one Miami will start Saturday in Atlanta.

He can’t be right about both and the answer will come near sunset in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.