08 September 2008
A first glance at the numbers from the Tulane game would seem to give the indication that Alabama's defense played a poor game, especially in comparison to the absolute dominance that they showed against Clemson. After all, Bama did allow 318 yards of total offense, compared to just 188 against Clemson.
A closer look will tell you that both teams averaged 3.9 yards per play, and it was the sheer number of plays that Tulane ran on offense that allowed them to top 300 yards. There were multiple factors that led to the Green Wave running 82 offensive plays, nearly double the 48 run by Clemson in week 1:
- The Alabama offense was ineffective against Tulane, punting the ball seven times and turning it over once.
- Tulane had 13 possessions in the game, while Clemson only had 10.
- Tulane attempted 32 rushing attempts, compared to Clemson's 14.
- Bama struggled on third down on both sides of the ball.
That last one is the biggest factor. In week one the Tide offense 11 of 17 on third down, holding Clemson to just one of nine. In week two the Tide offense was just three of ten while Tulane was seven of 20. This allowed Tulane to win the time of possession battle 36:35 to 23:25.
Of Tulane's 13 drives Bama managed to force Tulane into a 3-and-out situation four times, matching the 30% clip from the Clemson game (three of ten). There were five other possessions where Alabama only allowed one first down, meaning that the Green Wave were able to put together substantial drives on just four of their 13 possessions.
Alabama continued to be stingy against the run. While the Bama defense failed to match its Clemson performance of allowing zero yards rushing, holding the Green Wave to an average of just 2.7 yards per carry has to be considered a success. Through two games the Tide defense has not allowed a run of longer than 11 yards.
The passing defense also continues to be strong. While Tulane did managed 232 yards in the air, it took 50 pass attempts to reach that total. In one of Glen55's favorite statistics, Tulane averaged just 4.64 yards per attempt, a great total for the Bama defense.
The biggest thing for this defense is that it has gone eight quarters into the 2008 season without allowing a touchdown. When Bama turned the ball over at its own 31 yard line the defense held for a 3-and-out and a missed field goal.
Who was the defensive star of the game?
After a quiet week one, the sophomore mike linebacker made his prescence felt early and often in week two. He ended the game with 15 tackles, nine of which were solo, two tackles for a loss, and a pass broken up. This was the type of production we saw from Rolando in Bama's last two games last season.
Once again Terrence Cody was a major factor. The Green Wave rarely attempted to run inside, with the big fellow getting in on five tackles, including one for a loss. On two different possessions Tulane managed to find their way inside the Alabama ten yard line. They attempted a rush on the first play, but went to the air for the other five, finding it impossible to run in tight quarters.
Cody wasn't the only defensive lineman to have a nice game. Bobby Greenwood and Lorenzo Washington were solid on their end, pushing the ball carrier time and time again into the waiting arms of Bama's linebackers. Brandon Deaderick was a disruptive force all night. He was not credited with a quarterback hurry despite the fact that he and Tulane QB Kevin Moore spent a good deal of time on the ground together.
We didn't see a whole lot of this group in week one, but week two was a different story. McClain's 15 tackles led the way with Don'ta Hightower chipping in ten, Brandon Fanney eight, and Cory Reamer seven. That means the Tide's starting four linebackers combined for 40 tackles in the game, including 5.5 for a loss.
Hightower had a fantastic game, forcing a fumble inside of the Tide ten yard line as a highlight of his first big night on the Tide defense. He still needs to work on his pass coverage, but he is proving to be a very solid tackler. Don't expect him to just step aside for Prince Hall when Hall's suspension is up... this kid is for real.
Fanney finally had a big night for the Tide. He hasn't put up the type of numbers that you want from the jack linebacker, but he was involved. His eight tackles were a career high, doubling his career total coming into the game. His 1.5 tackles for a loss were the first of his career. He was also very solid in stringing plays out when he was lined up with his hand down. I've been very critical of his play, but I'll give credit where it is due. He played a very solid game.
Reamer showed brief signs in week one that he was going to be a solid linebacker. Week two was showcase for the converted defensive back. Among his seven tackles were his first career sack for a loss of eight yards and another tackle for a loss of two yards. He has been solid in pass coverage and is showing the ability to be one of Bama's better tacklers.
Eryk Anders saw some time at the jack and managed two tackles and one quarterback hurry. Chavis Williams was active again, though he failed to record anything statistically. Jerrell Harris got his feet wet earning his first time on the field.
The game plan was to keep the Tulane passing game in front of the DBs, and with the exception of one long play, this was effective. An average of 4.64 yards per passing attempt will help the Tide win a lot of games, especially games in which Bama has an early lead.
As is usually the case Rashad Johnson was the leader of the unit. He put up nine tackles and a pass broken up, but dropped another interception. Get some "stickum" for the man, please.
Javier Arenas only played one half of defense but still managed three tackles and 1/2 of a tackle for a loss. He continues to show me that he has the ability to be a complete player. Sometimes toughness from a defensive back is more important than size. There will be a time this season when size is the issue, but so far so good for Javy.
Marquis Johnson had a very nice game for the second week in a row. His role became much larger when Arenas went down, and he remained very solid. Tulane tried to go after him deep twice and neither pass was completed. He was beaten deep once, but he showed good recovery skills and speed by getting to the receiver in time to break up the pass.
Justin Woodall played a nice game with four tackles and had a pass broken up. It appears as though teams are avoiding his side of the field at times. It's not that his skill set is prodigious at this point, but rather his size is quite the deterrent for opposing players.
Kareem Jackson was involved in Tulane's one big play, though the receiver left his area of the zone before the ball was thrown. Otherwise he is still Bama's lock down corner. He had five tackles, though several of those came in run support. He likey won't light up the stat sheet often because teams will be reluctant to throw the ball to his side.
Mark Barron got his first major playing time at the star position after Arenas went down, and what we saw was a work in progress. He did end the game with three tackles, including another bone jarring one. He also got beat in coverage twice, something that is not much of a surprise given that he is still adjusting from playing linebacker. It is interesting to see him line up at the star because with his size he looks much more like a linebacker than he does a defensive back.
Overall it appears as though the defensive philosophy will be "bend but don't break." That's not a crowd pleasing style of play, but it has been effective so far as Bama has allowed just 506 yards on 136 plays - an average of 3.9 yards per play. The Tide has been stingy in the red zone, allowing no touchdowns on four trips inside their 20 yard line.
At some point in time there will have to be a greater emphasis put on pass rush and there will have to be more turnovers created. But as of right now the defense looks very good.