If the outdated adage holds true that protection wins championships, then Alabama at present has little probability of securing Nick Saban’s sixth as coach of the Crimson Tide in 2020.
Ole Miss and former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin humiliated Saban’s protection on Saturday in a 63-48 loss, transferring the ball at will in a means by no means earlier than seen in Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa. And whereas Kiffin’s simple offensive genius contributed to Ole Miss’ repeated explosive performs, the difficulty appears a lot worse for the Crimson Tide (3-0, 3-0 SEC).
The protection is routinely confused. It is routinely caught out of place. It routinely experiences protection busts. It doesn’t strain the quarterback sufficient. And, worst of all, it has not tackled effectively.
“We’ve by no means performed this manner on protection,” Saban informed reporters after the sport. “It’s definitely not what we aspire to be as a defensive workforce, and we will work onerous with our gamers. I imagine in our gamers. . . . We’re able to it.”
The indicators have been there all season, at the same time as the general expertise of the workforce masked the deep faults in what has for therefore lengthy been the inspiration of Saban’s groups. The protection gave up 199 yards and two touchdowns within the second half in opposition to Missouri and first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz. The subsequent week, it allowed 450 yards in opposition to Texas A&M, together with 335 by means of the air.
As troubling as these video games had been, they paled compared to what the protection gave up in opposition to the Rebels. Ole Miss (1-2, 1-2 SEC) put up 647 yards, a historic metric: Prior to Saturday, Alabama hadn’t given up 500 yards since a 2003 Iron Bowl loss. The 48 factors had been additionally probably the most scored by an unranked opponent because the Rebels scored 43 on the Tide in 1936.
Rebels quarterback Matt Corral accomplished 21 of 28 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns in opposition to the suspect Tide secondary. Running backs Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy mixed for 40 rushes, 4 touchdowns and 248 yards — a 6.2 yard-per-carry common.
That’s not all: 14 of Ole Miss’ performs went for at the very least 15 yards, an unthinkable quantity in opposition to a Saban-coached protection. That helped Corral convert 9 of 17 third downs and 4 of 4 fourth downs. Saban and several other Alabama defensive gamers instructed postgame that Kiffin had Alabama’s defensive indicators, however that solely accounts for a lot — and positively not for poor fundamentals.
Some of that is to be anticipated. The secondary has 4 new starters, and the return of Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe is just not sufficient to offset that inexperience. Alabama’s entrance seven, nonetheless, options a number of contributors with important taking part in time, together with DJ Dale, LaBryan Ray, Christian Barmore, Christian Harris and Dylan Moses. Defensive coordinator Pete Golding has loads of expertise to work with, nevertheless it’s clear he’s not getting probably the most out of this unit. Saban should begin demanding extra of him; in any other case, the protection will proceed to endure.
It suffered lots on Saturday as Alabama and Ole Miss traded scoring drives by means of the top of the sport — the Rebels scoring on 5 of six drives within the second half, together with three touchdowns. It rapidly grew to become obvious that Alabama could not merely run up the rating: The Tide wanted each landing, or else the Rebels would have run them out of Oxford.
To that finish, credit score the virtuoso performances of quarterback Mac Jones (28-of-32 passing, 417 yards, two touchdowns), operating again Najee Harris (23 carries, 206 yards, 5 touchdowns) and the receiving trio of John Metchie III, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith (mixed 23 catches, 359 yards, one landing) in opposition to a equally maligned Rebels protection.
The query now turns into: How lengthy can Alabama’s offense make up for the deficiencies of its protection? The Tide face Kirby Smart and Georgia in Tuscaloosa subsequent week; Stetson Bennett is an environment friendly quarterback who ought to be capable of transfer the ball in opposition to Alabama, and Georgia’s protection — which ranks within the prime 5 nationally in each scoring and whole protection — is significantly better outfitted to cease Jones, Harris and Co.
“Well, clearly we’re going to should play protection loads higher,” Saban stated of Georgia after the sport. “Because they’ve a extremely good defensive workforce. It’ll be difficult, however we’d wish to take pleasure in this sport for a couple of minutes earlier than we’re frightened about that one.”
If the Tide handle to get previous Georgia and the rest of their 10-game convention schedule unscathed — or with just one loss — then they will possible face Georgia in a rematch or a potent, Kyle Trask-led Florida offense within the SEC championship sport. And, for these questioning what any potential College Football Playoff berth would possibly appear to be, they want solely look to a different workforce whose offense couldn’t make up for its protection when it mattered most: Oklahoma.
The Sooners made the Playoff three straight years from 2017-19, led by Heisman-caliber seasons from quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts, respectively. Each time, they misplaced their semifinal sport to an SEC workforce, giving up a mean of 583 yards and shedding by a mean margin of 54-37.
Perhaps Alabama’s protection can have improved by then and this can all be a distant reminiscence. But if that enchancment doesn’t occur quickly, then the Tide could miss out on the Playoff for a second straight season.