The maligned Alabama football defense has improved. Is the improvement enough for a championship run?
Opinions about the Alabama football defense are varied. Statistically, the Crimson Tide defense is good, though not a national leader in any category. Crimson Tide fans remain concerned this season’s defense is nothing like past Nick Saban, dominating defenses.
There are reasons for concern and optimism. A base reason for optimism is how much the game of college football has changed. As last season’s National Champion, LSU had a far from great defense. The Bengal Tigers were No. 31 in the FBS in Total Defense and No. 21 in Scoring Defense. Those 2019 stats included games against Georgia Southern, Northwestern State, Vanderbilt and Utah State.
As compiled by ESPN, the Alabama Crimson Tide is No. 17 in the FBS in Scoring Defense (No. 6 among Power Five teams); No. 35 In Total Defense; No. 26 in Rushing Defense. As a result of the Ole Miss game, the Crimson Tide is far down the FBS list in Passing Defense. There is little disagreement, the Alabama football defense has improved significantly since the Ole Miss. After allowing Lane Kiffin’s offense to score 48 points, Pete Golding’s defense has given up a combined 44 points in four games.
Each offense, in the four games after Ole Miss, scored below its average against the Alabama football defense. Combined, Mississippi State and Kentucky average 35.2 points per game. The Tide ‘D’ brought those averages down by holding the pair of SEC opponents to three points.
However, optimism about the Crimson Tide defense should be tempered. Take away some self-inflicted miscues by the Wildcats and they moved the ball too easily in Saturday afternoon’s first half. In the first quarter, season-long, Crimson Tide assignment problems and missed tackles were troubling. The media spin is Golding was patient to analyze the Kentucky attack before making adjustments. The Tide’s defensive performance was much improved in the second half. The Cats gained 157 yards in the first half and only 27 yards in the second half.
Kentucky rushed for just a 1.8 yard average in the game. That stat should have an asterisk, considering the Cats played with roster depletions, including running back, Chris Rodriquez who led the SEC with a 6.39 average, yards-per-carry.
Sterner tests lie ahead for the Crimson Tide. Kindly stated, Dylan Moses, LaBryan Ray and D.J. Dale have not been as good as anticipated. Team pressure of opposing quarterbacks has not been consistent. This Crimson Tide defense is not going to shutdown Florida or other post-season opponents.
Even without Jaylen Waddle, the Crimson Tide offense may be the cure for defensive ills. The emergence of Jahleel Billingsley against Kentucky was encouraging. Heisman candidate, Mac Jones, new SEC record-holder, DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and the Tide’s offensive line will put up points on any team.
There is also an indication the defense is improving through some of the less-experienced players. Against the Cats, Christian Haris led the Tide with 11 tackles, eight of which were solo tackles. Phidarian Mathis, Byron Young and Tim Smith are making the Tide front tougher. Malachi Moore is playing like a veteran. Jordan Battle, Chris Allen, Christian Barmore and Justin Eboigbe are playing with confident toughness. Patrick Surtain II is an All-American and Josh Jobe, while still prone to mental errors, has played well.
The Crimson Tide defense needs continued improvement. A hunch is, in December and January, coupled with Steve Sarkisian’s balanced and still explosive offense, the Tide ‘D’ will be good enough.