With three givens about the Alabama football defense, what changes can Saban make for the Georgia game.
There is no sugarcoating the issue and Alabama football fans know it. The Alabama Crimson Tide defense was awful against Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss offense.
Something must be done and it must be done quickly. Beginning with acknowledging how badly the Tide defense performed against Ole Miss, there are two more givens. One is Nick Saban is not firing his defensive coordinator. Nick Saban is immune to the grumbling running through the Crimson Nation.
Pete Golding’s job is safe, at least until the Saturday night, post-game, and probably beyond. Saban stated Monday,
"I don’t think the call is necessarily the issue. I think the execution of the call has been the issue."
That sounded like support for Pete Golding, but Nick went to question how his defensive players are being taught.
"Sometimes we coach players for what we want them to be. But we really need to coach them for what they are. And when I say that I’m talking about how much experience do they have? How much can they handle? How much can they execute? So, if the players are mis-executing, that’s not a good thing from a coaching standpoint because that means we have to do a better job of teaching them or make sure we’re not trying to teach them too much …"
So, for now, at least, Golding is the Tide’s defensive play-caller. The third given is Nick Saban is not going to change his defensive system. Even if he were so inclined, it cannot be done the week of a big game. Such a drastic change requires a preseason of preparation.
What is left is changing personnel and tweaking the existing Nick Saban defense. Against the Bulldogs, not giving up big plays must be the priority. Stop the run to push Stetson Bennett out of his newly acquired comfort zone.
If Bennett is pressed enough, he will make throwing mistakes. A consistent pass rush must keep him uncomfortable. Take away the coverage busts underneath and in crossing routes. There was no sign last Saturday night, the Tide was capable of either defensive component.
Saban is not likely to move from his matchup zone, pattern recognition pass defense. It is a sophisticated defense requiring more than just pre-snap reads. It challenges linebackers and safeties to make correct reads, matchup, and possibly release as the play develops. Inside this system (and mostly outside, on the field) the corners mostly play man. So far, Daniel Wright, Demarcco Hellams, and at times, Malachi Moore have struggled with it.
Opposing offenses targeting Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe has rarely worked. They have just blanketed their men. A personnel shortage must be filled in the first half on Saturday. Jordan Battle will sit the first half. Saban is almost forced to stick with Wright and probably lineup Hellams with him. Another option is using another true freshman, Brian Branch at safety.
Playing a nickel or dime defense with two, true freshman starters feels ominous. There are other options. The top Georgia receiver, Kearis Jackson, works from the slot. PSII could matchup with him by playing Star. Surtain has worked at Star in the offseason.
One problem solved may just uncover another vulnerability. Josh Jobe can defend George Pickens but a third corner would have to come from Marcus Banks, Brandon Turnage or Jaylin Armour-Davis. Banks is a sophomore, Turnage is a redshirt freshman and Armour-Davis is a redshirt sophomore. They have two years of learning Saban’s system. Each of them has, at times, been singled out by Alabama football insiders for having bright futures. Calling one of their numbers on such a big stage would be unlike Nick Saban.
What will happen Saturday night? It is said, the best defense is a good offense. The Alabama football offense is very good.