The college football season, sadly, is nearing its midpoint. In fact, the Alabama Crimson Tide have already played half of its regular season slate. While many fans are content with gleaning over the abilities of sophomore sensation QB Tua Tagovailoa, many others see a major weakness on the defensive side of the ball.
But just how much of a weakness is it?
The current crop of students at the University of Alabama is accustomed to seeing dominant defense week in and week out, and for good reason. The Crimson Tide have been the standard bearer for defensive dominance for nearly a decade, more than half of many students’ lives. In many minds, both student and fan, the 2018 Tide defense is not living up to that standard.
Maybe the Alabama faithful has a point.
After all, the hardest part of Alabama’s schedule is on deck. Missouri sports a talented offense led by future NFL quarterback prospect Drew Lock. LSU is far removed from the blunders of yesteryear. The Iron Bowl is no place to debate previous outcomes and stories from the season preceding it.
This so-called cupcake schedule is turning into a three-layer cake with some sprinkles (looking at you, The Citadel.)
Since the week one thrashing of Louisville, the defense has yet to show true improvement against Power 5 opponents. TAMU’s Kellen Mond ran all over the Tide defense when he wasn’t being sacked or intercepted. Ole Miss’ high powered offense had 248 total yards, including their lone touchdown on the first play of the game. Arkansas had over 400 yards of total offense to counterbalance their lack of points until the second string took the field.
Is the fact that the defense is allowing yards being trumped by their ability to force turnovers, pressure the quarterback and keep the opposition out of the end zone?
Take a look at these team defense stats:
- The defense ranks 7 in the nation in turnovers with 13. In the SEC, only Florida ranks higher.
- The defense ranks 4 in the nation in sacks with 19. In the SEC, only Florida ranks higher.
- The defense ranks 11 in the nation in points allowed with 96, good for 6th in the SEC.
Surely that is worse compared to last year’s squad?
The 2017 Crimson Tide defense ranked 29th in turnovers, 6th in sacks and 1st in points. That defense had seven returning starters including stars Minkah Fitzpatrick, Da’Ron Payne, and Rashaan Evans.
Compare the 2018 team to the stellar defenses from 2009 or 2011. National rankings for those stats aren’t easily accessible, but the numbers those teams posted are ridiculous. Keep in mind players from those defenses have made up some of the NFL’s best players for years.
Year | Rushing Yards | Passing Yards | Avg. Yards Per Play
2011 | 938 | 1449 | 3.3
2009 | 1094 | 2324 | 4.1
*NCAA Archived Stats
Again, consider the 2009 defense returned 10 starters on defense including stars Marcell Dareus, Rolando McClain, and Kareem Jackson. The 2011 defense returned eight starters including stars Courtney Upshaw, Donta’ Hightower, and Mark Barron.
These legendary defenses not only had the convenience of returning the bulk of their unit, but the ‘09 and ‘11 squads were led by defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who had worked under Nick Saban since 2004. Kirby Smart is now the brain behind the Georgia Bulldogs powerhouse in the SEC East as its head coach.
The 2017 Crimson Tide defense was led by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who also worked with the ‘11 defense as an assistant. He’s now the head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Tosh Lupoi, the current defensive coordinator, has a barren Wikipedia page. He’s been with Alabama since 2014. While he was the co-DC last year, he is largely unproven and isn’t working with the best of circumstances either. His 2018 defense has only five returning starters: Isaiah Buggs, Terrell Lewis (who is currently injured), Mack Wilson, Dylan Moses and Raekwon Davis. Count Christian Miller if you must, that list still isn’t ideal.
All things considered, stars are being born on this defense. Isaiah Buggs leads the team in sacks with 5.5, Deionte Thompson leads the team in interceptions and tackles, and Mack Wilson has become a leader in his own right.
Does the defense allow too many yards compared to the standard set by past defenses? Absolutely. The defense ranks 38 in passing yards allowed, 48 in rushing and 25 in total defense. It also ranks 57 in 1st-Down efficiency.
Saturday the Crimson Tide will host the Missouri Tigers, which boast the ninth rank offense in terms of yards. However, they are ranked 44 in turnovers allowed and 26 in points, playing directly into the strength of this defense.
Right now, this defense is in bend but don’t break mode, which is okay because of the offense’s ability to score. Let’s not lose sight of that fact either; the team ranks 62 in time of possession. The offense scores so fast and often the defense is on the field for the majority of most games, and that is okay too.
This is a different Alabama Crimson Tide team, and that can be scary. But it certainly is not a bad thing. The way this team is built, the defense is still championship caliber.
(Photo courtesy of Hannah Saad and The Crimson White)