Alabama Football: The importance of stopping the run

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

To beat Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl, Alabama football will have to stop the run.

The Wildcats lean heavily on the ground game, having run for over 200 yards as a team in seven of their 13 games. The most impressive performance was a 343-yard outing in a win over Texas Tech.

For the season, Kansas State ranks 21st nationally with 40.8 rushing attempts per game. It ranks 16th with an average of 209.6 rushing yards per game, and 23rd with 5.1 yards per carry. It also slots in at 23rd in the country with 2.3 rushing touchdowns per game. In short, the Wildcats rank in the top-25 in every major rushing category.

Comparable rushing offenses that Alabama football has already played include Texas, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn.

The Alabama run defense has been just slightly above average statistically. The concern is that the unit has posted a bizarre, Jekyll & Hyde-like stat line.

In Alabama’s 12 games, it has held seven opponents to 79 rushing yards or fewer, for an average of just 63 YPG. In its five remaining games, however, it has surrendered at least 182 yards in every contest for an abysmal average of 212.6 YPG. All five of those opponents, like Kansas State, rank in the top third of college football in rushing metrics.

Much of the production Alabama allowed against Ole Miss and Arkansas was volume-based. The two teams combined for 100 rushing attempts against the Tide, and neither broke 4.0 YPC. On the other hand, the Alabama run defense really struggled in losses to LSU and Tennessee. By allowing these teams to establish the run, both offenses were able to keep the Crimson Tide off balance and capitalize on mismatches.

Finally, the Alabama defense was absolutely gashed in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. The regular season finale was the last time we saw Alabama on the field, and a lopsided victory covered up one of the worst defensive performances of the Saban era.

The Tigers, despite not having a passing game to speak of, were able to run all over Alabama to the tune of 318 yards on 7.4 yards per carry.

Needless to say, Alabama football cannot allow Kansas State to even approach this level of production. While the Crimson Tide has played an SEC schedule that is loaded with good running offenses, Kansas State should not be overlooked. The Wildcats have one of the nation’s best running backs, a more-than-capable backup, and an electric dual-threat quarterback at their disposal.

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If Pete Golding’s crew doesn’t show up with hard hats on, this could quickly become a difficult game.