Well, I had a lot of questions about this defense heading into the Alabama game. When I was asked about the defense on a few of the radio shows I do each week, I told the hosts that with so many suspensions, injuries, and young players in the mix the first two games, I didn't know what to expect. On paper, getting Steven Jenkins back on the field is a big plus, but then you also have to remember that he hasn't played a live game in nine months and missed spring practice, so what wins out….experience or rust. Same can be said of Devante Harris and Gavin Stansbury who sat out the first two games.
Well, many of those questions were resolved and Aggie fans don't like the answers. The Alabama offensive line that "struggled" against Virginia Tech had its way with the Texas A&M defensive front. It was a brutal show of force and the A&M resistance collapsed. Alabama didn't do anything fancy in the run game. It was straight-forward run plays, and there was nothing A&M could do but take it.
But if the truth be known, with Alabama down quickly 14-0, the Tide jumped back in the game via the pass. That's right….they did it through the air throwing on 15 of the next 19 plays while scoring three touchdowns. Saban's squad went on to score another two TD's to claim a commanding 35-14 cushion.
And why not pass? There was absolutely no pass rush throughout the day. None…nada. I'm not a big A.J. McCarren fan. He's a solid QB, but I don't think anybody would confuse him with a dynamic playmaker like Manziel. But when any high D-1 QB has no stress or pressure in the pocket, and has wide open receivers coming out of play action fakes, he's going to make big plays. That's what happened on Saturday in the first half.
Then once the Tide regained control on the scoreboard, they went back to the run and pounded the A&M line the entire second half. In fact, Alabama ran the ball 25 of 36 plays and most importantly ate up 5:36 off the clock after the Aggies narrowed the lead to 42-35 with seven minutes left.
To make a long story short, the Alabama offense did whatever it wanted. They fell behind quickly, so they passed the ball downfield with success and boom…it's 14-14…21-14…28-14. Then with the lead in the second half, they ran and ran and ran the ball taking time off the clock and putting points on the board.
The only bright spot was the big hit by Jenkins and fumble inside the 5 yard-line that sparked the 95-yard TD pass to Evans and put the Aggies back in it…for a brief moment. What can you say when the defense gives up 234 yards rushing and 334 yards passing, other than to say your defensive unit was whipped. It was a cold dose of reality that while the Aggies have made some noise in the SEC and have become national media darlings, they are still a couple of years away from having the type of front seven that can have success in hand-to-hand combat with a power SEC team.
Defensive Line F
So how bad was it for the defensive line? Well, the combined rotation of 8-9 DL's combined for a total of 8 tackles and zero tackles for loss or sacks. Other than four tackles by Julien Obioha, no other DL registered more than one stop. But that's not the complete story. They were blown off the ball. I saw a statistic where Alabama's running backs averaged 3.9 yards per attempt before contact. Think about that, and realize I don't need to say more about the play of the front four..
Steven Jenkins had a good day on paper leading the team in tackles with 13. However, many of those tackles came while wrapping up Bama runners who were dragging him 8-10 yards in the defensive backfield. Add in an undersized and underperforming Donnie Baggs with guys like 210-pound Tommy Sanders, and there's simply not enough size and strength at the position….especially when the DL isn't helping slow down the running back at the point of attack. The position was saved from a failing grade by the big hit (Jenkins) and fumble (Washington). Otherwse, it was an forgettable performance.
Defensive Backs D
Deshazor Everett proved that he's a capable SEC cornerback. Otherwise, why were the corners giving up 10-15 yard cushions in coverage? It didn't make a difference anyway because the defensive backs were so concerned about run support that they bit on play action fakes and were beat deep regardless. I thought Devante Harris' season debut was disappointing and we all know the issues at safety. The Aggies are thin and not very talented at the position so they will be forced to take their lumps in 2013 and hope some of the incoming recruits and redshirts are ready to fill the talent and depth problems.
Defensive Coaching D
I was confused by some of the defensive schemes. Alabama is running two tight end sets and even some eight and nine man fronts, and A&M is waffling between a 4-3 and a 4-2-5. So A&M has six in the box and Alabama has nine in the box...who do you think is going to win that battle? And because Alabama was winning that battle, the DB's were cheating up to help and bam, play action tricked the defense for a long score and several big plays.
I want to force AJ McCarren to beat me without play action on more difficult passes down the field. He's not the most accurate passer and I'd like to see him make plays under a little more stress.
Thus, I roll the dice and get my corners in bump-and-run man, run a true 4-3 and start run blitzing my linebackers in the gaps between the tackles. It gets you some extra bodies at the point of attack and some TFL's and it gets some pressure on McCarren in the pocket.
Yeah, you may get beat for a couple of big plays, but doesn't that play into your plan. It gets your offense on the field and snapping more plays, wearing down the opposing defense. And the run blitzing has a better chance of getting you a turnover by forcing the action.
When the other team is physically overpowering AND you have a great offense, it's not necessarily a bad thing to take chances on defense. It drives me nuts when I see A&M coming out in a 4-2-5 against Alabama on a 3rd and 5 as if that's a no-brainer passing down. No. Bama can stumble forward for 5 yards against an undersized 4-2-5.
Also, I don't care which linebacker plays what position...I want the best playmakers and best football players on the field...Jenkins, Claiborne, Mastrogiovanni.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE D-
Hop's Defensive Game Analysis - Alabama
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