Getting off the field is priority No. 1 for Alabama's defense
Abdul mujeer ansari
Oct. 04, 2019
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama played two SEC games in three weeks before its bye week, and its defense was on the field for 174 combined plays and gave up 54 points and 935 total yards.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide won both of those games by a combined 52 points, but...
“Defense definitely has to get better,” senior defensive back Shyheim Carter said. “But I feel like up to this point, we’ve played OK. But there is room for improvement, always.”
Like Carter said, it’s not all bad.
Despite some alarming numbers from the two conference games, Alabama is only giving up 14.8 points and 190.6 passing yards per game, which rank fourth and third in the SEC, respectively.
Against Ole Miss, however, stopping the run was an issue. The Rebels gained 279 yards on the ground, including 109 yards and a touchdown from freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. That bumped the Tide’s rushing defense back to 134.8 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the SEC and greatly contributed to Ole Miss producing 31 points and 476 yards on 88 total plays.
“If you’re really in control of the game, that really shouldn’t happen,” head coach Nick Saban said.
The simple fix for Alabama’s defense is to get off the field. But that’s easier said than done.
Although it has held opponents to a 32.89 percent conversion rate on third down, which ranks sixth in the SEC and 38th nationally, the Crimson Tide has played 355 plays on the defensive side of the football. That total is next-to-last among SEC teams and tied for 107th in the country.
Saban shared what he thinks has contributed to the defense’s heavy workload in SEC play.
“A lot of it is just mental errors,” said Saban, referencing the Ole Miss game. “I mean, you’ve got to get off the field when you get opportunities to get off the field, especially on third down. We lost contain on a quarterback two or three times on third down where we had people covered, just keep the quarterback, make the quarterback throw the ball from the pocket.
“Other times, we make mental errors, whether it’s gap control or how to fit plays, so the responsibility for the guys on the field when you’re on defense is we’ve got to get off the field. So, get more turnovers, get more third-down stops.”
Alabama played 86 snaps on defense in the South Carolina game in Week 3, and after the win , Saban said, “We don’t have enough players to get through the season if we play 86 plays of defense every week.” Against Ole Miss last week, the Crimson Tide spent 88 plays on defense.
That is challenging for the players, who try to keep a positive outlook.
“You try to control your breathing, but at the same time, whatever is happening that’s making them make those drives last, you try to talk to somebody,” senior safety Jared Mayden said. “‘Let’s get it together. We need a stop right here. No more,’ those kinds of words.
“We tell each other we need to snap out of whatever is happening. We need to step up right now as a defense so we can get our offense back on the field and let those playmakers make plays.”
As Mayden pointed out, the offense plays a bit of a role in this, too.
Eighty-eight defensive plays are the most an Alabama defense has seen since the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Clemson. But in that game, the Crimson Tide’s offense wasn’t effective and registered seven three-and-outs in a 35-31 loss to the Tigers.
That, however, isn’t the case this year. Alabama’s offense has rolled through the first five weeks, scoring 51.8 points per game. While it has scored plenty of points, the Tide offense hasn’t held the ball much longer than its opponents, as it averages 30:46.60 per game in time of possession.
So, how does one manage fatigue on defense while feeding a big-play offense?
“I think you know what kind of team you have,” Saban said. “I think you’ve got to play to your team’s strengths. I don’t really think that by trying to protect some other part of the team that you take away from the team’s strengths, I don’t really know how that benefits us. Do we want to have time of possession in the game? Do we want to control the line of scrimmage and be able to make explosive players and do all that stuff on offense? I think, yes we do.
“But I don’t think we’re going to change how we approach how we play offense and featuring the players that we have on offense because of some other part of our team.”
On top of fundamentals and preparing for upcoming opponents, the Tide has had the bye week and has next week’s practices to continue to heavily emphasize getting off the field on defense.
“We definitely have to buckle down on everything from the meetings to practice to everything that we do,” Carter said. “We just have to buckle down on it and not take anything for granted.”
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