Record 8-0, SEC 5-0
Current 20 game winning streak.
It is no secret Alabama has a very good defense. However this year there is a twist. After eight games this season the Tide has scored 12 defensive or special teams touchdowns. In other words the Alabama defense has been making plays, like the 2011 LSU defense. This means two things. The Purple and Gold special teams play will have to be very good Saturday. In addition the Tiger offense will have to take good care of the football.
Alabama has a good defense. That is old news. Alabama is fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing 4.22 yards per play. They give up 274.5 total yards per game. The Tide leads the nation in rushing defense allowing 2.1 yards per run. They give up only 70 yards per game on the ground. If this is the case, however, simple math states Alabama gives up 200 yards per contest through the air. They are 32nd in the country in passing yardage allowed per game. Tulane University has a better pass defense than Alabama. When a team can make plays, however, especially on defense, it can mask weaknesses.
As usual, the Tide does not have many players at the top of any individual stat list.
Alabama senior down lineman Jonathan Allen is a very good player who has 35 tackles, 18 unassisted. Allen has 6.5 tackles for losses (tfls). He has 10 quarterback hurries, which means he makes opposing quarterbacks throw the ball before they want to, and make mistakes. He also has two defensive touchdowns, and a blocked field goal. In other words, he is a playmaker, and does it from several spots on the defensive line.
The sack leader for Alabama is senior outside linebacker and Baton Rouge native Tim Williams. He has 6.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Reuben Foster leads the team in tackles with 53, 29 unassisted. Junior linebacker Sean Dion Hamilton is second on the team in tackles with 40, 23 solos, 7.5 tfls, and two sacks. Senior linebacker Ryan Anderson has 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tfls. Alabama has 32 team sacks which leads the country.
A big loss for Bama was senior defensive back Eddie Jackson, who broke his leg in the Texas A&M game. Jackson had three interceptions returned for touchdowns and two punt returns for scores, almost half of Bama’s 12 defensive and special team touchdowns.
On offense, the Tide quarterback is freshman Jalen Hurts. After eight games Hurts is averaging 197 yards passing per game , completing 63 percent of his throws. He has passed for 12 touchdowns with five interceptions. Hurts is the second leading rusher on the team with 521 yards. He leads the team with nine touchdowns. Hurts is a playmaker. Sometimes Alabama uses him to run the read option.
Damien Harris, a sophomore, leads the team with 697 yards rushing, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. He averages 87 yards rushing per game. The four top rushers for Alabama, Harris, Hurts, Josh Jacobs, and Bo Scarbrough, average at least five yards per carry for the season.
Alabama has two players who receive the ball who can also run the ball. They are sophomore wide receiver Calvin Ridley and junior ArDarius Stewart. In eight games Ridley has averaged 11.3 yards per catch with five touchdowns. In six games Stewart has caught four touchdowns while averaging 16.9 yards per grab. In eight games senior Gehring Dieter is averaging 21.9 yards per catch with 175 yards in receptions. Senior tight end O. J. Howard is a receiver who makes big plays. In the national championship game against Clemson last season, Howard had 208 yards in catches on five receptions, with two big touchdowns.
The offensive line is anchored by junior All-American left tackle Cam Robinson and freshman right tackle Jonah Williams, who already has one SEC lineman of the week award this season.
The blueprint to beating Alabama is well known. Their defense has to be spread out horizontally to run on them, and the pace of the offense must be fast. Once that happens the Bama defense looks more human, as referenced by the fact Ole Miss scored 43 points on them earlier this season. A team must also be able to throw the ball well to beat the Tide. Ole Miss threw for 421 yards against Alabama in the contest this year.
In last year’s championship game, Deshaun Watson, then a sophomore and running a read option style offense for Clemson, threw for 405 yards against the Tide. Watson also ran for 73 yards, accounting for nearly 500 yards of offense against an Alabama defense which was good last season.
This leads to another factor. The quarterback must be mobile when playing against the Tide. The better the quarterback can throw and run against Alabama, the better the chances of beating Alabama, as was proven two years ago when they lost of Ohio State in the playoffs, and when they lost at home in 2015 to Ole Miss.
The Tide defense is built to stop a vanilla vertical running game. An offense which Alabama has not been able to solve the past few years is the read option offense which, spreads a defense with multiple formations.
Also, teams which beat Alabama score touchdowns. The opposition does not beat Alabama scoring field goals. This is not to say they cannot be beaten with minimal touchdowns, but the opposition’s defense has to play very well the entire game, like in the 2011 Tiger victory.
The first College Football Poll of the season ranked LSU at 13th in the land, giving the Tigers much respect. In that poll there are some teams with more losses and a higher ranking than teams with less losses. So, a win by the Purple and Gold Saturday night might go a long way. But first, the Tigers have to win.