Alabama defense keeps losing while Crimson Tide keep winning
The popular — and admittedly easy — narrative around the 2019 Alabama Crimson Tide is the spectacular offense.
And yes, it is spectacular. Tua Tagovailoa chucking it all over the field to Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and whatnot.
But the less flashy storyline, the one that isn’t getting nearly the kind of attention that it should is this:
Alabama’s defense is locked in a death march with the Alabama medical staff over what will happen first — the Crimson Tide making it through the season or running out of healthy players.
At this moment, the edge goes to the guys with the athletic tape rolls on their belt and a fancy pop-up tent.
Chalk nose guard DJ Dale up as the latest casualty in what has been an alarming string of Tide defensive players to require professional medical attention so far in 2019. The freshman nose guard was rolled up late in the second quarter of Alabama’s 49-7 victory over Southern Miss and did not play the rest of the game. In fact, his injury was so significant that he was transported from Bryant-Denny Stadium to nearby DCH Hospital for more comprehensive care.
While Alabama coach Nick Saban said postgame that Dale’s injury appeared to be a patellar tendor strain and that “Doc said he might be OK”, losing Dale for any significant length of time would put even more strain on a Crimson Tide defense that has been plenty strained enough.
New defensive end Justin Eboigbe got his first career start, after preseason All-SEC selection LaBryan Ray went down against South Carolina with an ankle/foot injury that required surgery that is likely to keep him out at least six weeks. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Eboigbe got first-team reps at defensive end when Ray was out with an injury early in fall camp, and was effective against the Golden Eagles — making three solo tackles in the victory.
“He’s a very young guy, but I think he knows the standard for what the D-Line guys do and I feel like he’s going to hold to that standard,” senior defensive end Raekwon Davis said of Eboigbe. “I feel like he’s one of the young guys who has stepped up and is ready to show the world he can play big boy football.”
Junior linebacker Terrell Lewis hyper-extended his knee last week against South Carolina, and underwent a procedure that Saban would help the healing process.
“It was a strategic decision that needed to get made,” Saban said Saturday. Lewis is day to day, but Saban said he thinks he’ll be healthy to play next week against Ole Miss.
And this doesn’t even count the preseason toll. Senior middle linebacker Joshua McMillon and junior middle linebacker Dylan Moses both were lost for the season before it got started. Those injuries left a significant experience gap at both the Will and Mike linebacker spots in the heart of the Crimson Tide defense, and forced freshmen Christian Harris and Shane Lee into starting spots.
“We’ve had some unfortunate bad luck or whatever you want to call it, losing players at certain positions — a couple of inside ‘backers, a defensive lineman,” Saban said Wednesday during the SEC coaches teleconference. “(And) these guys have had to be thrust into duty before we thought they would. We’re working hard to try to get them to gain the confidence they need to play well on a consistent basis.”
And the Injury Monster (it’s way more than a bug now …) even extended to special teams when it struck Tide kicker Will Reichard on Saturday. The freshman caught the kicking tee instead of the football itself in the first quarter and strained his hip flexor — an injury that is really not ideal for kickers to do the only thing they’re on the roster to do.
Reichard missed the rest of Saturday’s game, with Joseph Bulovas handling kicking duties the rest of the way. Saban said Reichard is questionable for next week’s game with Ole Miss.
Even though No. 2 Alabama is hobbling along at 4-0 heading into a meatier part of the schedule, the makeshift defense is still performing admirably. Saturday marked the 88th time under Saban that the Crimson Tide has held opponents to 10 points or less and the 32nd time in the last 63 games dating to the start of the 2015 season.
And Southern Miss gained just 226 yards, marking the 108th time in 171 games under Saban that the Tide has held an opponent to less than 300 yards of total offense. Alabama has held 20 of its last 33 opponents below 300 yards, dating back to the start of the 2017 campaign.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that Alabama would just as soon never see the pop-up tent go up again this season. Sure, injuries are a part of football. But the Crimson Tide has absorbed more than their fair share in 2019.