Alabama Coach Nick Saban understands the longstanding football strategy that says a defense must first stop the run, and his Crimson Tide team is getting that done.
Bama was leading Wisconsin by a 38-10 score midway through the fourth quarter in the season-opening game in Arlington, Texas, when the Badgers went to their bag of tricks. Wisconsin used its fine wide receiver, Alex Erickson, on an end-around. The play gained 25 yards. At game’s end the Badgers would have a total of only 40 yards net rushing on 21 attempts.
No other Wisconsin player would have a run over 5 yards. The Badgers – a team that wants to run – had thrown nearly twice as many passes as it had runs against Bama. In fact, Wisconsin had called 42 pass plays and only 18 running plays, but quarterback Joel Stave had been sacked three times for 24 yards in losses, yardage that is attributed to rushing in college football.
The Badgers were handicapped by top rusher Corey Clement suffering an injury and not being used after the third quarter, but Clement had only 16 yards on his 8 carries before going out.
Last week MTSU did not have a runner with a run of over 9 yards. The Blue Raiders had 31 rushes for 86 yards, but tried 43 passes in the game. The leading rusher for Middle Tennessee was the coach’s son, quarterback Brent Stockstill, who had five carries for 29 yards.
Alabama has been described as a team that has the nation’s best front seven – down linemen and linebackers -- in college football. Former Washington and UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, now a commentator for CBS and for Sirius/XM radio, said after visiting a Bama preseason practice that it was wrong to say the Tide has the nation’s best front seven. “It’s a front 14,” he said, alluding to Alabama having not only good starters, but also good depth in defensive linemen and linebackers.
The defensive linemen don’t usually make a lot of tackles, but that front – led by A’Shawn Robinson, and also featuring Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen, all future NFL draft choices – sets it up for the linebackers.
It is no surprise that middle linebacker Reggie Ragland is the Tide’s tackle leader. He has led Bama in tackles in both games, 12 against Wisconsin and 9 against Middle Tennessee.
After two games, Alabama has allowed just 126 total rushing yards on 52 runs, an average of only 2.4 yards per carry, and the Tide has allowed no rushing touchdowns.
Limiting opposing running backs to fewer than 100 yards is nothing new for Bama. Alabama has surrendered only 15 individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season, a mark that leads the nation. Since Saban’s arrival in 2007, the Tide has allowed only 10 players to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. Incidentally, Bama’s record since the Saban arrival in Tuscaloosa is 93-17.
This week the defense gets a challenge as an explosive Ole Miss offense that has averaged l74 1/2 points in its first two games – albeit against Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State – visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. Kickoff Saturday will be at 8:15 p.m. CDT with television coverage by ESPN.