Alabama Football: Assessing the defense midway through the regular season

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

Much like the offense, the defense for Alabama Football is a work in progress. However, few would question that the defense is significantly further along in its progression and has already shown that it can be one of the top units in college football.

The Alabama defense has posted respectable numbers despite playing a brutal early-season schedule, featuring games against some of the top offenses in the country. Generally, Bama is a fringe top-15 defense nationally from a statistical perspective.

It ranks 14th in scoring defense (15.2 points per game allowed), 19th in total defense (298.5 yards per game allowed), and 12th in per-play defense giving up just 4.5 yards on average. On the ground, the Tide surrenders just 3.0 yards per carry, which ranks 17th in the country and is second among SEC teams behind only Texas A&M.

Alabama Football: Finding success against quality opponents

These numbers are incredibly impressive considering Alabama has already played three top-30 offenses nationally (Texas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M). Both Ole Miss and Texas rank just outside the top-10 in total offense, and Ole Miss has the 7th-best scoring offense in college football.

The Rebels average 41.7 points per game, including a game against Alabama in which they could muster just 10 points. Against all other opponents, Ole Miss is averaging 48 PPG. This figure would rank third in the country behind only USC and Oregon, two PAC-12 schools that have yet to play a competent defense. Oregon’s numbers are particularly skewed by an 81-point performance against FCS Portland State.

Alabama Football: Disruption in the box

Alabama’s defensive success this season has started in the front seven. The interior defensive line rotation of Tim Keenan III, Tim Smith, Justin Eboigbe, and Jaheim Oatis has proven to be extremely disruptive.

On the edge, Dallas Turner’s 6.5 sacks leads the SEC, while running mate Chris Braswell’s 4.5 sacks places him in the top-5 in the league. Turner also ranks second in the conference with nine tackles for loss, and appears to be on track to become a first round draft selection in the spring.

The inside linebacker positions have been primarily manned by Deontae Lawson (31 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks), Trezmen Marshall (35 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), and Jihaad Campbell (29 tackles, 2.0 TFL, one interception). This group has been highly productive, and veteran Kendrick Blackshire has contributed as well.

Alabama Football: Secondary returning to dominance

Bama’s secondary might be the nation’s best. Kool-Aid McKinstry was a preseason All-American, and hasn’t even been the best corner on the team this season. Redshirt sophomore Terrion Arnold (32 tackles, 3.0 TFL, one interception, team-high six pass breakups) has been all over the field. Arnold locks down receivers in coverage and is equally adept in run support.

Along with Arnold, safeties Malachi Moore and Caleb Downs are two of the best run support defensive backs in college football. Moore is the senior leader on the back end, and has notched 29 tackles with four tackles for loss and an interception. His versatility and communication help make this secondary the outstanding unit it is. Hopefully, his ankle injury won’t sideline him for very long.

Caleb Downs, a true freshman, might quietly be the MVP of this defense. Downs leads the team with 47 tackles (4th in SEC) and two interceptions, and I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.

Next. Midpoint assessment of the offense. dark

This defensive unit for Alabama Football is quickly gelling, and it now has the luxury of three straight home games and a bye week to shore up its few deficiencies. By November, this could legitimately be one of the best defenses Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa.