Alabama Football: It’s not all about Tide defense but close

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

For the 2023 Alabama Football team, success, or less than success, is never about one thing. Football is not close to being that simple. In games with closely matched teams, talent, coaching ability, game location, and execution on offense, defense and special teams are interconnected factors.

So when talking about the Crimson Tide’s 2023 ceiling, it can’t be said it is all about Alabama’s defense. It is though, on defense, where the Crimson Tide must show the most improvement.

There was a recent conversation on an On3 message board. None of that is quoted here since it is subscriber content. But as Bama Insider’s Jimmy Stein advised Alabama fans should look at one stat from the past two SEC seasons. In the 2021 and 2022 Alabama football seasons, the Crimson Tide was 5-3 in SEC road games. A deeper dive into those eight games is illuminating.

Alabama Football SEC Road Games – 2021 and 2022

  • Sept. 18, 2021 – Alabama escaped Gainesville with a 31-29 win, thanks to some late Bryce Young magic.
  • Oct. 9, 2021 – In College Station, Texas A&M beat the Crimson Tide 41-38
  • Oct. 16, 2021 – Alabama destroyed Mississippi State in Starkville, 49-9
  • Nov. 27, 2021 – More Bryce Young magic gave Alabama an overtime win, 24-22 in Auburn.
  • Oct. 1, 2022 – In Fayetteville, Alabama beat Arkansas 49-26
  • Oct. 15, 2022 – Tennessee beat Alabama in Knoxville, 52-49
  • Nov. 5, 2022 – LSU beat Alabama 32-31 in Baton Rouge
  • Nov. 12, 2022 – Alabama beat Ole Miss in Oxford, 30-24

A fair claim can be made that without the special talents of Bryce Young, the results in the eight games would have been 3-5, rather than 5-3.

What is Alabama to do with no comparable ‘special’ quarterback talent in 2023? There are several correct answers, but arguably the most important is the Crimson Tide must be better on defense.

In the two ‘Pete Golding’ seasons listed above, Alabama on the road, allowed SEC opponents to score an average of 29.4 points. In the five wins, the average was 22 points. In the three losses, the average was 41.7 points. Five of the eight games were against AP-ranked teams. Against the ranked opponents, the Alabama football defense surrendered an average of 32.6 points.

Kevin Steele’s job in 2023, with considerable assistance from Nick Saban and other defensive coaches, is to significantly improve the Crimson Tide’s SEC road game, points allowed stat. How significantly will vary from game to game, with a major variable being how well the Tommy Rees version of the Alabama Football offense puts up points.

Note: Game scores and rankings provided by Sports Reference.

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Steele and Rees are under considerable pressure to deliver. That comes with the territory in Tuscaloosa, but it will likely be a higher level of pressure than either one has ever faced before.