Correction from previous article: Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a senior.
Record 8-0, SEC 5-0
Alabama rolls into Tiger stadium Saturday averaging 54 points per game. They have outscored their opponents by nearly 39 points per game. They convert 56 percent of their third down attempts, when they get to third down. Their schedule has not been as hard as the schedule of the Purple and Gold.
So, how does a team make IT feel uncomfortable?
1. Stop their offense. This begins with stopping sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. In eight games, he has thrown 25 touchdowns with no interceptions, which lands him in the number one spot, for passing efficiency in the nation, and tied for sixth in the country with the number of passing touchdowns. He has completed 70 percent of his passes, good for eighth in the land. He averages 13.59 yards per pass completion, first in the nation. If something goes wrong with Tagovailoa, they just bring in Jalen Hurts.
2. Stop the offensive line. Tide junior left tackle Jonah Williams protects the back of Tagovailoa and sophomore right tackle Jedrick Willis, Jr. protects the front of Tagovailoa. Actually, the Alabama quarterback can also do the run pass option (RPO), so he can also protect himself. Senior center Ross Pierschbacher and senior left guard Lester Cotton, Jr. do a good job of opening holes for Alabama running backs.
3. Stop the Tide runners. No Alabama running back averages more than 62 yards per game. It is the rush per carry which is good. Sophomore Najee Harris averages 6.3 yards per run, and senior Damien Harris averages 6.4 yards per carry. Junior Josh Jacobs averages 4.9 yards per rush. Damien Harris and Jacobs are also good catching the ball out of the backfield.
4. Stop the Bama receivers. The top five Alabama receivers average no less than 17.45 yards per catch. Sophomore Jerry Jeudy averages 25.06 yards per catch, tops in the nation, with 10 touchdowns. Freshman Jaylen Waddle averages 21.76 yards per reception, which is third in the country. Sophomore DeVonta Smith, who caught the winning pass in the national championship game last season, averages 19.48 yards per grab. Sophomore Henry Ruggs, III, averages 18.45 yards per catch. Junior tight end Irv Smith, Jr. averages 17.45 yard per reception. All of these receivers are good running after catches, (YACs), or yards gained after catches.
Alabama is not in the top 10 in total defense in the country, which is unusual. It could be they are not a dominant defensive team, or it could be they are usually so far ahead of everyone by the third quarter, they are playing their third and fourth strings. They give up 5.23 yards per rush. But, is it the first string of the third string? They also give up 194 yards per game through the air. This is not unusual for the Tide. Their pass defense is their weak spot. They like to play man-to-man in the secondary. However, their front seven is not weak, and they usually have an opposing quarterback running for his life, so their secondary cannot be exploited. They have 26 sacks, which leads the Southeastern Conference, and is tied for ninth in the nation.
Junior defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs is second in the SEC with 8.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Christian Miller has 5.5 sacks for the year. Sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses has 7.5 tackles for losses (tfls). Junior defensive lineman Raekwon Davis and sophomore nose tackle Quinnen Williams round out the starting defensive linemen for Bama. Williams has eight (tfls) for the season. Junior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, who is a big outside linebacker at 6’3, 266 pounds, has 4.5 tfls for the year.
Year after year after year, people discuss ways to beat Alabama. It gets old. The Purple and Gold have not allowed more than 21 points to Bama in the last four trips to Tiger stadium. Defense has not been the problem.
Alabama is not beaten with field goals alone, unless the defense is like the 2011 LSU defense, which comes around about once every 50 years.
Touchdowns beat Alabama. Passing the ball, effectively for four quarters, beats Alabama. The Alabama defense does not allow many clean pockets to pass the ball, so the opposing quarterback has to make plays on the move and from non-standard passing positions, and has to be ready to do it for the entire game. Every offensive play against Alabama has to mean something, even if it does not gain the desired amount of yards. A vertical ground game, for the majority of the contest, will not beat Alabama.
In addition, this year, something has changed. Alabama has two play-making quarterbacks, and the team is just as good, if not better, offensively, than they are defensively. Every running back, receiver, and quarterback has to be accounted for on every play.
How will the Purple and Gold make IT feel uncomfortable? It will be the key to any success the Tigers have against IT Saturday night.