Alabama Defense Gets Ready In Red Zone

One of the themes of pre-Sugar Bowl conversation is that Ohio State is going up a very good Alabama defense when it comes to Red Zone efficiency. The way in which Red Zone defense is figured, it may be hard to see “What’s the big deal?” about Bama.

Alabama ranks seventh in the Southeastern Conference and 58th out of 125 teams in Red Zone defense, even though the Crimson Tide is ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense.

Red Zone defense is determined on a simple percentage basis: how many times was the opponent at or inside the 20 and how many times did they score. Maybe that’s not the best way.

For instance, South Carolina was ranked 10th in the SEC in Red Zone defense, allowing scoring on 49 of 56 opportunities. Tennessee was ranked 14th, last, allowing scores on 29-30 opportunities. But South Carolina allowed 283 points, the Vols only 167. The Gamecocks, however, allowed only 5.1 points per possession, while UT allowed 5.7.

The raw numbers on Alabama’s defense in the Red Zone:

Alabama opponents made it to the Crimson Tide 20-yard line or deeper 40 times and scored on 33 of those opportunities, which is 82.5 per cent. Opponents scored 15 touchdowns (3 rushing, 12 passing) and forced 19 field goal attempts, of which 18 were successful. Bama forced and recovered one fumble, made three interceptions, and stopped the opponent on downs once to account for the other trips to the Alabama Red Zone.

The three rushing touchdowns effort was best in the league (Ole Miss and LSU allowed eight each for second best) and the 15 total touchdowns allowed was tied for third in the conference (with Mississippi State) behind the Rebels with 12 and LSU with 13.

Strictly on a percentage basis, Alabama was seventh in the SEC. But look at it from a points per possession standpoint and Bama jumps to fourth, giving up 4.0 ppp. Mississippi State was first at 3.3, Arkansas second at 3.6, and Ole Miss third at 3.7.

In scoring defense, the Rebels led the league giving up 13.8, followed by LSU 16.4, and Alabama 16.6. Ole Miss was first in the nation, Bama fourth.

Alabama will play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff. Both teams are 12-1.

This season, Ohio State ranks 61st in the nation in Red Zone offense. The Buckeyes have been inside the opponent 20 65 times and scored 46 toucdowns (26 rushing, 20 passing) and 8 field goals for 83.1 per cent.

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Crimson Tide All-America safety Landon Collins said Red Zone success “starts up front with the line. They get penetration, and once you get penetration it messes up the whole scheme of what the offense is trying to do. It starts with them.”

Collins said, “There’s just something about that goalline that we don’t want nobody scoring on us.”

Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said the Tide attitude changes when the opponent gets into the Red Zone. “That’s really our time to step up,” he said. “The players know how important it is to have good Red Zone defense. We feel like that’s saved us in a lot of games this year. That’s something we pride ourselves on as a defense.” Cornerback Cyrus Jones made a good point. “We take it seriously in practice,” he said. “I think everybody pays way more attention in the Red Zone. We practice Red Zone so much in practice.

“Any time you can hold a team to three points instead of giving them six, it’s big.”

That was particularly evident in this year’s game against Auburn. The Tigers got into the Alabama Red Zone eight times and scored seven of them, but five of those scores were field goals. Bama got into the Auburn Red Zone five times, and all five were touchdowns.

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