On Monday Nick Saban was asked if Alabama Football’s sack problem was a concern. Nick Saban’s response was quick and precise, “Hell yeah.” The two-part question included what can the Crimson Tide do to improve.
The several details Saban explained as solutions show the Alabama football staff knows what must be done. But as Nick Saban also said, corrections do not work without player execution.
Will such player execution happen on Saturday afternoon against the Tennessee Vols? Uncharacteristic of Josh Heupel’s coaching style, this season’s Vols are heavily dependent on defensive performance. Tennessee gives no indication that against a competent defense, it can make a game an offensive shootout. The Vols have played two good, but not great defenses. Among all FBS teams, Texas A&M is ranked No. 30 in Scoring Defense, and the Florida Gators are ranked No. 31. The Vols scored 20 points on the Aggies and 16 points in a loss to the Gators.
Tennessee’s best offensive performance has been 45 points against the Group of Five team, UTSA. The Roadrunners are No. 83 in Scoring Defense. Skipping over the Austin Peay game that provides no useful data, Tennesee’s two other 40-plus offensive points came against South Carolina, No. 107 in Scoring Defense, and Virginia, No. 112. Seven of Tennessee’s 41 points against South Carolina came from a pick-six.
Alabama Football and the Vols’ Sack Monsters
As Nick Saban often states, it is not so much the sacks, but the pressures that disrupt an offense. The Vols are good at pressuring quarterbacks.
Using data provided by Pro Football Focus, Travis L. Brown reported some stats from the Vols vs. Aggies game that will alarm Alabama fans.
"(Texas A&M) Quarterback Max Johnson was pressured on 25 of 35 drop backs and hit 11 times."
Statistically, the Aggies are not a good ‘Sacks Allowed’ team; tied at No. 67 nationally. Alabama is worse at No. 129. That is a legit ‘Hell yeah’ worry for every Crimson Tide fan.
The recent rotation of Kadyn Proctor and Elijah Pritchett is thought to have helped the left tackle position. Even so, pass protection from the left tackles has often been poor and at best inconsistent. A recent unverified claim about the Tide’s sack stats is that no more than 12 of Alabama’s 31 sacks allowed have been caused by offensive line failures. If accurate, that points to correctable scheme failures and the need for better decision-making by Jalen Milroe. Jalen’s decisions have slowly improved. How much better they will be against Tennessee is only a guess.
The best way to neutralize the Tennessee pass rush would be a consistent rushing attack. When Florida beat Tennessee, the Gators’ running backs averaged 5.27 yards and rushed for a 195-yard total. Except for loose snaps, the interior of the Tide offensive line, plus JC Latham at right tackle opened holes against Mississippi State and Arkansas. Based on conference games played, the Vols rush defense is not equal to the Crimson Tide.
An early week conclusion is if Tommy Rees and Eric Wolford have a solid protection plan for Tennessee, the Vols’ pass rushers will be a major threat, but not a game-winning one.