After concluding the 2011 season with a 12-1 record and a National Championship, the Crimson Tide, for the second year in a row, had four players drafted in the first round of last spring's NFL Draft. Yet, after five straight years in which Alabama has signed a recruiting class ranked in the top seven, and three of those five years ranked in the top two nationally, this year's Crimson Tide is just as talented as any. Eight current Alabama players were named to various pre-season All-American teams, and 12 different Tide players have been named to various college football award Watch Lists.
Earlier this week, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel was asked about the Crimson Tide.
"(Alabama) is a great football team," replied Coach Pinkel. "I think (Alabama) is a team, quite honestly, that has no weaknesses. They're very well-coached and disciplined. I've known Nick (Saban) for a long, long time, and he's just done an outstanding job with their program."
Gary Pinkel and Nick Saban were teammates in the early 1970s when they played for Coach Don James at Kent State. This is the first time that they have faced each other as head coaches. Coach Pinkel continued to talk about Alabama's personnel.
"They're one of the best personnel teams I've ever seen," Coach Pinkel continued, talking about Alabama. "They're very, very impressive. And, they're also very well-coached and disciplined."
Coming off of a bye week, Alabama is healthy. Coach Saban said earlier this week, that "everybody is practicing".
Alabama is bringing the nation's number one defense to Missouri. The Crimson Tide is ranked #1 nationally in total defense, allowing opponents an average of just 191.6 yards/game. They're #1 in pass efficiency defense (84.82). And, they're also #1in scoring defense, surrendering just 7 points/game. And, they're also #1 in turnover margin (+2.4), which is a function of their defense forcing turnovers, as well as their offense protecting the football.
Coach Saban was asked what separates pass defenses in the SEC from other conferences? His answer was pretty much a description of his own defense.
"I think it probably starts with the guys up front," explained Coach Saban. "I have always said that I thought the thing that was different about this league was the pass rushers and the cover guys. The combination of those two things were a little bit better than other places. Everybody has good receivers. Everybody has good runners, lots of quarterbacks. But, I thought that those two things were something that were a little better in this league, and I think that probably indicates that. If you look at most of the teams that have good pass defense, A, they are able to affect the quarterback because of a pass rush. There are three things you have to do to be a successful passing team. You have to protect the quarterback, so the lines have to block. The receivers have to be able to get open and when you throw them the ball, they have to be able to catch it. Number three, the quarterback has to execute, make good decisions, process information quickly, and get the ball to the right guy at the right time, all that kind of stuff. When you have good pass-rush people, you affect several of those things. If you can cover a little bit, you can disrupt the timing at least, and all those things, to me, impact your ability to have passing efficiency on offense. I would say that is probably the biggest thing, and most of the people that are in that category have some ability to rush and affect the quarterback."
Alabama's Depth Chart lists a three-man front, with four linebackers. But in reality, Alabama utilizes their outside linebackers as stand-up defensive ends. Sophomore SLB Adrian Hubbard 6'6" 248 will often line up along the line of scrimmage, as will Alabama's Jack linebacker, sophomore Xzavier Dickson 6'3" 262. Sophomore safety Vinnie Sunseri 6'0" 215 will come in for Dickson, and he will often walk up to the line of scrimmage and rush the passer. Alabama utilizes a number of defensive alignments, and they'll rush the passer from just about any position on the field.
Alabama substitutes liberally on defense. Their depth chart lists co-starters at three different positions on their defense, meaning they have 14 starters, and many of the back-ups are simply young, uber-talented, future NFL players. That's really what makes Alabama's defense so good, the quantity and the quality of their players. They have good schemes, and they are very well-coached. They're disciplined. They take care of their assignments, and they have great playmakers all over the field, so they just kind of take turns making great plays. They harass the quarterback, and they take the ball away! The Crimson Tide has forced 15 turnovers this season, 9 INTs and 6 fumbles.
Alabama's leading tackler is one of those co-starters, junior WLB C.J. Mosely 6'2" 232, who has 39 total tackles, including 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 INT, and 1 forced fumble on the season. Their number two tackler is the other co-starter at WLB, senior Nico Johnson 6'3" 245, who has 24 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, and 1FF, and who is also listed as a co-starter at the MLB position. And, the other co-starter at MLB, sophomore Trey DePriest 6'2" 245, is the Tide's third-leading tackler, with 21 total tackles, including 3 TFLs, and 1 QBH.
Junior corner Dee Milliner 6'1" 199 has 9 PBUs, and 2 INTs, to go with 14 tackles and 1FF. Seven different Alabama players have an interception, and 8 different players have forced a fumble. The Tide's leading rush men are the LBs, Dickson and Hubbard. Hubbard leads Alabama with 2.5 sacks, and Dickson has 1 sack and 4 QB hurries. Alabama has 13 different players with at least a half a sack, and 10 different players with a QBH.
Last February, Alabama signed two of the top three high school safeties in the country. Landon Collins is playing behind a pair of co-starters, and has made 4 tackles. Eddie Williams is red-shirting. The talent on the Crimson Tide roster is truly an embarrassment of riches!
One interesting aspect of Alabama's defensive personnel is that there's only five seniors listed on the defensive two-deep. Alabama's defensive personnel is so good that many of them are off to the NFL early. Among those seniors is the Tide's Aussie nose guard Jesse Williams 6'4" 320, who has reportedly bench-pressed 600 pounds! He has 10 tackles on the season, and 1 QBH, and he's knocked down a pass and blocked a kick.
Because of the quantity and quality of talent all over the field, future NFL players at virtually every position, no one has to try to do more. It's relatively easy to remain disciplined. Players accustomed to making great plays, and dominating games, do so alongside of other players accustomed to doing the same.
Missouri Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, Dave Steckel, was asked about Alabama?
"Alabama is an NFC Central football team," replied Coach Steckel, referring to the quantity of NFL-quality players that Alabama has on its roster. "They're well-coached. They have great players from top to bottom. It's a very good dynamic to have. When you have that combination of great coaching and great players, you can see why they have the number one ranking."
While the Tide defense is their more dominant unit, their offense is also very good.
For Alabama, the key to their offense is efficiency. They run the football, they're very efficient in their passing game, they're efficient in the red zone, and they rarely turn the ball over.
Alabama has run the football on 63% of their plays from scrimmage this season. They're averaging 188.2 rushing yards/game, and 4.7 yards/carry. They've laid it on the ground 10 times, but they've lost just 3 fumbles.
Junior QB A.J. McCarron 6'4" 210 doesn't really run the football. But he's been an extremely efficient passer. On the season, McCarron is 73-111-0 (65.8%) for 999 yards and 12 TDs. Yes, that's right! He hasn't thrown an interception this year. Going back to last season, McCarron has thrown 206 passes without an interception. His passer efficiency rating is 177.04, which ranks 5th nationally. And of course, he has a plethora of great receivers.
Freshman WR Amari Cooper 6'1" 198 is Alabama's leading receiver, with 17 receptions for 222 yards and 3 TDs (13.1 yards/reception). Junior Kevin Norwood 6'2' 195 has 9 receptions for 179 yards and 2 TDs (19.9 yards/reception). And, sophomore Christion Jones 5'11" 185 has 9 receptions for 144 yards and 3 TDs (16.0 yards/reception). Jones is also the Crimson Tide's primary return man, with a 33.4 yard/kickoff return average, including a 99-yard return for a TD, and an average of 10.9 yards/punt return. Junior WR Kenny Bell 6'1" 180 (7 receptions, 138 yards, 1 TD, 19.7 yards/reception) is another frequent target for McCarron.
Alabama also throws the football to their running backs. Yeldon has 7 receptions for 94 yards (13.4 yards/reception). And, Lacy has 4 receptions for 25 yards.
Alabama has a great offensive line that averages 6'5" and 314 pounds, and includes four returning starters, and three preseason All-Americans. One of their favorite formations includes two tight ends, which includes senior TE Michael Williams 6'6" 269, and often either senior TE/HB Kelly Johnson 6'3" 230, or sophomore TE Brian Vogler 6'7" 258. Williams has 7 receptions for 47 yards and 1 TD. He'll also line up in the back field. He catches the football well, and Alabama does throw to their tight ends, usually Williams, but those big guys are really out there to block. Remember? Alabama has run the football on 63% of their plays from scrimmage this season.
Earlier this week, Coach Saban was asked about the play of his offensive line?
"Offensively, I think that inconsistency has been the biggest thing on the line of scrimmage, in terms of not getting a hat on a hat, and letting people give us bad plays at times, not executing in pass protection, or the quarterback not getting the ball out of his hand quick enough, so we have been a little inconsistent," Coach Saban replied. "So, those are things that we can improve upon."
Coach Saban may think that Alabama needs to improve upon its offense in the middle of the field, but he'd be hard put to find much to complain about with their offensive production in the red zone. They're one of three FBS teams to have scored each time they've been in the red zone this season. They've been perfect in the red zone this year, where the Crimson Tide has scored on all 22 of their red zone possessions, including 16 TDs.
Comparative Statistics [NCAA Ranking in Brackets]
MISSOURI_____________________ ALABAMA 356.17 [95th]___ Total Offense___ 401.00 [68th] 139.50 [84th]___Rushing Offense__ 188.20 [39th] 7____________TDs Rushing__________ 10 216.67 [76th]___Passing Offense_ _ 212.80 [79th] 118.21 [100th]_ Passing Efficiency___ 176.94 [4th] 7____________TDs Passing__________ 12 25.33 [80th]____Scoring Offense___ 40.20 [17th] 326.67 [26th]___ Total Defense____ 191.60 [1st] 107.50 [19th]__ Rushing Defense____65.80 [3rd] 8_________ TDs Allowed Rushing_________ 3 219.17 [51st]___Passing Defense___ 125.80 [3rd] 133.81 [76th]__ Pass Effic. Defense___ 84.82 [1st] 9_________ TDs Allowed Passing_________ 2 22.83 [45th]____Scoring Defense_____7.00 [1st] +1.17 [18th]__ Turnover Margin___ +2.40 [1st] 14 / 4_ ______ Fumbles/Lost_______ 10 / 3 3_________ Interceptions Thrown_________ 0 5_________ Interceptions Gained_________ 9 23.31 [40th]___Kickoff Return Avg._ __31.50 [4th] 21.87 [5th]____ Punt Return Avg.___ 11.29 [35th] 35.26 [91st]___ Net Punting Avg.___ 39.07 [33rd] 2.50 [T-32nd]_____Sacks By______3.20 [12th] 2.33 [T-85th]___ Sacks Allowed____2.20 [T-78th] 28:21 [88th]___ Avg. Time of Poss.___ 31:44 [30th] 29.4% [114th]___3rd Down Conv.__ 49.2% [22nd] 33.3% [94th]___4th Down Conv.__ 75.0% [12th]