Alabama report card: Crimson Tide defense proves elite
The Crimson Tide were ugly last night; there’s no way around it. Alabama struggled mightily against an unranked Arkansas team that was not moving the ball well.
Much like the Ole Miss loss in September, ‘Bama let Arkansas get out to an early lead by giving up silly turnovers, and could not get much traction until quarterback Jake Coker came alive in the second half.
That offensive resurgence only mattered because Alabama’s defense turned in another classic performance. Without Reggie Ragland and his band of bullies, the Tide would be looking at their second SEC loss of the year.
Here’s how the team grades out after Saturday night’s 27-14 win:
Coker continues to show red flags in his decision-making. The senior quarterback threw two ill-advised balls in the first half, with the second pick turning into an easy Arkansas touchdown.
Against teams with a better offense — Texas A&M, for example — Coker simply can’t afford to make those plays. He redeemed himself in the second half, but that would not have been possible if the defense was anything less than outstanding.
Related: The offensive line had plenty of trouble against a tough Razorbacks front. Coker would likely not have thrown those interceptions if he didn’t have pressure in his face.
Derrick Henry was dependable, but his record-breaking performance was not good enough to carry the offense. Kenyan Drake’s reemergence was a welcome sign, and Calvin Ridley continues to show why he is worthy of filling Amari Cooper’s shoes.
Anyone watching the game knew who Alabama’s MVP was: Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland. The Crimson Tide’s defense swarmed Arkansas the entire game, with Ragland leading the charge.
His final stats (eight tackles, one sack, two hurries, one forced fumble) did not come close to capturing the entirety of his dominant performance. The Alabama front seven was horrifying, while the secondary continued to recover from the bad rap it picked up against Ole Miss.
Saban was thrilled with this unit after the game, and called Ragland’s performance one of the senior’s best ever.
“If Coach Saban said it…” Ragland said, smiling. “I guess it’s true.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
Adam Griffith is back to square one. The Tide kicker missed a chip-shot field goal from 25 yards, and then failed on a 48-yarder before half. Those points would have put Alabama up, 9-7, at the break.
The Crimson Tide are lucky that Griffith hasn’t needed to decide a game yet in the final seconds; he doesn’t appear ready for that situation.
Punter JK Scott had a nice 55-yard punt, while the punt return team was able to thwart Arkansas’ fake in the second half. Cyrus Jones’ returns were also above average.
While it was Coker’s picks that stalled the offense early, some of that blame rests on offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The “Kiff” kept setting up double-moves and lengthy progressions despite Arkansas’ strong pass rush.
A steady diet of Derrick Henry — 27 carries — and Coker’s 81-yard strike to Ridley silenced many of the doubters, though.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart did not necessarily call a brilliant game, but he deserves plenty of credit for the defense’s constant ballhawking. The Crimson Tide played a frenetic, scary game on “D,” and the coordinator should be first in line for a pat on the back.
Yes, Arkansas typically plays Alabama tough, and was ranked in the preseason polls. The Razorbacks are a strong football team.
But Saturday’s game appeared headed for a massive upset until the Tide struck gold on Coker-to-Ridley. Anyone in the stands will tell you: They saw the 2015 season flash before their eyes.