Stuart McNair

Alabama had to make secondary adjustments on defense last week

Coach Nick Saban says Alabama has emphasis on team defense

The Alabama defense is one of the primary reasons the Crimson Tide is 12-0 and ranked number one in the nation and headed to this week’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game. Bama will take on Florida at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
And Alabama won’t have the only good defense in the house. The Tide leads the league in scoring defense, total defense, and rushing defense, but right behind Bama is Florida, ranking second in scoring defense and total defense and leading the league in pass defense.
Alabama’s 30-12 win over Auburn to finish regular season play marked the fourth consecutive game the Tide did not surrender a touchdown.
In his regular Monday press briefing, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he was pleased with the way his team played in the second half in the win over Auburn, although execution was not what he wanted in the first half. “Those things were all correctable things that we’re going to address today with the players and try to clean up so that we don’t have those issues in the future,” Saban said.
“This game is really what our focus is. This is the SEC Championship Game, which is one of the most competitive environments that I’ve had the opportunity to play in against a very good Florida team.”
One issue for the Alabama defense Saturday was the loss of cornerback Marlon Humphrey with a leg injury. Saban said that he hoped Humphrey would be able to practice this week and be able to play in the game.
When Humphrey went out, it meant the Crimson Tide secondary had been depleted by two. In the first half Tony Brown, the Star (or nickel back), had been disqualified for a targeting penalty. (Brown will be back for the Florida game.)
Saban explained how Alabama adjusted with the loss of Brown and then the loss of Humphrey.
He said when Brown went out that Minkah Fitzpatrick, a Freshman All-America last year at Star who is playing safety this year, went back to the nickel spot with Hootie Jones replacing Fitzpatrick at safety.
Saban said, “When Tony went out we just moved Minkah back in (to star). Hootie’s the next guy up, who’s played a lot all year in dime and some in nickel. Minkah just has a hard time being able to practice safety and star, too, which he hasn’t been able to do a lot of. But his experience allowed him to do it. He did a very good job. Those guys did a good job.”
There was not as much experience later as Alabama played six defensive backs. Denote Thompson, who has limited experience, was one of those as he replaced Hootie Jones as the dime back. Saban said Thompson “did a good job for what had to do in the game – and did a good job of executing what he was supposed to do and communicated well. We didn’t have any real mistakes that were costly in that circumstance.”
Then when Humphrey went out, the Tide called on veteran Levi Wallace, a former walk-on who gets most of his playing time on special teams.
“He did a good job as well,” Saban said. He had a couple of coverage opportunities where he did a nice job.
“I was pleased with the way those guys stepped up.”
Saban was asked the secret of Alabama’s defense stopping big plays. He said, “You could say we eliminated the big play runs in the last game, but they hit a couple big play passes on us. I think we always want to eliminate those because big plays are something that, if you don’t give up big plays and you’re hard to score against in the red area, then it makes it more difficult for the other team. They have to sustain. A couple times Auburn was able to move the ball on us last week we did give up big plays. That’s something that we always harp on. Some tough play-action passes because we’re playing to stop the run. We have to do a better job of responding to those. We’re going to see some of the same types of things this week, so our players are going to have to do a good job in that regard, recognize and read run-pass, especially off the hard play-action pass.”
One interesting observation in a question was Alabama having never had a winner of the Badnarik Award given to the nation’s best defensive player.
Saban said he couldn’t answer why that is the case. He said, “We’ve had some really good defensive players here that – I think we had somebody win the Butkus (two, actually, under Saban, Rolando McClain in 2009, and C.J. Mosley in 2013) – but I think we have some very deserving guys on our team that have been very productive and they’ve been really good team players this year, whether it’s Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson.
“All those guys have played extremely well for us and they’ve had great production.
“Hard for me to compare their performance to other players because I don’t see them play all the time. But I know those guys have done as much for our team as just about anyone could expect.
“I think whether it’s recognizing awards or whatever it is that’s pretty much all you can expect from a guy.”
The follow-up question: “So those defensive players are like kids; you can’t choose a favorite?”
Saban said, “Well, it was kind of hard-pressed for me just to say those three guys, based on what some of the other guys have contributed as well. I think we take a lot of pride here in playing team defense. I think that our guys do not take chances and do things to try to make plays and give up plays. I think that all of them have quite a bit of respect for each other, and I certainly feel the same way about that. As a coach, you just want to try to get the best opportunity to put them in the best position so they can make plays and have production. Hopefully that'll be the case moving forward.”
Although Florida’s offense does not rank high statistically, Saban said that the Gators have improved under Coach Jim McElwain, a former offensive coordinator under Saban at Alabama.
Saban said, “Offensively, they tried to create great balance with their team this year with the ability to run the ball. They have a couple backs that have both contributed to that. I think Antonio Calloway and Landon Powell, the two receivers that they have are certainly guys that they want to get the ball to that have the ability to make explosive plays. When they've been able to do that they've been very effective on offense.”

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