Alabama coach Nick Saban finally waved the white flag back in October.
The long-time defensive expert had seen enough. Much to Saban’s dismay, the idea that “defense wins championships” is a relic of college football’s past.
“A good defense used to be a good offense,” Saban said before a win against Tennessee. “Good defense doesn’t beat a good offensive anymore.”
And although the six-time national champion reluctantly accepted that reality – and turned his team into an offensive juggernaut – the Crimson Tide still is
And on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T, the Alabama Defense will take their toughest test of the season from the powerful state of Ohio.
Justin Fields. Chris Olave. Trey sermon. Garrett Wilson.
“You have a lot of guns,” said Alabama Defense Coordinator Pete Golding. “This is [not] a game [where] They go in and say, “Hey, I just stopped this guy, we’re going to win the game.” That’s not the case.”
How well Alabama slows the horse chestnuts will play a key role in Monday’s result.
This is not a signature from Nick Saban’s defense.
College football’s dramatic shift in attack has also gripped Alabama. Take Saban’s 2011 BCS national team as an example.
That season, when LSU lost 9-6 overtime in the Game of the Century, Alabama’s senior defense was stifling. The Crimson Tide allowed Power 5 conference opponents a tiny 178.7 yards per game, 3.3 yards per game, and 7.8 points per game.
This season, Alabama has given up nearly double the mileage (353.2 yards per game), five yards per game, and 19 points per game. In eight of their twelve games this season, the Crimson Tide gave up more yards than the 2011 average
This is less an indictment of Bama’s defensive performance than an indication of how the game has changed – for everyone.
“It’s really not about how many yards you give up,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day on Thursday.
“It’s all about getting stops … you can let them go the full length of the field, but if they score field goals or you make sales along the way, good things will happen.”
The numbers illustrate the sport’s aggressive upward trend. Since 2011, the national average for yards per game against Power 5 conference teams has increased from 376.3 yards to 403.5 in 2020. Yards per game has increased from 5.4 to 5.7, and the score is down more than two Points increased – from 26 points per game to 28.9.
“I don’t think college football has changed dramatically in the last 10 or 12 years,” Saban said this week.
“I think the advent of the spread, the RPOs that block the downfield when passes are caught over the border, all of those things have changed the style of play offensively and that affects every part of the game.
“You have to defend how you choose players to play certain positions because the game is so much more of a perimeter game now than it was before, and what you’re going to do to defend those kinds of changes has been pretty dramatic.”
Although the defense of the tide is more forgiving today than it was then, it is still in the upper tier of the sport. It is fifth nationwide in allowed points (19) and allowed yards per game (5) and 17th nationally in allowed yards per game (353.2).
In other words, despite the overall length, it usually gets the stops it needs.
While Alabama’s defense is good, it has been frustrated at times this season. Two games stand out: October 10 against Ole Miss and the SEC championship game against Florida.
The 48 points scored by the Rebels are linked to Auburn for most of the points a team scored against Alabama in the Saban era. Ole Miss’ 647 yards was the most the Crimson Tide has ever allowed. Saban and linebacker Dylan Moses meant something that night as to whether Rebels trainer and former Saban assistant Lane Kiffin knew their signals Kiffin later denied.
This week, Saban and Golding attributed the fighting to a myriad of factors.
“They were 250 yards after contact,” said Golding. “It’s hard to win at any level when you do that. … I think we had 28 mental defects in this game too.”
Saban quoted four out of five new starters in secondary school and three newcomers on the defensive: “The knowledge and experience we had probably weren’t what we needed to make the adjustments and adjustments in the game and also in preparation to be able to. “
Florida’s 46-point breakout in the SEC title game was the second most common that a Saban-trained Alabama defense has allowed. Golding lamented Alabama’s third feat there (the Gators converted 8 out of 11 opportunities), emphasizing that the tide must be better against the state of Ohio – a crime more explosive than either team Alabama fought against.
Mental flaws need to be “small”, run fits need to be solid, and the tide needs to “come on in space,” Golding said.
“You can’t give these guys these pieces,” Golding said of the Buckeyes. “They will play competitive games enough because they have a lot of really good players.”
Despite all the manual work on these accomplishments, Alabama’s defense has been good for the past two months. The Tide has allowed 17 points or less in seven of their last eight games, less than 300 yards and less than five yards per game. In the College Football Playoff semifinals against Notre Dame, Alabama only allowed 14 points and 4.7 yards per game, although it wasn’t as good as Golding would like it to be in third losses (8 of 16).
The team attributes additional gaming experience to the improvement.
“We have learned from experience what to do,” said cornerback Patrick Surtain II. “We’ve gotten better every week as we fly to the ball, make adjustments and learn from previous games where we’ve had problems.”
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State Offensive Coordinator, agreed.
“The game with Ole Miss was early and … I think Alabama got better because they got to play [more games]”, he said.” You are a great defense with talent, length. You will make it incredibly challenging. “
The state of Ohio will be Alabama’s biggest challenge yet.
The Buckeyes are the highest-scoring team Alabama will face (43.4 points per game), and they have run 200 yards in each of their seven games this season to have the longest active FBS streak to reach.
Sermon recently backed the current game averaging 212 yards and 9.1 yards per carry in the Buckeyes’ last three competitions.
A true double-threat quarterback whose kind has caused Saban’s defensive troubles in the past, Fields is among the best in the nation. And Olave and Wilson provide him with an extremely talented reception duo. Olave has five touchdown catches on throws of 25 or more meters of air this season, which is synonymous for most in Power 5. Surtain said Olave’s speed was challenging: “He creates a quick break at the top of his routes. … He’s also very patient and fluid with his route.”
Given the firepower of the horse chestnuts, Golding believes sales will be key.
“Ohio State averages 43 [points] – and if they don’t, it’s because they turned the ball, “said Golding.” It’s not because people stopped them, it’s because they made a mistake. … I think that’s a crucial part of this game. “
Clemson, who is in a similar talent stratosphere as Alabama, was dominated by the Buckeyes. The state of Ohio averaged a whopping 8.9 yards per game, finishing the 49-28 win with a total of 639 yards. Ohio State only turned the ball once.
But the Buckeyes said this Alabama defense is watching the part on video.
“They’re the kind of group that never goes wrong about the void they’re supposed to be in,” said Josh Myers of the Ohio State Center. “When they have a flash, nobody messes things up. … I’ve seen a lot of movies about them and I don’t think I’ve seen them once.”
Kevin Wilson said: “[Our offensive line is] I’m going to do their strongest test on Alabama’s front Monday night because they’re the best we’ve ever seen. “
Saban and Golding praised Day’s playful acumen, and Golding said the mix of formations and tempos made the Buckeyes challenging.
“He does a really good job of manipulating things through education,” Golding said. “They do a lot of different things from the same group of people.”
When Alabama’s defense changed with college football, so did its offense. The Tide is the nation’s second highest team (48.2 points per game), and its transformation into an explosive unit has resulted in Saban’s defense no longer being asked to shut down teams. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith are likely to do their part on Monday.
However, tidal defense has a major challenge ahead of it. When it comes to slowing the state of Ohio down on Monday, several key factors come down to it, Golding said: behave well in space, force the Buckeyes into obvious overtaking maneuvers, make third runs, and generate revenue.
Regardless of mileage, Alabama just has to stop.
“The most important thing is that the great teams do what they need to do every week to win and that is exactly what their defense does,” said Kevin Wilson. “And that’s exactly what coach Saban did, just like anyone else who has ever coached the football game.”