Recipe for rolling Tide is suffocating defense, dynamic running game
This season’s Alabama team is accomplishing things in slightly different ways than other recent Nick Saban-led Alabama teams, but the formula remains the same: great defense and a strong running game.
That was the formula the team used to blast Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, 49-10, on Saturday.
The team, which leads the SEC in scoring at 45.4 points per game, has produced 49 points in wins against Tennessee and Arkansas as well as 48 points in a win against Ole Miss.
The team could easily do the same in the upcoming contest against Texas A&M, but one assumes at some point this season, a rugged SEC West team will limit the Crimson Tide to a low-scoring game. Will it be this week or perhaps LSU or Auburn?
The only sore spot in this contest was the passing game during the first half. The running game is a four-headed monster with quarterback Jalen Hurts and backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Joshua Jacobs. Each brings something different. The most dynamic runner might actually be Hurts, and because Alabama has a quarterback who can create plays with his feet, it keeps opposing defenses honest and makes Alabama more difficult to defend.
During the 2012 season, teams had to muster every ounce of offense to score against a stingy defense and also had to defend against both Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon along with Amari Cooper. However, teams at least had the benefit of knowing quarterback AJ McCarron wouldn’t go for a long run. McCarron is a good athlete, but his running capabilities don’t even begin to compare with the capabilities of Hurts.
With this season’s team, opponents must defend Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard in the passing game. In the running game, Hurts is liable to take off at any time. Then, there is the regular stable of backs with Harris, who runs well between the tackles and on the edge. Jacobs is a shifty and instinctual runner.
There’s also Scarbrough who, fairly or unfairly, continues to be compared to former Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Scarbrough showed why Alabama fans have gushed about him for years with an 85-yard touchdown run against the Vols. Scarbrough is probably the back most reminiscent of past Alabama backs, but Hurts and Harris do better in tandem because of their versatility.
This season’s offense doesn’t have a finesse running game, but it also isn’t the run-the-ball-down-your-throat offense of past teams either. Hurts has given it a totally different dynamic.
Hurts used his legs to score a career-long 45-yard touchdown run. It may have been the most exciting offensive touchdown of the game. However, he has the ability to throw the ball as well. He didn’t record a passing TD, but he still made plays like when he found Howard for a 23-yard pass that set up a 1-yard quarterback keeper to give Alabama a commanding 35-10 lead.
Meanwhile, the defense scored yet another touchdown with a 58-yard interception return by Ronnie Harrison. Prior to that, Alabama harassed Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs with three sacks on the first three defensive drives of the game. It involved the usual culprits: Tim Williams, Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster.
Alabama had 10 tackles for a loss to go along with those three sacks.
The Alabama defense limited the 1-2 punch of Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd to just 32 rushing yards for the game. Last season, Hurd rushed for 92 yards against Alabama on his own, which was a big reason last season’s game was close.
Tennessee receiver Josh Malone had a respectable 5 receptions for 61 yards, although his 20.1 yards per catch average was down to just 12.2 in this game. When Tennessee turned to short passes in the second half, Alabama conceded some short-yardage passes but withheld longer ones, unlike against Ole Miss and Arkansas.
A smothering defense and a versatile running game led to Alabama’s most impressive win of the season. To remain unbeaten, the Tide will follow that tried-and-true recipe the rest of the way.