Most of the talk of this year’s college football season has been the utter dominance of the Alabama Crimson Tide. With the surprising aspect from the offensive side of the ball, things are looking positive for another National Championship title. Don’t tell that to head coach Nick Saban, who mostly pinpoints the negatives and potential pitfalls for his Tide. Saban has been highly critical this season as usual. However, he is particularly worried about the perfection label from the media. As it turns out, there seems to be a flaw of the Crimson Tide that could lead the season to come crashing down. The Alabama defense has been fulfilling expectations under Saban in many different attributes. After the 65-31 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks, Saban finally has an issue to fix with Alabama’s defense.
Tide’s young, inexperienced defense showing signs of faltering
Perfection is an impossible goal for Alabama to accomplish in the eyes of Saban. Regardless, if the team is striving for that perfection in terms of play, then Saban will be happy. This season has been difficult for the defense having to replace nine starters and many others from last year. So far this season, the Tide is 25th in the nation in total defense (332 total yards allowed per game). Alabama’s defense is also ranked 12th in scoring defense (16 points allowed per game) and 3rd in defensive efficiency (88). However, the defense is ranked 39th in passing yards allowed per game (197.8) and 48th in rushing yards allowed per game (134.3). This is below the standards and expectations of a Nick Saban coached defense.
The Tide are starting four new players in the secondary and six overall. Three of them are juniors, who have experience and two of them are freshmen. They have some blown coverages from the new secondary including multiple deep passes down the sidelines. There have also been multiple blown assignments from up the middle either in zone coverages or switching man coverages. Not all the fault goes to the young defensive backs though. Linebacker Mack Wilson is a great playmaker in open-field tackling but he possesses flaws in man coverage. He also has some struggles of adjusting to offenses that switch up their formations and then calling out plays. Alabama’s defense has allowed 20 yards or more 11 times in the past two games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. They are great in stopping opponents in the red zone but they allow so many yards before then.
Alabama loses CB Trevon Diggs for the regular-season
One of the brightest spots for the Tide’s secondary comes from the consistent coverage of Trevon Diggs. In six games this season, Diggs has accounted for 20 total tackles, 18 solo tackles, one interception, and six pass deflections (a team-high). In the previous game against Arkansas, Diggs suffered a broken foot that will leave him out for the regular season. Losing a consistent playmaker like Diggs is a huge blow to a defense that is continually striving to get better. True freshman cornerback Patrick Surtain II will be the likely starter to fill in for the injured Diggs. So far this season, Surtain has accounted for 12 total tackles, nine solo tackles, an interception, and four pass deflections. Surtain has been one of the more consistent younger defensive backs, despite not starting.
This will force Alabama to rely on another young and inexperienced player to take Surtain’s role as an extra cornerback. That player will likely be Josh Jobe, also a true freshman, who is playing at a good level. Most of his playing time has come in garbage time against an opposing offense trying to score in the last bit of time left in the game. Not only do the Tide lose the experience and playmaking ability of Diggs but they lose his leadership as well. The leaders of the Tide’s defensive backs have been Diggs and safety Deionte Thompson for the past six games. Star Shyheim Carter and cornerback Saivion Smith not played to their full potential as they are still adjusting to the first-team reps. This Saturday will be a big test for the Tide’s secondary as they face the Missouri Tigers led by quarterback Drew Lock.
Solutions for Alabama to fix moving forward
There are many options that the Crimson Tide can do to ensure their defense plays more consistently. First, comes at the defensive backs with Surtain coming in and starting in place of the injured Diggs. The Tide’s secondary will need to play more efficiently in man coverage and avoid those long first downs by the opposing offense. Next, comes from calling out the proper calls and coverages from Wilson and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. Ultimately, if the Tide’s secondary and linebackers can remain solid in coverage, it will provide enough time for the defensive line to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback. The Crimson Tide is tied for 10th in the nation in sacks accounted for with 19 sacks. Defensive end Isaiah Buggs led the helm for the Tide’s defensive line with six tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Alabama still has six games left in the regular season to get more potency in their defense. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams has turned into the Tide’s most surprising and dominant playmaker. So far this season, Williams has accounted for 22 total tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. This is after he was a backup to Da’Ron Payne last season for the Tide. Linebacker Dylan Moses is a player who can cover efficiently, tackle in open field, and create pressure on the opposing quarterback. Thompson is the team’s leading tackler with 35 total tackle and has been a good replacement to Minkah Patrick. This Saturday, Alabama will face a Missouri offense that is currently ranked 15th in the nation in passing yards per game (318.4). Watch for this Tide defense to come out electrified and full of intensity being challenged by Saban.