Alabama football: 647 reasons Crimson Tide fans should be freaked out about their defense
Colanders. Sieves. Drains in a rainstorm.
The Alabama Crimson Tide defense.
These are all things that cannot stop the force they regularly face. And while water is meant to penetrate colanders, sieves and drains, the Crimson Tide defense is actually supposed to be able to put up at least a token resistance every fall Saturday.
This was not the case Saturday night in Oxford, as the Ole Miss Rebels sliced, diced and julienned Alabama’s oft-vaunted defense for 647 yards and 48 points before finally running out of gas.
Saturday night was not an aberration, dear reader. It was a signal as plain as the worry lines on your forehead: No. 2 Alabama is in real trouble if it can’t get its defense sorted in the next 6 days.
Why? It gets tougher for the Tide than the hailstorm of yards and points Ole Miss pelted on them at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Tropical Storm Delta ended up being largely a nothingburger on The Grove, sure, but Hurricane Lane exposed Alabama for a level of defensive mediocrity that has rarely been seen in the Saban Era.
“We didn’t do anything well,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Didn’t stop the run. Gave up some big plays on the back end. Got picked. So couldn’t get the quarterback on the ground when we needed to, even when we got some pressure. We had some mistakes in coverage. We got picked in coverage. We just didn’t play very well. I’m responsible for that. And we’ve got to do a better job as coaches to help put our guys in a better position.”
While Saban isn’t exactly immune from poor-mouthing his team, in this instance he is 100% correct. Alabama couldn’t stop anything, all night long. It was if coach Lane Kiffin and the Rebels were 1,000 mosquitoes and the Tide defense was expired bug spray. So much so that Saban mused out loud afterward that Ole Miss might have enjoyed a bit of extra advantage.
“I’m not really calm,” Saban said when asked about his seemingly stoic sideline demeanor. “I’m boiling and bubbling trying to encourage our players. It seemed like everything we did, they had an answer for. I don’t know, it’s like they had our signals.”
Fortunately for the Tide, Alabama’s offense was up to the task. Scoring touchdowns on 8 consecutive possessions will keep you neck-and-neck with any team at any level, and Ole Miss finally had to succumb to a field goal on the ensuing drive after Alabama went up 49-42. Yes, DeVonta Smith’s 14-yard end-around with 3:16 to play and a back-breaking 39-yard touchdown gallop from Najee Harris with 1:09 remaining gave Alabama’s defense enough cushion — but it wasn’t like there was any celebrating going on.
“We’ve had some real crazy games over here,” Saban said. “This was another one.”
Not all the Tums in the world will soothe Saban and the Tide defensive staff this week as they prepare for No. 3 Georgia. The Bulldogs look legit on both sides of the ball, scoring 27 unanswered points in the second half and bageling Tennessee in the final 30 minutes of a 44-21 victory.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV is blossoming into the next great Georgia quarterback, as he passed for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns along with scoring a rushing TD in his 2nd start and 2nd straight win against a ranked opponent. Bennett was Georgia’s starter over D’Wan Mathis and JT Daniels against No. 7 Auburn, and “The Mailman” delivered with a 27-6 victory.
But Georgia is also getting it done on the ground, a method Ole Miss also gashed Alabama with last weekend. The Bulldogs piled up 202 rushing yards on Tennessee, with 5 running backs toting the rock and Zamir White gaining 88 yards with 2 touchdowns. That’s nothing compared to the dual domination delivered by Ole Miss running backs Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy, who went for 128 yards and 120 yards, respectively, and scored 4 rushing TDs combined against Alabama.
Alabama also showed little interest in covering Ole Miss tight end Kenny Yeboah all night, allowing the rangy senior almost unlimited room in the secondary en route to 7 catches for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“We struggled,” said Saban in what is perhaps the understatement of the century.
The 60-minute defensive failure doesn’t fall at a single player’s or coach’s feet, though surely the week ahead will be filled with commentary about Pete Golding’s future as the Alabama defensive coordinator. Job offers won’t exactly be flooding Golding’s way after a proud defensive unit like Alabama allows Ole Miss to rewrite both teams’ record books. But Golding also isn’t out there trying to stop that gosh-darn inside trap or covering receivers in the slot.
Neither is Saban — though his coverage skills were jokingly questioned by Kiffin in the entertaining run-up to Saturday. But you’d be donating money to your bookmaker if you laid any odds on Saban being unconcerned about the current state of his team’s defense.
Ole Miss was a 5-alarm fire for a defensive unit that has won a zillion games and filled many a trophy case at the Capstone. And Georgia is loading up the truck with boxes of matches and dry tinder to do even more damage.