It’s strange to think what good would have been for Alabama if it could rewrite a few defensive series.
A key stop against Tennessee and LSU would have routed the Crimson Tide to play its bowl game in Atlanta rather than New Orleans. Despite having a top-10 defense in the country, the losses to both the Tigers and the Volunteers were largely thrown at the feet of defensive coordinator Pete Golding. In typical fashion, fans and pundits called for his firing along with a litany of critiques including personnel and of course play calling.
While there were other factors to Alabama’s two final-play losses, the miscues on defense rest with Golding which begged another question: Does Alabama’s defense translate today’s high-scoring landscape of college football, or is it just too complicated?
“I think we’re always looking at how you can simplify things, but I think offenses do a good job of using the horizontal space in the field and still stretching you vertically with the RPOs, using all 11 guys, especially this team, using the quarterback,” Golding said. “It is challenging from that standpoint. But, also, as a coach, you want your guys to be in the best possible position based on what they’re doing. And so there’s always that fine line of being too simple, right?
“I think obviously simplifying things, especially with young players, but I think offenses now, they’re so multiple. But based on formation, you kind of know what you’re going to get. So you try to pare it down and help your kids out so they can work that throughout the week.”
Tennessee had its way with Alabama’s defense in the first quarter scoring three-straight touchdowns which includes two scores of 60 yards or more. Even when Alabama took the lead in the fourth quarter, the Volunteers’ offense marched on with no issue gaining 45 yards on three plays in just 15 seconds to set up the eventual game-winning field goal.
LSU had similar fortunes with the game on the line in Baton Rouge. Jayden Daniels summoned up his best Hendon Hooker impression and drove the Tigers 75 yards on seven plays late in the fourth quarter. But he wasn’t done there, after scrambling in for a score, Daniels found Mason Taylor in the back of the end zone, winning the game in overtime.
“When you are playing against good teams, you can’t have uncontested plays,” Golding said. “A couple of those were uncontested plays: Busting a motion adjustment. have an audible, they run the same play every time, we don’t get the checks. Getting all 11 guys on the same page was a big piece. But also, in big games, guys got to step up and make plays when they needed to. And I felt like in those games and critical moments, the other team stepped up and made more plays than we did. That’s something obviously we emphasize towards the end of the year.
“When you look at those two games specifically, we had the opportunity in both those games in the fourth quarter to win the game on defense and we didn’t. There were some critical third downs in the LSU, the last drive. Had the opportunity to get off the field and we didn’t. Do something with the Tennessee game.”
Despite the inconsistency, Alabama has the No. 9 scoring defense in the country, allowing 18 points per game. That’s also good for second in the SEC, trailing only Georgia who has allowed 12.77 pointers per game.
However, the defense will go down as one of the worst in turnover margin finishing with a -.17 ratio, good for No. 82 n the country. Saturday’s matchup does not bode well for Alabama’s hopes for a positive margin as Kansas State is ranked No. 4 in the nation with a 1.08.
According to outside linebacker Will Anderson, the Sugar Bowl serves as an opportunity to prove the mettle of Alabama’s defense and its faith in Golding.
“We have a really good game plan, Coach (Nick) Saban and Coach Pete (Golding) and all the other coaches have been doing a really good job of helping us get in the right places to make sure that we go out there and we play fast and be on the same page and go play to our standard,” Will Anderson said.