Alabama Football: Crimson Tide must not beat itself


In Alabama Football’s two losses last season, its defense was found wanting. That was especially true in the Tennessee game when the Vols raced out to a 21-point first quarter. Tennessee scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and after an Alabama special teams mistake, scored another short-field TD.

In the game, the Vols rushed for 4.7 yards per carry and passed for 387 yards but Alabama outgained Tennessee, 569 yards to 567 yards. The Alabama football defense is blamed for the loss, but what really gave Tennessee the upset was the Crimson Tide’s penalties.

Alabama made 17 penalties, compared to six for Tennessee. The Tide had seven first-quarter penalties as the Vols built a 21-7 lead. Alabama football fans will never forget one horridly bad call late in the game. One official’s bizarrely bad call may have cost Alabama the game, but more harmful to the Tide was 130 yards in penalties compared to 39 yards for Tennessee.

Such a disparity almost guarantees a loss against a quality opponent. In the 2022 season, Alabama averaged 7.9 penalties per game. The Crimson Tide’s 103 penalties cost it 893 yards and a penalty deficit against its 13 opponents of 230 yards.

Going back to the 2015 Alabama football season, last season’s 7.9 penalties per game for an average of 68.7 yards was the Tide’s most mistake-plagued performance in eight seasons. In that span of seasons, Alabama averaged six or fewer penalties per game in five seasons. The most recent being the 2020 season with six penalties per game. The lowest average was 4.9 penalties in the 2017 season. In 2015, it was 5.9 penalties; 5.7 in 2016 and 5.8 in 2018.

In three of the five, fewer penalty seasons, Alabama Football won the National Championship. The worst team penalty performances, going back to the 2015 season, came in 2021 and 2022 when the respective average was 7.13 and 7.9 penalties per game. Other factors than penalties contributed to no Alabama National Championships in 2021 and 2022. There were too many mistakes made on defense and special teams, along with too many dropped passes on offense and too many short-yardage failures.

Alabama Football Mental Errors

What is glaring about the penalties is how many were unforced, Alabama Crimson Tide mental errors. It is axiomatic that against a tough opponent, potentially great teams become just good teams when they beat themselves. That is how a potentially great Alabama football team lost two games in 2022 and came close to losing a third, against Texas.

Alabama cannot afford such weaknesses in 2023. A demanding schedule will not allow it.

In the spring, Nick Saban explained the importance of fewer penalties.

"I think it goes back to the same thing. If I can maintain and sustain my intensity and focus on, whether it’s jumping offsides, whether it’s illegal motion, whether it’s wrong formation. And half of our penalties have been pre- or post-snap. In other words, they don’t happen during the play. And those things can all be eliminated if we just have a little bit of discipline, a little better focus and maintain intensity."

Note: Game stats from

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For added perspective, last season Alabama was tied for 126th among 131 FBS teams in average penalties per game.