Alabama’s regular season recap: It all came down to the Iron Bowl

Tennessee Alabama Football

SDS recaps every team’s 2013 regular season:

Alabama Crimson Tide

Final Record: 11-1 overall, 7-1 SEC

Perfection was the only benchmark this team would be measured by in 2013, and it would take perfection to win an SEC Championship and accomplish the three-peat for the national championship. But, ultimately, perfection wasn’t accomplished, and it all came down to the best rivalry in college football: the Iron Bowl.

Related: Final regular season SEC standings

Alabama’s offense averaged more points per game than in 2012, but Doug Nussmeier’s offensive unit averaged slightly less yards rushing per game and less passing yards per game, despite some big performances by AJ McCarron.

McCarron turned in another McCarron-like season, throwing for 2,676 yards, 26 TDs and five INTs. He’ll likely not finish with 2012’s numbers, but he also had one less game this year. The Maxwell Player of the Year has had a phenomenal career, and he actually projects well at the next level. McCarron guided Alabama to another 11-win season, and his current record of 36-3 is just crazy.

Running backs TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake complemented each other well. Yeldon finished with 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Drake rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns. Obviously Yeldon is the total package, but Drake was the spark plug and may actually be quicker than Yeldon. The one-two punch will return in 2014. Jalson Fowler factored more into the passing game than the running game and finished with seven catches for 15 yards and five touchdowns. Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny both garnered carries as true freshmen, and this backfield was loaded with talent.

Related: Here’s what to know about 2013 Oklahoma ahead of the Sugar Bowl

Prior to the start of the season, I thought Alabama’s receiving cast topped the SEC with Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones all primed for big seasons, but Cooper was injured and didn’t play in two games. His six-catch game against Auburn topped his game-high production in 2013, while Norwood became a real factor, catching 36 passes for 538 yards and seven touchdowns. White caught 29 passes, and Jones caught 36 and combined for five touchdowns. However, OJ Howard became one of the biggest weapons McCarron had at his disposal. The freshman phenom caught 18 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 19.2 yards per catch.

The difference between 2012 Alabama and 2013 Alabama was the offensive line. Losing three All-Americans proved hard to replace. Although the sack numbers against McCarron decreased, the running game and running lanes also decreased. Ryan Kelly was solid at center, but he wasn’t Barrett Jones. Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen played well, too, as returning starters. But Arie Kouandio wasn’t Chance Warmack and Austin Shepherd wasn’t DJ Fluker. Both were road graders for a dominant running game.

Alabama’s defense turned in another dominant season, leading the SEC in scoring defense, run defense, total defense and passing defense. Statistically they were one of the best in college football, but they have to improve their athleticism at defensive end and must improve their corner play.

Ed Stinson, Brandon Ivory and Jeoffrey Pagan played well in the trenches, but the best defensive lineman was freshman A’Shawn Robinson, who led the team in sacks with 5.5 and recorded seven tackles for loss. CJ Mosley highlighted a great linebacking unit, and Mosley racked up 102 tackles, including nine for loss. Tre DePriest played well, racking up 6.5 sacks, as did Adrian Hubbard and Denzel Devall, but none were Courtney Upshaw, who raised hell in the backfield.

The biggest liability on the 2013 defense was the corners. Deion Belue didn’t live up to his potential, and Cyrus Jones was abused by bigger receivers throughout the season. John Fulton and Jarrick Williams are nice players, but none are the caliber of Dee Milliner or Dre Kirkpatrick. HaHa Clinton-Dix had a great season, as did Landon Collins, and they combined to have the best tackling safety duo in college football. Vinnie Sunseri’s injury hurt the Tide’s secondary. Although he is the third best safety on the team, Sunseri got everyone lined up and added the experience factor that was lacking against Auburn.

Nick Saban is going to have to recruit more athletic and more mobile defensive ends to combat the hurry-up, no-huddle attack that’s the Achilles Heel of his dominant defense. Saban will also have to recruit SEC-ready corners, the defense’s biggest hole.

Here’s a look at the team stats:

Category (SEC rank)
Scoring Offense 38.8 PPG (8th)
Rushing Offense 212 YPG (3rd)
Passing Offense 236.9 YPG (8th)
Total Offense 448.9 YPG (8th)
Scoring Defense 11.3 YPG (1st)
Rushing Defense 108.33 YPG (1st)
Passing Defense 166.3 YPG (1st)
Total Defense 274.7 YPG (1st)

One that got away: It’s obvious the one that escaped Alabama’s grasp: the Iron Bowl. In fact, the entire season came down to the Iron Bowl, and Auburn exploited the Tide’s weakness against the hurry-up, no-huddle offense. The 2013 Iron Bowl was the best in history, and nobody in the state will forget Chris Davis’ 109-yard ‘Kick-Six’ return.

Related: CBS’ top 10 games include seven Alabama games

Offensive Stud: Alabama’s offense was led by their senior leader and Maxwell Player of the Year winner AJ McCarron. McCarron’s numbers were eye-popping, and his numbers weren’t even as good as 2012. But he’s without question the one player Nick Saban trusts the most, maybe ever. His 33-yard, four-touchdown performance against Texas A&M was his best game of the season in a game they needed him the most. He finished with 26 touchdowns and five INTs, and he’ll go out as the best quarterback in Alabama history.

Defensive Stud: Without question, linebacker CJ Mosley is the Tide’s defensive star. The Butkus Award winner racked up 109 tackles and nine tackles for loss. He’s the type of player we’ll see playing on many Sundays in the future. Not only is he athletically gifted, but Mosley’s instincts and knowledge of the game are obvious. He’s a terrific player, and he’ll be a first-round pick come May.

What’s Next: Now that the Texas rumors are no more with Nick Saban, the Tide can concentrate on beating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and accomplishing their fifth 12-win season since 2008. Alabama will once again have one of the most talented rosters in college football returning in 2014, but there will be key pieces to replace on both sides of the ball.

Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports



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