Consider Todd Blackledge a big fan of how Alabama’s defense has evolved in recent years.
Speaking on a College Football Playoff conference call on Tuesday, the ESPN analyst shared his thoughts about the change he has noticed in the Crimson Tide’s defense and how that evolution has made Alabama more dangerous.
Blackledge highlighted linebacker Reuben Foster, in particular, as a player who represents the Crimson Tide’s shift toward showcasing a more nimble, effective defense.
“I think that Nick Saban realized over the last few years that the way his defense was built in some of his earlier national championship teams doesn’t work quite as well in his league or in the landscape of college football with so much of the spread offenses, where they really try to stretch you out,” Blackledge said.
“So they’ve recruited different. They have different looking players, particularly at the linebacker position. That’s where you see a change in the Alabama defense. Nobody is a better example of that than Reuben Foster to me. I mean, this is a guy who plays sideline to sideline, he’s fast, explosive. Their linebackers in years past were bigger, more physical, run-stopping guys, but they didn’t have the same range that a guy like Reuben Foster has.
“I think that’s just an indication of why their defense is different. Two years ago when I did the Ohio State/Alabama playoff game, Ohio State really felt going into the game you would have a lot of trouble attacking Alabama inside. They thought they would have success with Ezekiel Elliott on the perimeter, and they did have success with that.
“I think Alabama’s defense now is different. You can’t run on the perimeter or inside against these guys the way you used to be able to. They used to say a running quarterback was a big problem for Alabama. It’s not so much the case anymore.”
That’s significant praise for the Crimson Tide’s defense. The numbers back up Alabama’s dominance on that side of the ball this season. Alabama leads the nation in both scoring defense (11.8 points per game) and in total defense (247.8 yards per game).
Many expect the Crimson Tide to handle Washington when the teams meet in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, but the Huskies should provide an intriguing test. Still, it’s hard to imagine Alabama failing to clinch another appearance in the national championship game unless it falls flat in a significant way.
Give Saban and his staff credit for molding the Crimson Tide’s defense in a way that makes it among the nation’s most feared.