One key to Bama reclaiming SEC crown: Slowing down Pitts-Toney combo
The last time Alabama saw an offense like this, things didn’t go so well.
Nov. 10 seems like a long time ago, does it not? That was the night Ole Miss stood toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the land and threw the ball all over the yard. A record-breaking performance from Lane Kiffin’s group exposed the Crimson Tide’s few weaknesses, particularly in pass coverage against a sophisticated group with ample playmakers.
But that 63-48 Alabama win also appeared to bring out the best in Dylan Moses, Patrick Surtain II, Christian Harris and Co. Since that night in Oxford, the Tide have steadily improved and today ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense.
Which brings us to Saturday. If No. 1 Bama is to reach the College Football Playoff undoubtedly and unblemished, it’ll have to figure out how to slow down No. 6-ranked Florida’s high-flying aerial attack.
“This team is as explosive as anyone in the country on offense,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.
The casual observer will point to quarterback Kyle Trask, and for good reason. But the one-two punch of wideout Kadarius Toney and tight end Kyle Pitts has been a matchup nightmare all season.
Toney is the SEC’s No. 5 receiver with 62 catches for 831 yards (83.1 per game) and 9 touchdowns. Pitts, at one point an Alabama recruit, has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries but is expected to return for Saturday’s 8 p.m. ET kickoff in Atlanta.
Pitts’ blend of size and speed vexes opposing defenses, especially in the red zone. His 11 touchdown receptions trail only the Tide’s DeVonta Smith (15). Think O.J. Howard, only better and more relied upon.
Trask, meanwhile, is right there with Mac Jones when it comes to quarterback play. Trask’s 3,717 yards and 40 touchdown passes both lead FBS.
Half of those scores have gone to Toney or Pitts.
So what is Pete Golding’s defensive group to do?
An effective pass rush would help. So much of Dan Mullen’s offense is predicated on timing. Disrupt Trask, disrupt the offense.
See LSU’s 4 sacks in its upset win Saturday for a prime example.
Disciplined safety play will also be at a premium. “Star” position Malachi Moore will be a busy man, either helping in man coverage or coming over the top to assist if Toney or Pitts breaks loose. The same goes for safeties Daniel Wright and Jordan Battle.
Part of playing against an elite offense is mental, too. It’s kind of like guarding LeBron James. You’re not going to outright stop Trask and friends. Bouncing back from yielding a big play might be more important than trying to eliminate it in the first place.
“They’ve done a good job of utilizing all their talent in a very positive way,” Saban said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us defensively to be able to match up and really execute fundamentally like we need to to have a chance to have success against these guys.”