Jonathan Allen (above) is a key player for the Crimson Tide.
Auburn, Ala.--One of the old adages of football in general is “defense wins championships" and that has held up in Tuscaloosa since Nick Saban became the head coach. Once again this Alabama defense stacks up among the best units in the nation as the Auburn Tigers head into the Iron Bowl game set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama is currently ranked second in the country in both total defense (253 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.4 points per game) and is led by a new defensive coordinator for the first time since 2008 with the departure of Kirby Smart to Georgia. Jeremy Pruitt, the new DC, has had some success against Gus Malzahn offenses in the past at Florida State and Georgia so the Tiger attack will be challenged to prove it can move the ball effectively against Pruitt’s multiple 3-4/4-2-5 scheme.
The dominant play for Alabama starts up front with senior end Jonathan Allen. He has terrorized opposing backfields all year tallying 46 tackles (nine 1/2 for losses), seven sacks and two fumble recoveries, including one returned 75 yards for a score. The starters alongside Allen are end Dalvin Tomlinson (45 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble) and nose guard Da’Ron Payne (25 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery).
The linebackers are anchored by Reuben Foster. The 6-1, 236 pound senior leads the team in tackles with 75 tackles plus two sacks. In the middle of the group is junior Shaun Dion Hamilton (55 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble). On the strong side is another senior, Ryan Anderson (42 tackles, team-leading 14 1/2 for losses, six 1/2 sacks, one fumble recovery, and a team-leading three forced fumbles). Stationed at the jack position is rush specialist Tim Williams (24 tackles with 14 for losses, team-leading eight sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery).
The secondary has been the susceptible part of Alabama’s defense over the past few seasons, but this squad has made progress in defending the pass. Pruitt likes to leave his cornerbacks in one-on-one man coverage and with talented Marlon Humphrey (32 tackles, four passes defensed, one forced fumble, one interception returned for a touchdown) and the Anthony Averett (29 tackles, one FF, seven passes defensed) manning each side of the field, the has been able to do exactly that most of the time.
Senior safety/punt returner Eddie Jackson (24 tackles, two passes defensed, one interception returned for a TD) broke a bone in his leg vs. Texas A&M. Pruitt responded by moving Minkah Fitzpatrick (48 tackles, one 1/2 sacks, one forced fumble, six passes defensed, team-leading four interceptions with one returned for a TD) from nickel to free safety. Filling in at nickel is Tony Brown (17 tackles, one interception). Strong safety Ronnie Harrison (57 tackles, five passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown) rounds out the hawkish secondary.
The Tide has struggled somewhat in Saban’s tenure to find a reliable place kicker, but currently the team is not lacking a quality punter. Junior J.K. Scott, who was surprisingly not named a Ray Guy finalist, has punted 42 times for an average of 48.5 yards per punt.