Alabama Defense Should Get Better

It is not prudent to criticize a defense that has given up two field goals in two games, a defense that turned in four turnovers against Penn State in a 24-3 victory Saturday night, a defense that was rebuilding and deserves a little slack. In fact, it's not prudent for a sportswriter to grade anything about a college football team. Consider the qualifications.



Nonetheless, after two games there is an uneasy feeling about the Alabama defense. Not that it's not adequate. Just that it doesn't seem to equal the sum of its parts. Good athletes abound, but it seems to be just a bit off.

That doesn't mean Bama isn't playing winning football on defense. Penn State kicked a fourth quarter field goal to avoid a shutout.

There can be no discounting takeaways, and the Crimson Tide defense had four of them against the Nittany Lions in Bama's 24-3 victory Saturday night. Mark Barron and Robert Lester were the main men in those takeaways. Both had an interception, and on a most memorable play Barron forced a turnover in the Penn State red zone, which Lester picked up and returned 75 yards—before he fumbled it back to the Lions, the only Tide turnover of the night courtesy of the defense.

Takeaways are good, but they are called turnovers on the other side, and Penn State is looking at what the Lions gave away, not what Alabama earned. That's not completely fair. Barron's hit was the reason for the Penn State lost fumble. A terrific rush by Bama linebacker Dont'a Hightower resulted in an interception by Will Lowery. On the other hand, Penn State quarterbacks made some errors on the passes intercepted by Lester and Barron.

(Speaking of Barron, one would have to say there was no 'BAMA Magazine jinx on the cover boy for the latest issue.)

Alabama's defense also gets high marks for continuing its streak – now 36 games – of not allowing an opposing rusher to gain 100 yards. The Tide shut down a good one Saturday night. Evan Royster is probably going to become the all-time leading rusher in Penn State history, and Penn State has a good history. Royster was held to 32 yards on just nine carries against Alabama.

So what's to complain about? Penn State quarterbacks hit fewer than 50 per cent of their passes (14-31 for only 156 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions) and Tide defenders broke up five passes. Eight Lions runners had only 127 yards, about what Bama's Trent Richardson had when he first broke a sweat.

But...

Sacks? Zero by Alabama. There were six quarterback hurries, though, and we defer to Nick Saban who has pointed out in the past that sacks aren't critical to defensive success or pass defense.

Tackles for loss? One for three yards.

Time of possession can be an important statistic or not important, but Penn State had a slight advantage (about a minute) in that category.

First downs had Alabama with a miniscule 19-17 advantage.

Bama held Penn State to 5-14 on third down conversions (slightly better than Bama's 3-10), but the Tide allowed the Lions to make good on both fourth down tries.

This was not a terrible Alabama defensive performance, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Lions ran 62 plays and pieked up 283 yards, which is 4.6 yards per play. By comparison, Alabama had 58 plays for 409 yards, 7.1 yards per play.

The defense had no penalties. Bama's five penalties for 33 yards were four against the offense and one against the kickoff return team.

But the reality is Alabama doesn't have the same defense it had a year ago with Rolando McClain, Terrence Cody, Javier Arenas, et al.

There's no reason to believe, though, it won't pick up. Bama has good athletes and good coaching, and experience comes every week.

Something else comes this week. The return of defensive end Marcell Dareus. The most valuable defensive player from last year's BCS National Championship Game victory over Texas returns to action this week when Alabama goes to Duke. Dareus has been on the sidelines the past two weeks, an NCAA-mandated penalty for receipt of benefits from an agent.

Bama and Duke will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 p.m. central) with national television coverage by ABC.

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