TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Last month, after Alabama romped past Florida in The Swamp, Sports Illustrated proclaimed the Crimson Tide defense one of the best in college football history.
So much for an SI jinx.
Alabama has held its three opponents since then to 13 points, continuing a dominant run that has the Tide defense riding atop the national leader board in several key categories.
Alabama leads all FBS schools in total defense, giving up 180.5 yards per game; scoring defense at 6.88 points per game; rushing defense, surrendering 44.88 yards per game; pass efficiency defense at 83.68; and first downs allowed at 9.88 per game. The Crimson Tide also ranks second nationally in passing defense (127.5 yards) and third-down percentage defense.
If you’ve watched Alabama play much this season, you may say the unit leads the nation in number of bone-jarring hits as well.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, whose Crimson Tide faces top-ranked LSU on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, said the defensive’s dominance stems in part from growing pains.
“I think the markers along the way were the successes as well as the mistakes that were made by the players who are out there playing,” Saban said. “They’re playing better because of the knowledge and the experience they gained when they were young players, sort of maturing into what they are now.”
The Alabama defense is a veteran group that features nine returning starters from last year. Five seniors and six juniors dot the lineup.
A whopping five Alabama defenders were named to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference first team. The unit is loaded with NFL prospects in the secondary, the linebacking corps and along the defensive line.
Dont’a Hightower leads the unit with 48 tackles, followed by safety Mark Barron at 40. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw has 4.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
Alabama’s defense has pitched shutouts against North Texas and Vanderbilt. It hasn’t surrendered more than 14 points to any of its opponents.
The best chance for LSU to do any damage against the Alabama defense may be early.
The Crimson Tide has given up 30 points to opponents in the first quarter, but only 25 points in the final three quarters combined.
LSU punter Brad Wing, a Melbourne, Australia, native, won’t be the only player on the field Saturday from Down Under. Alabama defensive lineman Jesse Williams, from Brisbane, Australia, has started all eight games this year in helping anchor the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 alignment.
Asked about Wing after Tuesday’s practice, Williams said he has enjoyed watching his fellow Aussie experience success.
“I don’t know him personally, but I know of him,” Williams said. “There obviously aren’t too many Australians in the NCAA, so you kind of keep track of each other. I’ve heard about how he’s doing, and now we’re obviously playing against each other. I don’t think I’ll be able to go against him too much because he’s a punter, but it’s good to see a fellow Australian doing well in the NCAA.”
Wing, the son of a former NFL punter, grew up playing Australian rules football back home. He spent his senior year of high school at Parkview Baptist as a foreign exchange student and was part of a team that reached the Class 3A championship game.
Williams played American football on club teams during his high-school years. He got his first taste of the game in the United States starring for Western Arizona Community College, where he blossomed into one of the nation’s top junior-college prospects.
Safe at home
Alabama has won 25 of the 26 games it has played at home since 2008 after losing three times at Bryant-Denny in Saban’s first season at the school.
The Crimson Tide’s only home loss the past four seasons came against Auburn last year. Auburn overcame a 24-7 halftime deficit en route to a 28-27 win.
Start slow, finish strong
Alabama has finished games with a vengeance this year, outscoring opponents 67-3 in the second quarter, 107-14 in the third quarter and 69-8 in the fourth.
By comparison, the Crimson Tide has outscored opponents 72-30 in the opening quarter.
Penn State, Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee have all taken early leads against Alabama before getting blown out.
“We’ve had games where we came out rolling, and a couple of games where it took a quarter to get rolling,” senior tight end Brad Smelley said. “But I think ultimately it’s just being efficient and getting all 11 guys on the same page. We’ve usually gotten that done. If you start slow start, you’ve just got to push through it.”