BAMA’s 12 NOTs (Non-Offensive TDs) A SCHOOL RECORD
There’s one moment on a football field that can flip a game faster than anything else. It’s the moment the defense takes possession of the ball, becomes the offense and scores. Alabama’s defense has done its share of flipping games this season. Most recently, Jonathan Allen’s fumble return against Texas A&M extended the Tide’s streak of scoring a non-offensive touchdowns — or NOTs — to 10 games. The Tide has scored at least one non-offensive touchdown dating back to the College Football Playoffs semifinal vs. Michigan State on Dec. 31, 2015, and has tallied 22 non-offensive TDs in its last 19 games. Allen’s fumble return was the 58th non-offensive touchdown of the Nick Saban era. The 12 this season are a school single-season record.
Breaking Down the 13 NOTs Through the Texas A&M Game
The 13 non-offensive touchdowns during the current streak can be broken down to: four interceptions, four punt returns, four fumble recoveries and a kickoff return.
Cyrus Jones Michigan St. (CFP Semi) 57-punt return
Kenyan Drake Clemson (CFP Champ.) 95-kick return
Marlon Humphrey USC 18-yard interception return
Eddie Jackson Western Kentucky 55-yard interception return
Eddie Jackson Ole Miss 85-yard punt return
Da’Ron Payne Ole Miss 3-yard fumble return
Jonathan Allen Ole Miss 75-yard fumble return
Xavian Marks Kent State 75-yard punt return
Ronnie Harrison Kentucky 55-yard fumble return
Tim Williams Arkansas 23-yard fumble return
Minkah Fitzpatrick Arkansas 100-yard interception return
Ronnie Harrison Tennessee 58-yard interception return
Eddie Jackson Tennessee 79-yard punt return
Jonathan Allen Texas A&M 29-yard fumble return
By position group this season, the defensive backs have seven touchdowns (Eddie Jackson, Ronnie Harrison, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey), the defensive linemen have two (Allen and Da’Ron Payne) and the linebackers have one (Williams). Two of the defensive backs’ touchdowns, though, came on punt returns from Jackson, while the third punt-return score was by wide receiver Xavian Marks. Alabama will look to build its streak to 12 games with a non-offensive touchdown Saturday against No. 6 Texas A&M. Last season, Jackson and Fitzpatrick (twice) returned interceptions for scores in a 41-23 win in College Station. A&M has thrown seven picks against the Tide in the past three seasons – and four have been returned for.
In addition to defensive touchdowns, Alabama excels on special teams because everyone, no matter your level of talent, plays on them. Even when Derrick Henry was on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior, he was a member of the punt coverage team. A.J. McCarron’s two championship rings didn’t keep him from being the holder on field goals. Special Teams is also a great way to get the future stars of the program involved — case and point: the two massive hits from true freshman linebacker Mack Wilson on kickoffs Saturday.
*Compare Wilson’s hit here with Reuben Foster’s hit on Leonard Fournette here a few years ago.
BAMA Players Competing for NOTs
Scoring on defense and special teams has become contagious, competitive and progressively more efficient. Back when Alabama played Ole Miss in mid-September, which started this trend of non-offensive touchdowns, you could turn on the tape of defensive end Jonathan Allen’s long run into the end zone and find a few guys who weren’t blocking.
But fast-forward to the Arkansas game last week, and look at what happened when Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off Austin Allen in the end zone. It looked like a spot for a safe touchback, but Jackson spun his head around, saw a crease and tapped on Fitzpatrick’s shoulder to bring the ball out. A caravan formed immediately in front of Fitzpatrick with Jackson, Hamilton and Ryan Anderson all blocking ahead of him. Jackson ran with Fitzpatrick for 65 yards before throwing the final block on Allen that allowed for the touchdown.
Nick Saban seems to have realized his team’s potential for NOTs as early as Marlon Humphrey’s interception return for a touchdown against Southern Cal in the opener, stating afterword, “It’s something that we work on. Turnovers are a big part of what we work on – not only getting the turnover but returning it, how to block them. That’s something that has been very beneficial to us. … We want to continue to get those things and get the turnovers. That’s where it starts – and if we can finish them, great. If we can do it on special teams, I think it’s a huge advantage.”
In other words, these touchdowns aren’t lucky breaks. When it comes to a forced fumble, for example, linebacker Rashaan Evans says it is relatively simple,
“The key to forcing a fumble is really just to go after the ball as many times as possible and hopefully you’ll get it out.” Nick Saban said his defense emphasizes trying to strip the ball, “It’s a point of emphasis and when players start to get them, (the others) start to think, ‘I’m going to get me one’.’’
Impact of NOTs on the Offense
And while all these NOTs certainly ignite the defense, the most significant effect is probably on the offense. Knowing the defense and special teams are most likely going to put up points, there is less pressure on true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and the rest of the offense — including offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is able to explore more of the playbook and take more chances that keep the opposing defense off balance since he knows he’s always got a major cushion.
“Man, I don’t like blocking, I’m going to tell you that,” outside linebacker Ryan Anderson joked recently. “I really don’t like running way down the field. Like when Minkah (Fitzpatrick) caught that 100-yard pick (against Arkansas), I was trying to tell him stay in (the end zone instead of running it out). I was tired.”
Dating to last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal rout of Michigan State, Alabama has scored a non-offensive touchdown in nine consecutive games; the Tide has an incredible 21 TDs in its past 18 games overall.