Alabama: Ebbing the Pass

by Zhengyang Cong

D. Fence. Not a southern gate removal company. Not a low division of sword fighting. A most underrated aspect of college football, defense is the linchpin of the Alabama football team, a constant throughout the come and go of specific players.

Widely lauded as the archetype of the traditionally dominant SEC defenses, the Crimson Tide dominates opposing rushers, stifling the box. Premier backs such as Marcus Lattimore and the 2010-2012 LSU backfield found no space to run, struggling to reach the end zone. Lower level backs find difficulty in even converting a down. In an environment of football that prides in high scoring, high yardage games, ‘Bama manages to suffocate the ground game indefinitely. It’s this defense that allows its barely better than par offense enough opportunities to gain and sustain improbable leads.

However, the Tide fails to contain the pass game of more competitive teams. Only nine games in the past four years has an opposing team come within 15 points of or beaten Alabama (a wildly impressive feat in itself), and in each of these cases, a porous pass defense is to blame. In 2010, the supposedly insurmountable defense allowed Arkansas’ Mallett to rack up over 350 yards in a close victory. This set the precedent for successive passers in the season, as Garcia’s 3 passing touchdowns, Jefferson’s 10 yards per attempt, and Newton’s 3 scores dropped the Tide to a 9-3 season, well below the expectations of the league and the nation. The next year, only one game was close, and that was a defense-dominated mess of a victory by LSU. A season later, Alabama faced more competent passers, allowing LSU a 150 yard edge in total yards, all of them coming through the air. Although they managed to edge the Tigers, their corners could not handle Manziel, who lit the Tide for 350 yards and two touchdowns, the only loss of a spotless record. Similarly, a year later only luck spared Alabama from a thrashing by Manziel’s return and a video game stat line of 464 yards and 5 scores.

A quick look at the defense rankings provides further evidence. Alabama has allowed only 86 rushing yards per game this season against 214 passing yards allowed. This translates to respective national rankings of 6th and 44th. Even though ‘Bama has allowed more passing yards than most if not all National Championship contending teams, their rush defense allows an overall ranking of 12th in terms of total allowed yards.

A glaring Achilles’ heel, coming teams are sure to capitalize. The only difficult game remaining in this regular season for the Tide is LSU and a much improved Mettenberger. With only a single interception this season against 13 touchdowns, Mettenberger presents the sole threat to a perfect season. If Alabama is to win the conference, the likeliest team they must best is Georgia and Murray, whose 345 yards per game after four contests ranks 9th overall in Division I football. Keep an eye out for both quarterbacks seeking to find holes in the ‘Bama defense, for this may be the only way to stop an otherwise guaranteed third National Championship for Saban and his impenetrable 3-4 defense.

All data collected from ESPN Alabama College Football Season Schedule and Box Scores


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