Alabama Football: How will defense fare under new DC Tosh Lupoi

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01: Raekwon Davis
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 01: Raekwon Davis /

Alabama football will begin the 2018 football season with a new defensive coordinator, Tosh Lupoi.  He has never been a coordinator before so what will be the team’s defensive identity?

Since 2007, Alabama football has had four defensive coordinators. Preceding new DC, Tosh Lupoi were  Kevin Steele, Kirby Smart and new Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Nick Saban is notoriously famous as a kingmaker so it will be interesting to see how the new coordinator pans out.  Working for Saban can spearhead a future head coaching job.  Ask Smart, Pruitt, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal or Florida Atlantic University head coach Lane Kiffin.

High Standards

Kirby Smart was named Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2008 after Steele departed for Clemson. In 2009, the young coach won the Frank Broyles award for the country’s best assistant coach. In 2011, Alabama’s defense led the nation in rushing, pass defense, scoring defense and total defense.

Former Alabama player Jeremy Pruitt was named defensive coordinator in 2016 once Smart left for Georgia’s head coaching position.  Coach Pruitt was the coordinator for the national champion Florida State Seminoles’ defense in 2013. In his only season at FSU, his opportunistic defense led the nation in scoring, pass defense and interceptions.

Next, he coached two years at Georgia. Pruitt’s 2015 Georgia defense finished seventh in total yardage and eighth in scoring defense. His 2016 Alabama defense finished second in total defense and led the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense.  They also scored 15 non-offensive touchdowns.  The determined defense allowed only 11 touchdowns for the entire year. In 2017, the Pruitt-led defense finished FIRST overall and led the nation again in scoring and rushing defense.

Youthful but inexperienced calling plays

Tosh Lupoi began at the University of California as defensive line coach in 2008. At the time, Lupoi was the youngest player on staff at 26 years old.  After four years at Cal, he moved to the University of Wahington to serve as the defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator.

In 2014, he joined Alabama football as a defensive analyst. He coached the outside linebackers in 2015. Tosh was the co-defensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide the past two seasons.

This season, the 2010 Rivals Recruiter of the Year will be the primary defensive play caller. New Alabama inside linebackers coach Pete Golding, UTSA’s previous defensive coordinator, will help with the defense as co-coordinator. The Roadrunners finished fifth in the country in total defense.

How will the defense look?

How will Tosh’s defense resemble the past coordinators?  Will he be super aggressive like Pruitt on defense? Or will it look like Kirby’s?

Since 2008, the TIde has ranked in the top five in total defense.  Their lowest ranking was in 2014 when they finished 12th overall.  They have had the number one total defense four times, second once and third twice.

The stout rushing defense ranked number one three times but was consistently in the top ten.  Smart’s lowest-ranked rushing defense was in 2014 when the team was 12th.  There was a span of 41 games when Alabama did not allow a 100-yard rusher. Tennessee’s running back Tauren Poole gained 113 yards in 2010 to break the streak.  The most rushing yards allowed under Saban’s defense was in 2014 when Ohio State’s superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott thrashed the defense for 230 yards in the CFP semifinal.

The passing defense was number one once in 2011 but was a mainstay in the top 20.  The Tide’s lowest-ranked passing defense was 2014 when they finished 93rd.

Defensive Adjustments

Kirby Smart and Nick Saban had to make plenty of adjustments due to college football’s departure from the traditional pro-style offenses to the run-pass option no-huddle offenses.

Under Kirby, the defense primarily focused on a pass rush from the front four. At times, insufficient QB pressure made it difficult for the secondary.  Depending on down and distance, Smart would use another blitzer whether from the secondary or linebackers to confuse the quarterback. Alabama was famous for creating exotic coverages that would confuse the pocket passers.

In 2013, Smart simplified play calls coming from the sidelines because they were not getting set on time. More teams began to run no-huddle offenses, and the Tide had to adapt quickly. They had to shorten their defensive rotations to get fresh players on the field.  Defensive bulk was shed in favor of defensive speed. By 2016, the Tide had become leaner and meaner.  The results showed a defense that was a monumental terror to opposing fastball teams.

Jeremy Pruitt’s style of defense is hyper aggressive. The linebackers blitzed more frequently thus creating more chaos. The down or distance was not a factor. Pruitt’s body of work was evident at FSU, Georgia, and Alabama. All of his defenses were top fifteen in the country.

The previous Alabama coordinators all had been coordinators before at other stops. Lupoi has not received the opportunity to be the defensive coordinator elsewhere. Being a DC will be a learning experience for him. However, he has Nick Saban, a defensive guru to help guide him.

Exceed Expectations

Alabama football has always run an elaborate defensive scheme. Lupoi has a bevy of talented players to employ.  Most coaches in the nation would love to have a devastating front seven with Raekwon Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Quinnen Williams, Christian Miller, Terell Lewis, Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses on the field when calling defenses.

The most prominent hurdle is replacing the six contributors from the defensive backfield.  Deionte Thompson, who played admirably in the two CFP playoff games, will man one of the safety spots.  The experience that Thompson gathered in those games will be needed once the season starts.

Lupoi faces high standards set by Smart and Pruitt.  Hard-nosed Alabama football defense has been the linchpin of the championship teams under Saban.  Lupoi must develop an identity to continue the tradition.

Next: 'Never too early' 2018 Defense Depth Chart

Coach Saban hired new, young coaches during the offseason to bring energy and enthusiasm to the job.  Tosh will embrace the opportunity and give Saban a promising defensive play caller for years to come.