On Sunday afternoon, in the aftermath of a winning Saturday that felt like anything but, the wrong kind of history was made by an Alabama football team that’s driving Tuscaloosa crazy for all the wrong reasons.

The new Associated Press Top 25 poll was released, and for the 1st time since 2015 the presently not-so-mighty Crimson Tide were nowhere to be found in the top 10. That’s 8 long years of seeing Nick Saban’s football factory listed among that top 10 without batting an eye, without any doubt. But these are hardly the normal glorious times for the Tide, and after a 17-3 victory at South Florida that inspired nobody, never mind the AP poll voters, Alabama fell 3 more spots to No. 13 in the country.

Seeing Bama that far down in the AP poll is like seeing, well, the kind of quarterback play nobody in T-Town is used to seeing. And right now, all the questions about this fledgling Alabama team are about the quarterback position, about the 3 quarterbacks who’ve already been trotted out in the season’s 1st 3 games, creating nothing but a carousel of quarterbacks that on Monday spun back to Jalen Milroe — for the time being, at least.

So, while that carnival music keeps playing and the carousel keeps circling — unless Milroe can finally make the music and the carousel stop — those incessant questions will continue about an offense that looked totally stuck in the mud at rain-soaked Raymond James Stadium.

But there are 2 sides to every coin and 2 sides of the ball in every football game. So, what about that other side of the ball, the aspect of the Crimson Tide football team that nobody is talking about right now?

What about the forgotten defense?

What level of play can Kevin Steele’s unit really achieve to at least keep the Tide in games while the offense tries like heck to figure it out once and for all?

You remember the Crimson Tide defense, right? With all the teeth gnashing and panic and frustration centered around the struggling quarterbacks, you might not have noticed that Bama’s defense was probably 1 punt return fumble by Kool-Aid McKinstry from posting a road shutout, which would’ve been an incredible feat no matter the quality of the opponent.

Shutouts are nothing to sneeze at in college football, road shutouts are like lunar eclipses and road shutouts that occur when a team’s offense is in flux like Alabama’s offense clearly is are a symbol of a unit that can lock in and remain focused despite the chaos that’s going on around it. Well, take away the McKinstry fumble on that 1st-quarter punt return that set South Florida up at the Bama 30, and a road shutout would’ve been in play.

Incidentally, the defense forced a 3-and-out after Kool-Aid’s fumble, the Bulls converted a 44-yard field goal, and that was it for the day for a USF offense that’s operating under the direction of 1st-year head coach Alex Golesh. You remember Golesh, the guy who ran Tennessee’s high-octane offense the previous 2 seasons, turning the Vols’ attack into one of the best in the country. So Golesh had some advanced knowledge of Alabama’s defense, and that could’ve easily played a factor in producing an upset for the ages Saturday with the Tide offense putting up minimal points.

But it played no factor.

Steele’s defense, knowing it had no wiggle room, allowed just 264 yards, including a feeble 87 passing yards (20 less than Alabama’s equally feeble 107). It was a stellar all-around performance that was equal parts clutch and gritty, and it didn’t get a whole lot of attention while a rabid fan base and college football country spent the better part of the weekend wondering if the world was going to end while Saban and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees tried to figure out the Great Quarterback Quandary of 2023.

It kept the Bulls off the scoreboard while the Tide eventually, kicking and screaming, nudged ahead with 2 2nd-half touchdowns. Bama bolted from the soggy Gulf Coast with a litany of issues, Lord knows, but 1 of them wasn’t the defense. Instead, the D rose up, and the supposed leader of the Bama defense, linebacker Dallas Turner, just might’ve found his footing after an uneven start to his season. Turner was everywhere USF didn’t want him to be, collecting 2.5 sacks and 7 tackles, 5 of them of the solo variety.

This is how you’re supposed to play when you claim in the middle of July during SEC Media Days that you’re the best defensive player in the SEC. This is how you’re supposed to lead when Alabama’s football world is collapsing all around you because Saban and Rees can’t find a quarterback. Turner had combined for just 5 tackles, 1 solo, in the season’s 1st 2 games. If Saturday was indeed Turner’s 2023 coming-out party, the day when he finally announced he was present and ready to dominate, then it came just in the nick of time for Saban and Steele and a deeply worried fan base. The competition is about to get a whole lot harder, starting in 4 days when Ole Miss comes to T-Town for the SEC opener.

It wasn’t just Turner who was finally turned loose in the Tampa slop on Saturday. Fellow linebackers Deontae Lawson and Chris Braswell were equally ferocious. Lawson posted a team-leading 10 tackles (4 solo), 1 sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Braswell posted 7 tackles (4 solo), 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss and a pass deflection. Defensive back Malachi Moore, who had a huge interception that set up Bama’s late clinching touchdown drive, posted 8 tackles (5 solo), and secondary mate Terrion Arnold also had 8 tackles. Senior defensive lineman Tim Smith added 9 tackles (4 solo), and sophomore linebacker Jihaad Campbell got on the stat sheet for the 1st time all season, chipping in 7 tackles (3 solo).

In all, Alabama’s defense finished with 5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 3 pass deflections.

It really was a landmark day (and early evening) for a unit that had just gotten torched by Texas 7 days earlier and faces a steep challenge this Saturday against a punishing Ole Miss running attack that wants to punish its SEC West rival while it’s down.

And, yes, right now Alabama is most certainly down. While Boulder, Colorado, swallows up all of the positive attention and energy, the Crimson Tide are once again a massive talking point — but this time for all the wrong reasons. Everyone with a microphone or a social media platform wants to blab about the quarterbacks, about a supposed teetering dynasty, because it’s Alabama and you either love Alabama or want to see Alabama finally fall on its face.

But while the Quarterback Carousel spins and spins some more, all the way back to Milroe again, it’ll most likely be the defense that determines whether the roof caves in or whether the Crimson Tide gather themselves and start stacking SEC victories in the next few months. The smothering of South Florida was a nice step, but now here comes Lane Kiffin, one of Saban’s old offensive gurus in T-Town who would love nothing more than to saddle Bama with its 2nd home loss in 2 weeks.

Here comes 3-0 Ole Miss, which is now ranked only 2 spots below Bama in the new AP poll at No. 15.

Here come all of those offensive weapons, who will help tell us if Turner and Co. shined brightly last Saturday only because it was USF on a slow, wet field.

Here comes dynamic sophomore running back Quinshon Judkins, who rumbled for 1,567 yards and 16 touchdowns last year during a freshman season for the ages. Judkins is off to a slow start this fall, a bit of a sophomore slump, with only 145 yards combined in the 1st 3 games. But logic and the old odds factor would tell you that only means Judkins is overdue to bust out, and that the bust out could very well come this Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

You know what else might tell you Judkins could have his 1st big day of 2023 at the wrong time for Bama? The fact that last fall in Oxford, in his 1st crack at the Tide, Judkins went ballistic, rushing for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yes, Alabama escaped Oxford with a 30-24 victory, but it wasn’t because it shut down or even limited Judkins’ production. Judkins was just fine, he’s coming back for more against a Crimson Tide defense that won’t have Will Anderson Jr. this time, and he’s looking for that breakout game to kick-start his sophomore year.

And he’s hardly alone.

The guy who hands the ball off to him, junior quarterback Jaxson Dart, has become a terror on the ground himself. Last Saturday night against Georgia Tech, Dart piled up 136 yards rushing and 2 running TDs. One of Dart’s 14 carries was a 68-yard gallop. Dart is a 6-2, 220-pound dual-threat menace who will try to pound Steele’s defense while he also carves them up with his arm. Bama limited Dart to 35 yards rushing in last year’s meeting, but Dart is a year wiser (and better), and right now he looks pretty good to suffering Tide fans who just want some stability at the quarterback position, the kind Saban is again calling on Milroe to provide.

Senior Ulysses Bentley IV provides a complement to Judkins in the backfield, and he chipped in 61 yards and a touchdown on just 6 carries against Georgia Tech. The Bama defense will have to account for him, too, as it tries to slow down a Rebels rushing attack that rolled up 299 yards in the win over the Yellow Jackets. Ole Miss averaged an eye-popping 8.1 yards per carry last Saturday.

It likes to run the football.

It enjoys pounding people into submission.

And it would just love to run all over Alabama, in its home stadium, on national TV, while the Crimson Tide Empire continues to crumble amid its burgeoning quarterback crisis.

Ole Miss would love to send Bama into oblivion, while the carnival music devolves into music that you’d hear at a funeral.

Everyone knows how vulnerable the Crimson Tide are right now, how beatable they are, even when Turner and the defense show up like they did last Saturday.

Maybe that defense saves Alabama again this Saturday.

Maybe it shuts down that fierce Rebels rushing attack.

Or, let’s get crazy, maybe the Tide finally find a quarterback in Milroe who thrives for 60 minutes.

All of it is out there on the table during an unusually turbulent time in Tuscaloosa.