Alabama fans, let's finally give Pete Golding the credit he deserves
Beware, Alabama fans. What you’re about to hear is going to go against everything you’ve yelled at your TV for the last 2 years.
Pete Golding is doing pretty well at his job.
You can’t see me as I typed that sentence, but I ducked out of natural reflexes. I assumed I had to avoid a bottle or a tomato that was thrown my way for saying such a thing.
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(Why do people actually do that? Like, first of all, where’d you get that tomato? From home? And also, if you threw a bottle and hit someone resulting in an inevitable concussion, do you celebrate that? If so, where did you learn to throw a bottle with such precision?)
Golding, in case you missed it, was on an island Saturday. Ironic, it is, because go back to that Ole Miss game and Golding was accused of putting too many of Alabama’s defensive players on islands. Without Nick Saban in a rivalry game, Golding continued the defensive dominance that we’ve seen from Alabama in the past month. Auburn’s garbage time score ended Alabama’s streak of 193 minutes and 11 seconds without allowing a touchdown.
That’s not a typo. That’s nearly 13 quarters of SEC football without allowing anyone to reach paydirt. That was over a month, in part because of a bye week and a COVID postponement. But if you just focus on that 193 minutes and 11 seconds without allowing a touchdown, think about this. That was the Alabama defense’s longest stretch since that absurd streak in 2016 in which Alabama went 273 minutes and 1 second (!) without allowing a touchdown.
Yeah, that’s not being touched anytime soon.
The defensive coordinator on that team was Jeremy Pruitt. If you’ve seen Pruitt and Golding in the same sentence in the last 2 years, it was probably alongside something to the effect of “will never be as good as” or “nowhere near the same level.”
This post-Ole Miss stretch doesn’t suddenly put Golding into that category. But I’d say allowing an average of 11.4 points per game against SEC competition in a 5-game stretch — Alabama allowed 14.3 points per game against all non-Lane Kiffin teams — should at least take some of the heat off Golding. Then again, he’ll surely get some of the “anybody could do that with that talent,” which is always such a lazy narrative.
It’s true that Patrick Surtain II is having an All-American season, Malachi Moore looks like the second coming of Minkah Fitzpatrick and I’m pretty sure if I stepped out my front door and threw a football, Josh Jobe would appear out of nowhere to deflect it. The ball skills from this Alabama secondary feel unique, and some of that can’t be coached. They still have to be put in spots to make plays, which they’ve done. Often.
The Ole Miss game is going to skew the overall numbers, but since that dreadful defensive performance, look at what Alabama’s pass defense has done:
- 52.8% completion percentage
- 5.4 yards per attempt
- 4-8 TDs-INTs
By the way, Alabama’s touchdown streak ended, but it’s currently riding a streak of 197 minutes and 52 seconds without allowing a passing touchdown. That’s a remarkable feat for a team that has won every game by at least 3 scores and has been protecting lopsided leads against teams in obvious passing situations.
And it’s not just the secondary who deserves praise. A healthy Christian Barmore has been everything that Alabama fans could’ve hoped for on the interior of that defensive line. Barmore is the SEC’s highest-graded interior defender despite the fact that he wasn’t at full go at the start of the season (PFF). While his run-game prowess could be improved, what he does to get pressure in a quarterback’s face is immensely important. I mean, he sacked Bo Nix twice in the first 4 minutes of the Iron Bowl.
Speaking of Nix, it’s true that Alabama hasn’t faced Playoff-quality competition at the quarterback position post-Ole Miss. The list of signal-callers include Stetson Bennett IV, Jarrett Guarantano, Will Rogers/KJ Costello, Terry Wilson and road Nix, who is entirely different than home Nix. Compare that group to the group of potential quarterbacks that Alabama could see in the SEC Championship/Playoff — Kyle Trask, Justin Fields, Ian Book, Trevor Lawrence, etc.
If one of those quarterbacks lights up Alabama in the postseason, Golding will again fall right back to where he was at the start of the season. That is, the subject of many rants at TVs. Of course, his critics will ignore the fact that Kirby Smart’s Alabama defense surrendered 40 points to Clemson in the title game at the end of the 2015 season, and Pruitt’s Alabama defense couldn’t get the key stop late when Clemson scored 35 in the title game at the end of the 2016 season.
As Saban will say, though, that’s football in 2020. Gone are the days when you can rely on a defense to win you a 14-7 game. Perhaps gone are the days in which Golding’s firing feels inevitable.
Coming into this year, it was a pressure-packed season for Golding. He didn’t have to deal with the same rash of injuries in the front 7 like he did last year. Playing 4 true freshmen in the front 7 in September isn’t an ideal formula, especially when one of those players was replacing the invaluable Dylan Moses. Even though Moses hasn’t had the All-American season that many assumed he would after returning from injuries, his ability to communicate won’t show up in the box score.
The biggest demerit for Golding last year was hearing guys like Terrell Lewis vent about the lack of communication on defense. It’s not good when upperclassmen are criticizing play-calling and understanding of where they’re supposed to be.
Now, we’re seeing a guy like Christian Harris, who was one of the true freshmen starters in the front 7 last year, have a breakout season. Harris praised Golding’s ability to coach him up as he transitioned from a former receiver/cornerback in high school to playing inside linebacker in the SEC. In fact, Harris called Golding “one of the best coaches in the country.”
Whether you agree with that or not, Golding appears to have played his part in turning that around. If you’ve watched Alabama post-Ole Miss, you’ve seen a group that swarms to the football. There aren’t receivers running free down the middle of the field anymore. Quarterbacks don’t have all day to throw. Even the much-criticized run defense has only allowed 1 run of more than 20 yards during that stretch.
Sure, this defense could still have moments of weakness against teams like Florida or Clemson. But with how historically good Alabama’s offense looks, Golding’s defense won’t need to be perfect to reach that ultimate destination.
I know, I know. It’s Saban’s defense until Alabama gets lit up for 400 passing yards. Then it’s Golding’s.
Jokes aside, let’s give the guy some credit. Being Saban’s oft-criticized defensive coordinator is about as pressure-packed of a spot as a coach can be in. Dare I say, Golding took it all in stride and showed his days in Tuscaloosa might not be numbered after all.
Yes, I just ducked again.