Why Can't Johnny Tackle? Elementary

One of the most disappointing things about Alabama's performance in its loss to South Carolina last week was the Crimson Tide's poor tackling performance. In critical situations, missed Bama tackles enabled South Carolina's offense to keep moving in the 35-21 win over the Tide.

This week another factor is added to the difficulty for the Alabama defense. Bama is host to Ole Miss, and the Rebels have an option quarterback. There is a school of thought that Mississippi's Jeremiah Masoli would be a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy if he was still at Oregon and running that offense. As it is, he is running a good bit of Oregon offense, according to Alabama Coach Nick Saban.

In addition to Masoli, the Rebels have a tough running back in junior Brandon Bolden, who is averaging nearly seven yards per carry.

Alabama and Ole Miss will play at 8 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. ESPN2 will televise the game, which is Bama's homecoming. The Tide is 5-1 overall, 2-1 in Southeastern Conference games, and ranked eighth in the nation, Ole Miss 3-2, including 1-1 in the league.

Saban said Masoli "has a great feel for running the offense they are running, which is more of an Oregon style of offense, but still has a lot that typical (Mississippi Coach) Houston Nutt stuff, downhill power, that kind of stuff. But the option part of it, the guy is extremely quick, he's physical as a runner, he's a good thrower, he's a good scrambler, he makes throws off the scramble. So he probably is the best combination guy we have seen for a while around here in terms of his ability to run the ball, make plays with his feet, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a passer."

The option is difficult for any team to defend, in part because it is rarely seen, in part because it gives the offense an extra running back who must be accounted for.

But any offense is difficult if the defense misses tackles.

Saban was asked about the play of the defensive interior line and said, "I think all the guys have done a decent job in terms of playing blockers. We haven't probably made as many big plays in terms of tackles for losses. We haven't finished on the quarterback a lot, which is something we need to improve on. We probably don't have as many sacks, tackles for loss, things like that. Not that we haven't had the opportunities, but we haven't finished. We had an opportunity on a fourth and two for a tackle for loss on the quarterback in the last game, which would have been a huge play, and we didn't finish and he broke outside for a first down. I think that's the number one thing I‚d like to see us do better up front is finish. Finish plays, finish off blocks, finish on the quarterback, and that's what we've been focusing on. We're playing blockers okay, we haven't been soft on the line of scrimmage, but we've got to finish more things better."

That sounded like Alabama had gone back to the basics of fall camp to work on tackling.

"I think there are some fundamental things that you can never get away from," Saban said. "For example, tackling on defense. If you don't get your body in the right position when you finish a play -- it goes back to finishing a play -- to make a tackle, you put yourself in poor position in a game to make a tackle.

"Even though we don't tackle everybody and take them to the ground (in practice), you have to get yourself in correct position, and be able to thud the guy, and lower your hips and those kinds of things.

"We have harped and harped and harped and harped on our guys all year to finish, to finish. Run, finish. Do what you're supposed to do. We haven't done that great as a team. So what happens in a game? We start missing tackles. So we have been able to go back and been able to use this experience and knowledge we've learned about ourselves and now players are willing to respond and try to do it correctly, so hopefully it will help our tackling and we‚ll become a better tackling team."

Safety Mark Barron is Alabama's leading tackler this year with 31 primary stops and nine assists.

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