Alabama vs ULM Game Review

It was never pretty but it then again it was never going to be any kind of beautiful masterpiece.  A sandwich game between Ole Miss and Georgia produced a predictably lethargic performance from the offense (perhaps the play calling was just a little off due to another “late night at the office” for Lane Kiffin).  Defensively, Alabama benefited from the “Make Love Not War-hawks” offensive attack which provided the Tide defense with an opportunity to work out their aggressions (similarly to what Deontay Wilder must do to a listless punching bag).

Perhaps the biggest positive of this game being on the schedule was that it provided struggling Adam Griffith with a couple of opportunities to get himself straightened out and, thankfully, he delivered.  Griffith knocked home two very well struck kicks and he now goes into the Georgia game having converted an unimaginable three kicks in a row!  We aren’t calling this three kick stretch a Duck Dynasty by any means but the boys from Monroe, Louisiana were the perfect cure all for the Bama defense and the kicking game.  Let’s take a look at a few things that stood out on Saturday…

Alabama on Offense

All eyes turned to Jake Coker Saturday as he finally assumed the role of unquestioned leader at the quarterback position.  His performance against Ole Miss netted Coker all of the first team reps this week and ULM provided him with the perfect opportunity to try out his new crown and scepter in a practice game type of environment.  The results were scattered, smothered, chunked and diced, as were a few of his throws, but Coker was also betrayed by six drops, which Saban referenced in his post game comments.  Yep, no more Waffling for Saban – he’s finally backing Coker.  Overall, the game provided Coker with much needed reps with his line and his receivers as he now begins preparing for the meaty bits of the schedule.

Oh Line – The offensive line will get much of the blame this week for the Tide’s uneven performance against the Warhawks.  Ross Pierschbacher missed the first block of the game and we were off and running.  On the next play, OJ Howard missed a blitz pickup on the edge and suddenly the Tide was behind the chains.  Kelly and Taylor struggled once again this week with Taylor looking particularly bad on several occasions.  Taylor was called for offsides and missed three different blitz pickups.  Not good.  Look for more reps from Mr Bozeman against Georgia.

One is the Lonliest:  Whenever you see a bunch formation to one side and one lone receiver to the other side, there’s about a 90% chance that Coker will throw to the lone receiver.  It’s nearly automatic.

Ridley Me This:  Calvin Ridley had some ups and downs during the game and that’s probably what we should expect from a true freshman wide receiver.  Ridley scored his first collegiate touchdown but he also dropped an easy second career touchdown.  But, it’s apparent the staff wants the ball in this kids hands and who could blame them?  On the second drive of the game, Coker hit Ridley on the same zone read play action that Bateman hit Howard on last week and missed Drake on later in the game.

You’re My Boy, Blue:  If it’s a crucial third down, look for #16 to be the targeted receiver.  Coker seems to trust Mullaney and he looks for him any time he needs to complete a critical pass.

Who Are You:  What is Alabama’s offensive identity?  Bama is a team that throws the ball on 3rd&2 or 3rd&3.  That’s who we are.

Backin’ Black:  Remember Chris Black?  He showed up Saturday and he showed what a veteran receiver can bring to the offense.   Twice, Black cut his route off when he recognized a blitz, thereby making himself a wide open target.  Nice to be Back in Black…

F.U.:  I mean, is there any other way to interpret Bama getting called for an ineligible receiver downfield?  Worse yet, the line is allowed to be 3 yards down field and they were about 2.5.  I think the officials wanted to send a message to the Tide staff about ineligible receivers downfield.

Tidebits

  • Coker used a ton of audibles at the line of scrimmage this week. That’s essential as he begins to get comfortable with either getting the Tide into a good play or out of a bad play.
  • Mullaney lined up at fullback in one formation and they slipped him out for a corner pass which Coker just missed. Interesting design.
  • Kiffin called essentially the same running play off the left side of the Bama line six consecutive times before giving the ball to Henry for a 2 yard touchdown run on fourth down.
  • I’d really like to see Ardarius Stewart attack the deep balls that are underthrown. I get it – the balls have been underthrown.  However, he’s not nearly being physical enough.
  • Coker looks pretty good when he throws out routes and when he rolls right and throws on the move.
  • Coker doesn’t look good when he throws the football while being hit in the chest.
  • There are still plays being run where the line looks disjointed. It’s like the snap takes place but the lineman are unaware of the snap count.  Also, we ran a play where Drake just stood there in the pistol behind Coker and did nothing.  He didn’t block.  Didn’t go out for a pass. Didn’t run a play action fake.    Weird.
  • Alabama looked pretty good in the pistol when they ran to the left.
  • Late in the first half, Drake had to go out and Harris came in on a critical fourth down. Harris, the true freshman running back, didn’t pick up a blitz and Bama failed to convert the fourth down.
  • Loved the call to throw a play action pass to Nysewander out of the backfield!

Alabama on Defense

As we stated in the W2W4, ULM’s plan on Saturday was to keep the clock moving and get out of Tuscaloosa as quickly as possible.  In fact, the Warhawks got out of Bryant-Denny even faster than Lane Kiffin does after a loss!  So, it wasn’t surprising that Alabama’s defense completely and totally dominated every category known to man – after accounting for six sacks, Alabama held ULM to 92 total yards of offense!  92 total yards!  The Tide secondary even rebounded after a dreadful performance against Ole Miss and recorded a couple of picks!  And, with only one missed tackle on the day, the Tide’s defense reminded us all of why they were so ballyhooed at the beginning of the season.  There really wasn’t a lot to dissect during the game but here are a few goodies that stood out to us.

Defensive Line

We love, love, love putting Deshawn Hand and Ryan Anderson at defensive end.  About the only thing we loved more than that was seeing Rashaan Evans and Tim Williams at defensive end.  All four of these guys enveloped the pocket from the outside and that helped the Tide amass six sacks on the day.  The speed and power from these guys is pretty amazing and we are left wondering what they could have contributed against the Ole Miss Rebels last week.

There was a significant change in the way the ends played the ULM spread this week.  Instead of having the ends crash down, this week they all stayed outside in an effort to contain the edge runs.  This worked beautifully as the QB read the end and kept the ball the majority of the time, resulting in negligible gains (Denzell Devall played his best game yet).  This was MUCH better than last week.

Lastly, the line was just completely and totally dominant all day long.  This is what it should look like when you have NFL first rounders playing against FBS competition – at times you almost felt sorry for the Warhawks.  Almost.  Multiple times the Tide ran games and stunts that allowed the defensive ends to come free up the middle.  And, as with the first three games, the Tide’s line spiked down more balls than Misty May and Keri Walsh….

Linebackers

The flow of the linebackers seemed better this week as Foster and Ragland seemed to be more involved in making plays against Louisiana-Monroe.  Both Foster and Ronnie Harrison blew up screen passes, which was really nice to see.  We did see a play where ULM went with an empty backfield, forcing Reggie Ragland into 1 on 1 coverage against a back.   Look for that to be used against us later in the year.

Secondary

Well, hello there Ronnie Harrison!  The true freshman was forced into action when Maurice Smith went out last week and he’s excelled in his dime role against the spread.  First he walloped a poor, unsuspecting Hawk and then he picked off a pass later in the game.  Nicely done, #15!

Overall, the secondary was much, much better this week both in coverage and in run support.  Run support seemed to be a point of emphasis for the corners this week as that was an aspect of their game that was severely lacking last week against the Rebels.  Also, the secondary flocked towards any wide receiver screens and they defended that play the best they have all season.

Tidebits

  • Can we have an afternoon where Williams and Evans just rush the passer all day?  I think we have two Myles Garretts on the team if we could just get them on the field.
  • Hand played a really strong game after Jonathan Allen went out (with what looked to be a shoulder that popped out of place).
  • Tide linemen are recognizing the cut blocks by the tackles and are staying on their feet and getting their hands in the air time and time again. Cut blocks are meant to take the ends to the ground in order to open up a quick throwing lane.  By staying on their feet, the ends are getting to a few of these passes.

Alabama on Special Teams

For the first time this year, you can’t say anything negative about Adam Griffith and boy was that good to see.  Griffith’s resurgence will be the key to winning (or losing) a few games this season so seeing him get back to striking the ball confidently was nice to see.  Also, JK Scott boomed a 52 yarder – of course he was 52 yards away from the end zone so he only netted 32 yards but, still…

The one concern we had on Saturday was Bama’s inability to spring a return.  Both the punt return and the kick return game has been sub-par this season and with all of the talent that is on the roster, you would expect much better results.

Final Thoughts

It wasn’t pretty but it was pretty necessary – the Tide needed an opponent they could manhandle defensively while they continue to work out the kinks offensively.  Mission accomplished.

Now Bama prepares for Georgia in what should be a fascinating game between the Hedges.  For the first time since 2009, Vegas does not consider Alabama to be the favorite team – Georgia is now a 2.5 point favorite over the Tide.  However, the nation seems to have prematurely buried the Tide in a watery grave and we think the stories of Bama’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Georgia plays an offensive style that Alabama’s defense is built to annihilate.  In the end, the game will be decided by the quarterback that makes the most plays.  Right now, Georgia fans probably feel about the same as Alabama fans do about their quarterback situation but at least Jake Coker has one shootout under his belt.  Greyson Lambert?  Not so much.  Man, we can’t wait for Saturday to get here…

For more Alabama commentary, you can follow me on Twitter – @lneck25

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W2W4 Alabama vs Louisiana Monroe

The La Monroe Warhawks are coming back to the scene of the crime for the first time since 2007 in what should be the epic beatdown that the 2007 matchup should have been.  It’s tough to imagine that Coach Nick Saban will lose his second straight “revenge” game in two weeks.

This week is about Alabama.  It’s about eliminating turnovers.  It’s about blocking the man across from you consistently for 60 minutes.  It’s about tackling the opponent to the ground each and every time you have a chance to make a tackle.

Today’s game is about improving.  Improving the timing between the receivers and the quarterbacks.  It’s about the receiver running the route that the quarterback expects.  And it’s about pounding out some pent up aggression on the ground against a lesser opponent.  Today is about Alabama.

Alabama on Offense

In the interests of time today, we are offering up the classic bullet point format of the things we will be watching for this week against Louisiana Monroe.  For background purposes, La Monroe has played one game of note this season and that was a 51-14 loss against Georgia.  In that game, the Bulldogs ran for 243 and passed for 192 and it was 35-7 at halftime.  Basically, Alabama should be able to do whatever they want to do this week.  Here’s what we want to see…

  • We think Jake Coker established himself last week as THE guy.  Whether it was running the ball or throwing it down the field, Coker stepped up as a leader last week.  Let’s see him direct a few scoring drives as he continues to get reps and develop timing with his receivers.
  • We want to see Damien Harris get in the game early and often.  This is the type of game that you want to get the starters out of quickly so Bama needs to jump on the Warhawks early and often.
  • We don’t want to see Derrick Henry take a lot of hits this week.  Henry had 28 touches (23 carries and 5 catches) last week so we want to see him kicking it on the sidelines as soon as Alabama can get out to a big lead.
  • Ryan Kelly – this game is for you.  Kelly & his fellow guards were sub par last week so today will be their chance to re-establish their identity as a mauling, dominating front five.  This needs to happen more than anything else in this write up.
  • Lane Kiffin needs to call a good game.  The heat on him ratcheted up this week as the rumor mill cranked out accusations of spending entirely too much time working on the horizontal spread offense.  For two years, Coach Saban has lamented that the offense has no identity and for the second straight year, they still do not have one.  Football can be an easy game, especially when you have infinitely more talent than your opponent.  Throw out the trick plays and just man up and kick your opponent’s ass.  That’s what today should be about.

Alabama on Defense

Against Georgia, the Warhawks’ game plan was just to get the heck out of Athens as quickly and judiciously as possible.  ULM ran the ball 26 times for 45 yards in an effort to just keep the clock moving.  Thru the air, La Monroe completed 23 of 26 passes averaging a meager 6.4 yards per pass attempt – again, they completed a ton of short passes and kept that big ole clock moving.  We suspect that they will not exactly be “upset minded” in their approach today so the defense should not be challenged.  However, in our film review last week, the Bama defense has challenges of their own – tackling.  Here’s what we want to see this week…

  • Tackling.  And lots of it.  We want to see the linebackers and especially the secondary take proper angles and come up to make tackles with very bad intentions.
  • Lost in the five Bama turnovers was the fact that in 65 plays the Alabama defense forced zero turnovers.  Let’s see the Tide D get the ball back to the offense a few extra times today.
  • Will Rashaan Evans ever get an opportunity to play?  He’s Bama’s best pass rusher but we haven’t seen him a lick this year.  Maybe today is the day that he reminds Bama fans that he’s still on the roster.  We’d like to see Tim Williams get some snaps, as well.
  • Can Alabama contain the edges of the defense?  Last week, Ole Miss worked the corner more than a lady of the evening – let’s hope Alabama’s perimeter defense isn’t lying on their backs again this week.
  • We want to see a safety dance this week.  We want to see converted corners Eddie Jackson and Geno Matias-Smith come up and make plays.  Rememeber Rashad Johnson, Mark Barron and Landon Collins?  They were deadly assassins around the line of scrimmage.  The Tide’s defense has not found this type of playmaker at the safety position – at least not so far – so it will be interesting to see how long Saban can tolerate the poor efforts of Matias-Smith and Jackson.
  • Marlon Humphrey needs to put forth a much better tackling effort this week or you may not see him out there much going forward.  Not because he’s not good, just because the tackling was that bad.

Special Teams

Wow, in looking at the film last week we saw just how tentative Adam Griffith’s field goal was struck last week.  There was absolutely no authority behind that kick whatsoever.  With back up kicker Gunnar Rayborn getting popped with a DUI this week, Griffith no other choice than to get out there and perform.  Say a prayer for Griffith the next time he lines up to make a kick – he’s still struggling.

We don’t want to see any fumbled punts.  No fumbled kick off returns.  No errors in the kicking game.  Bama really needs to post a clean sheet this week on special teams.

Final Thoughts

Today’s game isn’t about redemption for last week.  Today’s game isn’t about revenge for 2007.  The game today is about finding leadership.  Leadership at quarterback.  Leadership in the secondary.  And leadership on the sidelines.  With rumors of dissension on the staff, Alabama needs to come out and drop the yellowhammer on the woeful Warhawks in an effort to build confidence both inside and outside the locker room.  Today is a big game for Alabama as they need to find a game that gets them all pulling in the same direction.

Alabama Scoring Defense, 2007 – 2015: Trends and Variations

The Notorious PAB is back with a more in-depth analysis of the Alabama defense since 2007.  We thought it would be an interesting topic, given all of the attention the statistical regression of the defense has garnered of late.  Enjoy!

Alabama Scoring Defense, 2007 – 2015: Trends and Variations

Introduction

In this post, we continue our examination of Bama’s scoring defense during Nick Saban’s tenure as head coach, an effort that started with the September 19 post, “Can Alabama Win Games Defensively, a la 2009?”  We look a) at how points scored and points allowed have changed from one season to the next, and b) at how figures from losses have varied from seasonal averages.

Two very reasonable questions can be asked about this approach. One, why emphasize scoring  defense and scoring?  Two, why focus on losses?

First, scoring defense encapsulates the overall defensive effort.  Yards allowed, three-and-outs, passes defended, and so on are important.  Similarly, points scored is the most fundamental metric for an offense.  At the end of the game, it’s those big numbers on the scoreboard, right next to the teams’ names, that signal a W or an L.

Second, we can often learn more from a loss than a win.  What does a 56 – 3 romp over an overmatched, non-conference opponent tell us?  (Yes, coaches can learn a lot from detailed film study, but for the rest of us…)  When engineers test products, one technique is to operate a unit until failure, closely examine the event and identify the cause(s).  We’re doing a little of the same here.

There is very little margin for error for teams that aspire to play for a national championship.   During the BCS era (1998 – 2013), 24 SEC teams competed in BCS bowl games.  The most losses any of those teams had was three: LSU, 9 – 3, in the 2001  Sugar Bowl.  Five SEC teams were undefeated.  Alabama was 12-1 when it represented the SEC in the first-ever College Football Playoff after the 2014 season.

While this is “apple and oranges” a bit, in the NFL, 10 wins in a 16 game season – .625 winning percentage – is almost always good enough to qualify for the playoffs.  How many head coaches at elite Power Conference college programs would remain employed with a similar winning percentage over time?  Losses have consequences.

In the future, we intend to narrow our focus to just SEC games, distinguishing East from West, and – if we can find reliable data – to look at the impact of turnovers.

Prelude – The Crimson Tide’s 2006 Season

The 2006 season was Mike Shula’s fourth and last as the Crimson Tide’s head coach.  The defensive coordinator was Joe Kines, who was also in his fourth season.  Breaking down the season record:

  • Non-conference: 4 – 0
  • SEC: 1 – 2 vs. East ;  1 – 4 vs. West
  • Regular season: 6 – 6
  • Postseason: 0 – 1
  • Overall: 6 – 7

Average scored:  22.9 PPG     Average allowed:  19.3 ppg     Average difference:  +3.6 ppg

Observations

Looking at defensive efforts, Bama was at or better than average points allowed against nonconference foes Hawaii (17), Lousiana Monroe (7), Duke (14) and Florida International (3).  Against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Independence Bowl, Bama gave up 34 points – 14.8 points worse than average – but lost by only three points, 31 – 34.  The offense stepped up.

The two SEC wins are interesting.  The Vanderbilt game was a low-scoring affair, 13 – 10, but the difference was very close to the season average of 3.7 ppg.  The Ole Miss contest, ending at 26 – 23,  was the most representative game of the season.  Points scored was +3.1 ppg above average, points allowed +4.8 above (+ here indicates “worse”), and the 3-point difference was, again, very close to the 3.7 ppg season average.

Most of the Tide’s six SEC losses were rather close.  The season average for points allowed was 19.3 ppg compared to Arkansas (24), Florida (28), Tennessee (16), Mississippi State (24) and Auburn (22).  Only Florida exceeded the season average for points allowed by more than a touchdown.

Notes

1) All six wins were subsequently vacated.

2) Lost the Iron Bowl, 15 – 22.

3) Lost to Oklahoma State (Big 12) in the Independence Bowl, 31 – 34.

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2007 Season /  Overall Record 7 – 6 ( 5 wins later vacated )

Defensive Coordinator:  Kevin Steele (1st season)

Average scored:  27.1 ppg     Average allowed: 22.0 ppg     Average difference:  +5.1 ppg

2007 compared to 2006

  • Average scored: 1 ppg vs. 22.9 ppg ;  4.2 ppg improvement  (+18.3%)
  • Average allowed: 0 ppg vs. 19.3 ppg ;  2.7 ppg decline  (-14.0%)
  • Average difference: 1 ppg vs.  3.6 ppg ;  1.5 ppg improvement  (+41.7%)

2007 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 8 out of 8
  • Average difference: 8 out of 8

Georgia (SEC East):  23 – 26

  • Difference: -3
  • Variation from average points scored: -4.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: -4.0
  • Total variation: -8.1

Florida State (ACC):  14 – 21

  • Difference: -7
  • Variation from average points scored: -13.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: +1.0
  • Total variation: -12.1

LSU (SEC West):  34 – 41

  • Difference: -7
  • Variation from average points scored: +6.9
  • Variation from average points allowed: -19.0
  • Total variation: – 12.1

Mississippi State (SEC West):  12 – 17

  • Difference: -5
  • Variation from average points scored: -15.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: +5.0
  • Total variation: -10.1

LA – Monroe (Sun Belt):  14 – 21

  • Difference: -7
  • Variation from average points scored: -13.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: +1.0
  • Total variation: -12.1

Auburn (SEC West ; Iron Bowl):  10 – 17

  • Difference: -7
  • Variation from average points scored: -17.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: +5.0
  • Total variation: -12.1

Observations

Two things really jump out about the 2007 season.  First, the improvement in average difference – stated in percentage terms – was big: 41.7%.  Second, in losses to Florida State (ACC), LSU (SEC West), Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) and Auburn (SEC West) the total variation from season averages was exactly the same: -12.1 ppg.

In the Florida State game, points scored was -13.1 vs. season average.  Against LSU, points scored was +6.9 while points allowed was -19.0.  Versus Louisiana-Monroe, points scored was -13.1.  Finally, in the Iron Bowl, the variation from average points scored was -17.1, while points allowed was +5.0.  In summary, the defense played well in three of the four losses that produced a -12.1 total variation.

Notes

1) Nick Saban’s first season as Crimson Tide head coach.

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2008 Season /  Overall Record 12 – 2

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (1st season, had coached defensive secondary)

Average scored:  30.1 ppg     Average allowed:  14.3 ppg     Average difference:  +15.8 ppg

2008 compared to 2007

  • Average scored: 1 ppg vs. 27.1 ppg ;   3.0 ppg improvement  (+11.1%)
  • Average allowed: 14.3 pps vs. 22.0 ppg ; 7 ppg improvement  (+35.0%)
  • Average difference: 15.8. vs. 5.1 ppg (+209.8%)

2008 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 6 out of 8
  • Average difference: 7 out of 8

Florida (SEC East ; SEC Championship Game):  20 – 31

  • Difference: -1
  • Variation from average points scored: -10.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: -16.7
  • Total variation: -26.8

Utah (Mountain West ; Sugar Bowl):  17 – 31

  • Difference: -14
  • Variation from average points scored: -13.1
  • Variation from average points allowed: -16.7
  • Total variation: -29.8

Observations

The numbers clearly show that the Tide offense was more prolific and the defense stingier, season over season.  But the story is much more than that.  2008 was a pretty remarkable achievement.  In the second year of Coach Saban’s tenure, Bama went from 7- 6 in 2007 (including loss to LA-Monroe, for heaven’s sake) to shutting out Auburn in the Iron Bowl, playing for the SEC Championship, and appearing in the Sugar Bowl, ending with a final record of 12 – 2.  Can you say “major uptrend?”

Credit the defense for that uptrend.  Points scored improved 11.1% over the previous season.  Not shabby.  Points allowed, on the other hand, was better by an eye-popping 35.0%.  The defense got better more quickly, providing the offense with some breathing room.

Notes

1) Won the Iron Bowl, 36 – 0.

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2009 Season /  Overall Record 14 – 0

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (2nd season)

Average scored:  32.1 ppg     Average allowed:  11.7 ppg     Average difference:  +20.4 ppg

2009 compared to 2008

  • Average scored: 1 ppg vs. 30.1 ppg ;  2.0 ppg improvement  (+6.6%)
  • Average allowed: 11.7 ppg vs. 14.3 ppg ; 2.6 ppg improvement (+18.2%)
  • Average difference: 4 ppg vs. 15.8 ppg ; 4.6 ppg improvement  (+29.1%)

2009 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 3 out of 8
  • Average difference: 5 out of 8

Observations

One feature of a perfect season: no losses to analyze.  Scoring defense and offensive production both got better.  Once again, the Bama D led the way.  Improvement in points allowed (+18.2%) was almost three times the improvement in points scored (+6.6%).  The 2009 effort was well-balanced: ranking third for points allowed and fifth for points scored among Coach Saban’s eight completed seasons.

Notes

1) Opened season by winning Chik-fil-a Kickoff Game vs. Virginia Tech (ACC), 34 – 24.

2) Won the Iron Bowl, 36 – 21.

3) Won the SEC Championship vs. Florida, 32 – 13.

4) Won the BCS National Championship over Texas (Big 12), 37 – 21.

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2010 Season / Overall record 10 – 3

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (3rd season)

Average scored:  35.7 ppg     Average allowed:  13.5 ppg     Average difference:  +22.2 ppg

2010 compared to 2009

  • Average scored: 7 ppg vs. 32.1 ppg ;  3.6 ppg improvement  (+11.2%)
  • Average allowed: 5 ppg vs. 11.7 ppg ; 1.8 ppg decline  (-15.4%)
  • Average difference: 2 ppg vs. 20.4 ppg ;  1.8 ppg improvement  (+8.8%)

2010 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 4 out of 8
  • Average difference: 4 out of 8

South Carolina (SEC East):  21  – 35

  • Difference: -14
  • Variation from average points scored: -14.7
  • Variation from average points allowed: -21.5
  • Total variation: -36.2

LSU (SEC West):  21 – 24

  • Difference: -3
  • Variation from average points scored: -14.7
  • Variation from average points allowed: -10.5
  • Total variation: – 25.2

Auburn (SEC) West: 27 – 28

  • Difference: -1
  • Variation from average points scored: -8.7
  • Variation from average points allowed: -14.5
  • Total variation: -23.2

Observations

The 2010 record of 10-3 was definitely a step backward from the perfect 2009 season.  Both the South Carolina and LSU defeats were marked by two touchdown (-14.7 point) negative variations from the season average for points scored.  Unfortunately, these games were not defensive struggles.  Bama gave up three touchdowns (-21.5) more than usual to the Gamecocks and 10.5 points more than its season average to LSU.

The Tide’s scoring defense improved by almost touchdown (to only -8.7 points) against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but scoring was off by just over two touchdowns (-14.5 points).

In terms of total variation, the LSU and Auburn games were similar (-25.2 points and -23.2 points, respectively), but South Carolina was a definite outlier with a total variation of -36.2 points.

Both average points scored and average points allowed for 2010 rank fourth among Coach Saban’s eight completed seasons.  The balance that was achieved in 2009 continued.

Notes

1) Won the Citrus Bowl vs. Michigan State (Big 10), 49 – 7.

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2011 Season / Overall Record: 12 – 1

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (4th season)

Average scored:  34.8 ppg     Average allowed:  8.2 ppg     Average difference:  +26.6 ppg

2011 compared to 2010

  • Average scored: 8 ppg vs. 35.7 ppg ;  0.9 ppg decline  (-2.5%)
  • Average allowed: 2 ppg vs. 13.5 ppg ; 5.3 ppg improvement  (+39.3%)
  • Average difference: 6 ppg vs. 22.2 ppg ;  4.4 ppg improvement (+19.8%)

2011 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 1 out of 8
  • Average difference: 2 out of 8

LSU (SEC West):  6 – 9

  • Difference: -3
  • Variation from average points scored: -28.8
  • Variation from average points allowed: -0.7
  • Total variation: -29.5

Observations

The Bama vs. LSU contest, which ended 6-9 in the Tiger’s favor and was the Tide’s ony loss in a BCS championship season, is certainly one of the more hard-fought defensive contest between elite opponents  that college football has ever seen.  It ranks right up there with the 1966 Notre Dame / Michigan State game, in which the #1 Fighting Irish (8-0) and the #2 Spartans (9-0) fought to a 10 – 10 tie.

Four facts stand out.

  • In surrendering those 9 points, Bama was less than one point (-0.7) off its season average for points allowed (8.5 ppg).  The Tide D, on average over 13 games, allowed less than one touchdown plus one field goal. 
  • Scoring defense was much improved over 2011, by +5.3 ppg, a stellar +39.3%.
  • Compared to all of Coach Saban’s other seasons, 2011 is the gold (crimson?) standard, ranking first in average points allowed and second in average points scored.
  • Whatever film study, game planning and adjustments were carried out by the Tide coaches, it paid off in the BCS Championship game when Bama shut out LSU, 21-0. Comparing the two games against LSU, the Tide was +9 points for scoring defense and +15 points for points scored in most important game on the biggest stage.  That +24 overall variance was huge compared to the 5.5 ppg overall improvement from 2011 to 2012.  Tigers were tamed!

Notes

1) Won BCS National Championship vs. LSU, 21 – 0

==============================

2012 Season / Overall Record 13 – 1

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (5th season)

Average scored:  38.7 ppg     Average allowed:  10.9 ppg     Average difference: +27.8 ppg

2012 compared to 2011

  • Average scored: 7 ppg vs. 34.8 ppg ;  3.9 ppg improvement  (+11.2%)
  • Average allowed: 9 ppg vs. 8.2 ppg ; 2.7 ppg decline  (-32.9%)
  • Average difference: 8 ppg vs. 26.6 ppg ; 1.2 ppg improvement  (+4.5%)

2012 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 2 out of 8
  • Average difference: 1 out of 8

Texas A&M (SEC West):  24 – 29

  • Difference: -5
  • Variation from average points scored: -14.7
  • Variation from average points allowed: -19.1
  • Total variation: -33.8

Observations

Notes

1) Opened the season by winning the Cowboys Classic vs. Michigan (Big 10), 41 – 14.

2) Won Iron Bowl, 49 – 0.

3) Won SEC Championship vs. Georgia, 32 – 28.

4) Won BCS Championship vs. Notre Dame (Independent, sort of), 42 – 14.

==============================

2013 Season / Overall Record 11 – 2

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (6th season)

Average scored:  38.2 ppg     Average allowed:  13.9 ppg     Average difference:  +24.3 ppg

2013 compared to 2012

  • Average scored: 2 ppg vs. 38.7 ppg ; 0.5 ppg decline  (-1.3%)
  • Average allowed: 13.9 ppg compared to 10.9 ppg ; 3.0 ppg decline (-27.5%)
  • Average difference: 2 ppg vs. 27.8 ppg ; 3.5 ppg decline  (-12.6%)

2013 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 5 out of 8
  • Average difference: 3 out of 8

Auburn (SEC West ;  Iron Bowl):  28 – 34

  • Difference: -6
  • Variation from average points scored: -10.2
  • Variation from average points allowed: -20.1
  • Total variation: -30.3

Oklahoma (Big 12 ; Sugar Bowl):  31 – 45

  • Difference: -14
  • Variation from average points scored: -7.2
  • Variation from average points allowed: -31.1
  • Total variation: -38.3

Observations

The Tide D did not perform well in the losses to Auburn and Oklahoma.   Surrendering 34 and 45 points, respectively.  Looking at points allowed, this constituted the absolute worst two-game sequence of Coach Saban’s time at The Cornerstone.  The timing was unfortunate as well, with these lapses coming in the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

Average points scored, average points allowed and average difference all declined compared to the previous season.  The change in average points scored was minimal (-1.3%).   Average points allowed was off only 3 points, but that works out to a -27.5%.  Surely disturbing to a program that had continued to improve over the years despite “spotlight” season openers, nonconference games against Power Conference teams and consistently brutal SEC schedules.

Comparing 2013 to all eight seasons in the Saban era, average points allowed came in at 5, while average difference had the pretty good rank of 3.  The Bama offense was able to compensate, in most cases, for a less-stingy defense.

Notes

1) Opened the season by winning the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game vs. Virginia Tech (ACC), 35 – 10.

==============================

2014 Season / Overall Record 12 – 2

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (7th season)

Average scored:  36.9 ppg     Average allowed:  18.4 ppg     Average difference:  +18.5 ppg

2014 compared to 2013

  • Average scored: 9 ppg vs. 38.2 ppg ;  1.3 ppg decline   (-3.4%)
  • Average allowed: 4 ppg vs. 13.9 ppg ;  4.5 ppg decline  (-32.4%)
  • Average difference: 5 ppg vs. 24.3 ppg ;  5.8 ppg decline  (-23.9%)

2014 rank among all completed seasons

  • Average points allowed: 7 out of 8
  • Average difference: 6 out of 8

Ole Miss (SEC West):  17 – 23

  • Difference: -6
  • Variation from average points scored: -19.9
  • Variation from average points allowed: -4.6
  • Total difference: -24.5

Ohio State (Big 10):  35 – 42

  • Difference: -7
  • Variation from average points scored: -1.9
  • Variation from average points allowed: -23.6
  • Total variation: -25.5

Observations

The losses to Ole Miss and Ohio State are almost polar opposites.  Against the Rebels, the average points allowed variance was a just a little more than a field goal (-4.6 points), but the offense scored 19.9 points less than its season average.   Ole Miss’s D was superior that day.  In the CFP semifinal game versus the Buckeyes, the situation was reversed: the offense was right at the season average, scoring 35 points, but gave up 42 to the decal-covered denizens of the Olentangy River.  The Buckeyes continued the prolific scoring that had generated 59 points against Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game, aka “The Beatdown of Bucky Badger.”

The season-over-season trend was definitely negative. The “downslope” that started in 2013 continued.  2014 ranked 7 out of 8 for average points allowed and 6 out of 8 with respect to average difference.  In percentage terms, average points allowed declined by 32.4%, while average difference declined by 23.9%.    Scoring average was only slightly down at -3.4%, which pretty much points the finger at the defensive side of the ball.

Notes

1) Opened the season by winning the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game vs. West Virginia (Big 12), 35 – 10.

2) Won the Iron Bowl, 55 – 44.

3)  Won the SEC Championship vs. Missouri, 42 – 13.

4) The loss to Ohio State was in College Football Playoff semifinal game.

==============================================

2015 Season (through 20 Sep 15) / Overall Record 2 – 1

Defensive Coordinator:  Kirby Smart (8th season)

Figures are based on the first three games in the 2015 season:

Bama 35 ….. Wisconsin 17 (W)

Bama 37 ….. Middle Tennessee State 10 (W)

Bama 37 ….. Ole Miss 43 (L)

Average scored:  36.3 ppg    Average allowed:  23.2 ppg     Average difference: +13.1 ppg

2015 (3 games) compared to 2014

  • Average scored: 3 ppg vs. 36.9 ppg ;  0.6 ppg decline  (-1.6%)
  • Average allowed: 2 ppg vs. 18.4 ppg ; -4.8 ppg decline  (-26.1%)
  • Average difference: 1 ppg vs. 18.5 ppg ;  5.4 ppg decline  (-29.2%)

Ole Miss (SEC West):  37 – 43

  • Difference: -6
  • Variation from average points scored (first two games): +1.0
  • Variation from average points allowed (first two games): -29.5
  • Total variation: -28.5

Observations

Going into the Ole Miss game, Bama was averaging 36.0 ppg on offense and 13.5 ppg on defense.  The offense had been very consistent, scoring 35 against Wisconsin and 37 versus Middle Tennessee State.  As one might expect, the defense gave up a few more points against a Big 10 opponent (17) than against a competitor from Conference USA (10).

For its first two games, the Ole Miss Rebels generated big scores against UT – Martin (Ohio Valley Conference), 76 – 3, and Fresno State (Big West), 73 – 24.

In its contest with Ole Miss, the Bama offense scored right at its season average, despite contending with an SEC West defense featuring some exceptional athletes.  I refer you to #5, one Robert Nkemdiche.

In the game – sorry, facts are facts – Bama lost five fumbles that led to all of Ole Miss’s 17 points in the first half (halftime score 10 – 17) and 24 overall.

Notes

1) Opened the season by winning the Cowboys Classic vs. Wisconsin (Big 10), 35 – 17.

Conclusion

As you can see, Alabama’s defensive statistics and, as a result, their margins of victory have been shrinking over the last three years.  Yes, the game has changed entirely since 2008 but the expectation should be for Alabama to continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, even if their defensive stats pale in comparison to the former Bama teams of 2009 and 2011.

In 2008, Alabama ranked 3rd in the country in defensive third down percentage.  In 2014, they ranked 41st.  In 2015, Bama is currently ranked 59th in defensive third down percentage.

In 2011, Alabama ranked #1 in the country in giving up the fewest plays of over 20 yards or more.  In 2014, Bama’s defense checked in at #50.  This year, the defense is ranked #65.  Not good.

Say what you will but Alabama’s defensive prowess is evidently on its way to slipping into some form of mediocrity and it’s been a steady decline over the last few years.