17 September 2008
When a defense only allows 158 yards of total offense to their opponent, you have to figure that they would be in party mode after the game. But 30 of those yards came on on a fourth down play in the second quarter that resulted in not only a first down, but also the first touchdown allowed by the Tide defense this season. It was a meaningless score in a blow out game, but was just enough to sour the night for many Tide defenders.
That one play aside, it was a fantastic evening for the Alabama defense. The Western Kentukcy offense managed just 3.3 yards per play, and was equally ineffective in both the rushing and passing attacks. In 22 rushing attempts the Hilltoppers totalled just 42 yards, an average of 1.9 per. In 26 passing attempts they reached only 116 yards - with a tip of the cap to Glen55, that comes to a woeful 4.5 yards per attempt.
Unlike the Bama offense, though, the defense was not able to unload the bench. Two long fourth quarter drives by the Tide offense at up 13:19 of the clock, meaning that Western Kentucky only had the ball for 1:41 and three plays. With that being the case Bama only managed to find playing time for 16 reserve defenders, as opposed to 26 reserves on offense. The only defensive player to make his season debut was Prince Hall, who earned his way into playing time by reducing his suspension by one game.
There was a concern coming into this game that the spread offense run by Western Kentucky could give Bama problems, but the Tide defense never gave the WKU offense a chance to establish any sort of rhythm. The Hilltoppers managed just one drive of greater than six plays, and that was in the third quarter after Bama had begun to substitute. The main way that Bama was able to accomplish this was by holding WKU to a terrible three of 12 on third down situations.
With the spread attack run by WKU there weren't many opportunities for the linemen to get involved in bringing guys down. This was a game where the line was back to "gap filling" roles and trying to get pressure to the QB before he passed the ball.
On their fourth play from scrimmage they attempted to run up the middle... they would not try again. Terrence Cody exploded through the line for his lone tackle (four yards behind the line of scrimmage), dislodged the ball and recovered the fumble. If you are only going to be involved in one play statisically, it's tough to be better than a tackle for a loss with a fumble caused and recovered.
Josh Chapman was also solid, demonstrating that Alabama's refusal to allow yards up the gut goes further than just Cody. He ended the game with two tackles, with 1.5 for a loss of two yards. When your opponent only runs the ball 22 times and you manage to get 3.5 tackles for a loss by your nose guards, that's production beyond what you normally see there.
Throw in another 1.5 tackles for a loss by end Luther Davis and you're starting to see why Western Kentucky struggled so bad to gain yards on the ground. Brandon Deaderick and Bobby Greenwood had an additional three tackles, and helped the Tide line completely take away anything between the tackles.
Both Greenwood and Lorenzo Washington were credited with quarterback hurries, which is a positive sign considering how quickly WKU QB David Wolke got rid of the ball on most of his passing attempts. The Bama line will need to be a real prescence in pass rush this weekend if the Tide expects to limit Arkansas' offense.
With Bama spending almost all of the game in the nickel and dime packages, the numbers for this group did not approach the first half numbers of a week ago. In many cases there were only two linebackers on the field, which limited the opportunities for the group. In addition to that, WKU only ran 48 offensive plays, with one resulting in a TD and 12 falling incomplete. That means that there were only 35 plays that ended with a Tide tackle.
Once again it was Rolando McClain leading the way. He's been Bama's best defensive player so far this year, and in limited time Saturday he was able to notch three tackles, with a huge tack for a loss on WKU's first play from scrimmage. He's playing at an All-SEC level, and at the rate he is going seems to be on his way to being listed among Bama's best at the position.
Courtney Upshaw ended the game, his first with extension action on defense, with six tackles. Three of those came on kick coverage, where he was extremely active. The other three came from the Jack linebacker spot, where he was an energetic force. Brandon Fanney has been a tremendous improvement over Keith Saunders, but he still hasn't become the playmaker that Bama needs at the Jack. Upshaw isn't ready yet, but he could be getting close.
Charlie Higgenbotham, Fanney, Eryk Anders, Prince Hall, and Don'ta Hightower each recorded a tackle, and Chavis Williams once again had a quarterback hurry. Nothing spectacular from anyone, but a solid group of performances that kept WKU from ever establishing anything.
Rashad Johnson ended the game with seven tackles and two passes broken up, but it was his blown coeverage and missed tackle that allowed the Hilltopper TD. Rashad has been inconsistent so far this season, though I will lay some of that on him trying too hard
to make plays instead of letting the game come to him like last season. Expectations can do that to you, and I expect Rashad to settle down, probably as early as this week, and have a huge game.
Javier Arenas also had seven tackles, including his first collegiate sack. Technically he didn't sack the QB, but he caused an intentional grounding penalty which results statistically in a sack. He continues to demonstrate the ability to be more than just a return man, and the Tide nickel defense is notably less effective when he isn't in the game.
He and Marquis Johnson have been very, very good so far. Nobody is throwing the ball towards Kareem Jackson, so everything is headed at these two guys. And the only three big plays against the Tide secondary this season have come at the expense of Rashad Johnson. Marquis added a nifty tackle for a loss on a wide receiver screen to his solid night.
Justin Woodall was the guy who has garnered the most raves from Saturday, though. He had his first big night as a Bama defender, with five tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception. He already has more career interceptions (1) and passes broken up (2) than Marcus Carter had in two fulls seasons. He is also making players loathe to come over the middle with at least one blisteringly hard hit each game. He still needs to improve some in pass coverage, though that should come when his instincts improve with more playing time.
The other guys all played solid games, with no pass play larger than the 30 yard touchdown. When you can't remember a defensive back after a game, that's usually a good thing. These guys continue to be physical at the point of attack and are able to be effective both pass coverage and in run support. What else did we expect from a Nick Saban defensive backfield?
There were a number of guys, like Jerrell Harris, that would have seen playing time had Bama not controlled the ball the entirety of the fourth quarter. Even more, like Prince Hall, would have gotten more time on the field had the defense had more than just three snaps in the final period. That's really the only negative for the defense in the game... that more guys didn't get to play.
The task should get a little tougher this weekend. Arkansas lacks the overall talent at the skill positions that Clemson had, but the Hogs do have one of the conferences best offensive lines. How Bama is able to control the line of scrimmage this week should go a long way towards telling us how effective this defense can be this season.