Alabama Football: Gut Check game for Tide Secondary

[Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]Alabama Vs Tennessee
[Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]Alabama Vs Tennessee /

This weekend’s game at Tennessee may be the toughest test yet for Alabama football. It will almost certainly be the biggest challenge so far for the Alabama secondary.

The Volunteers feature one of the nation’s top passing attacks, led by veteran quarterback Hendon Hooker and a group of extremely talented wide receivers.

This Alabama secondary, which may be one of Nick Saban’s best in several seasons, has largely been underrated and overlooked heading into this matchup. Hooker and company will provide a tremendous opportunity for the Tide defensive backs to test their mettle.

Alabama has allowed opponents to complete just 52.4 percent of their passes for 166.3 yards per game, and has been one of the best pass efficiency defenses in the country.

The cornerback position has been in flux for Alabama football over the past two seasons. A pair of young but talented and confident players have stepped up and locked down the roles this season.

Sophomore Kool-Aid McKinstry and redshirt freshman Terrion Arnold were both highly touted prospects in the class of 2021, and are living up to that billing.

McKinstry has notched 19 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, and a team-high seven pass breakups this season. Arnold has recorded 27 tackles, four PBUs, and an interception.

As young corners, they have been tested from the first snap of the season. While each has been beaten or penalized a handful of times, that is inevitable due to the nature of the position.

McKinstry and Arnold have been elite against the deep ball, and extremely competitive in jump ball situations. Additionally, both are solid and physical tacklers against the run.

In the nickel, junior Brian Branch has gotten most of the snaps. Branch is one of the surest tacklers in the SEC, and has 32 stops, four tackles for loss, a sack, and three pass breakups this season.

Junior Malachi Moore has spelled Branch effectively, with 17 tackles and three PBUs. Both players have scored special teams touchdowns this season, with Branch returning a punt and Moore recovering a blocked punt.

On the back end, Alabama football has two veteran safeties that hold this defense together. Preseason All-American Jordan Battle has been relatively quiet on the field, but he captains the secondary and his leadership is invaluable.

His running mate, Demarcco Hellams, is having the better season so far. Hellams has 37 tackles, four pass breakups, and created a turnover against Arkansas by forcing and recovering a fumble.

As a collective, this secondary has been extremely impactful against the run and the pass. In all of this week’s hype surrounding the Tennessee offense, the Alabama defensive backs have been somewhat disrespected.

Optimism surrounding Bryce Young's status. dark. Next

Expect the group to step up to the challenge in Knoxville.

(All stats from