Alabama Football: Physicality returns on both sides of the ball

(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /

Alabama football played as physical as it has all season in its win over Ole Miss. The defense began to set the tone in the first half, finally assuming the role of the enforcer.

Too often this season, Alabama has played passively and reactively, almost appearing afraid to draw a flag. In this game, the Tide defense pushed the rules to their limit, daring officials to make a call. Most of the time, the aggressive play worked in Alabama’s favor.

After a groggy start to the game, the defense made a big stop on the first drive. Terrion Arnold laid out Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart along the sideline and short of the sticks on a third down. On fourth and short, Henry To’o To’o, Will Anderson Jr., and DeMarcco Hellams stood up Zach Evans short of the marker for a turnover on downs.

On the Rebels second drive, the Tide came out violently once again. Jaylen Moody shot into the backfield and slung Evans to the ground with a tackle that initially looked like it could be called a horsecollar. On the ensuing third down, Dart hit Dayton Wade on a quick slant. Wade was absolutely leveled short of the line to gain by Jordan Battle. Battle’s hit was one that Alabama defensive backs had previously been hesitant to make, likely due to excessive targeting calls by referees.

Wade was inexplicably given the first down on a bad spot from the official, but just three plays later the Tide secondary got physical again. DeMarcco Hellams flattened Wade, who was attempting to run past him on a vertical route. A penalty should’ve been called on the play, but given the earlier favorable spot it seemed like poetic justice. Even if the flag had been thrown, Hellams’ message was clear: there would be no easy yards against the Alabama defense on this day.

As the game wore on, the offense began to adopt this physical mindset as well. Jase McClellan and the Alabama offensive line led the charge, finally establishing a power run game for the Crimson Tide. One of the defining plays of the game came as Alabama was driving to take the lead for good in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. pulled around the left side and pancaked a Rebel defender as McClellan ran for a determined first down.

The rugged attitude even started to rub off on the Alabama receivers. The Bama pass catchers have struggled all year to break arm tackles and generate yards after the catch. That changed in the second half, as guys like junior wideout Jermaine Burton and senior tight end Cameron Latu began running harder than they have all year. They repeatedly dropped shoulders, threw stiff-arms, and refused to go down. It was the most fight I’ve seen out of the Alabama receivers in 2022.

This was still far from a consistent performance, but the Crimson Tide showed flashes of assertiveness and competitive fire. There were even moments in which they looked like Alabama football of old.

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Some Alabama football fans may say too little, too late. But this type of effort in a game where some would argue Alabama has nothing to play for is a testament to the character of the program, and is a good sign for the future.