TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Here’s one final look back at the Alabama’s 10-0 win at LSU as well as a peek at the rest of the Crimson Tide’s November schedule.
Alabama’s run defense on pace to be the best of the Saban era
There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not this is Nick Saban’s best Alabama team.
All of that chatter is premature since this team hasn’t won a championship yet. But there is one area Alabama is on pace to be the best of Saban’s tenure: run defense.
Despite all of the talent lost from last year’s front seven, Alabama is on track to be the best run defense of the Saban era in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama is holding teams to 66 rushing yards per game and 2.09 yards per carry. That's No. 1 in the nation & the best of the Nick Saban era
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) November 6, 2016
One play sticks out when thinking about Alabama’s effort against the run in the LSU game.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette delivered a pretty solid stiff-arm to Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison. Harrison was knocked back a little, but before Fournette could gather and run again, Harrison and three or four more defenders were there to tackle Fournette.
Alabama had two or three guys hitting Fournette every single carry.
“We got some pretty hateful guys that play defense around here that are pretty good competitors,” Saban said. “When they get challenged a little bit, they usually respond and I thought they responded really well tonight.”
Alabama took away every cutback lane, and pretty much every running lane in general.
Fournette is a talented player. He’s arguably the best player in the country. He just doesn’t have anything for Alabama’s defense. Fournette rushed for 79 yards against Alabama as a true freshman in 2014. He combined for 66 yards in his last two games against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama put together a great drive when it needed to
First, we have to mention the play that sort of set up the drive. On Alabama’s first possession of the second half, the Crimson Tide used play-action and sent ArDarius Stewart deep. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts found Stewart for a 52-yard completion.
“The plan at halftime — and we hit it right off the bat — was we got to throw the ball down the field to make them cover us,” Saban said. “We made one big explosive play. We didn’t cash it in. That’s when we didn’t score.
“But we were able to run the ball affectively on quarterback runs as well as tailback runs. I think that was the difference in the game in the second half.”
While Alabama didn’t score, it made LSU respect the passing game a little more.
That eventually led to the Crimson Tide’s 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive capped by Hurts’ 21-yard touchdown run.
It’s one of those drives that may end up defining this season. Alabama didn’t have much going to that point. Hurts and the offense found a way to get it done at the most critical moment of the contest.
Jalen Hurts showed a lot of toughness
If we’re being honest, Hurts may not take that big step as a passer this season. Alabama is throwing a lot of things at him with the different game plans each week.
He’s going to need an offseason of work as the starter to truly get the timing and chemistry down with his receivers.
But when Alabama has needed him, Hurts has come through and made plays for the team. The 52-yard bomb to Stewart. The 22-yard pass to Miller Forristall on the scoring drive. The runs.
Hurts showed a lot of toughness as a runner Saturday. He finished the game as the leading rusher with 114 yards and 1 touchdown.
Alabama's Jalen Hurts had 43 rushing yards after contact against LSU, which had 33 rushing yards total in the game, its fewest since 2009.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) November 6, 2016
Alabama fans are going to have to be more patient with Hurts as a passer. They should be proud of his ability to make plays and respond to adversity.
Hurts missed on some throws and had 2 turnovers. The mistakes were costly at the time. But Alabama doesn’t win that game without his athleticism and poise.
“He made some errors in the game early that were costly. We made some plays in the end that his athleticism allowed him to make,” Saban said. “I think as we grow with him, we’re going to have to live with both. I like the second part better than the first. He’s a great competitor. He never loses his poise, but we need to do a better job of executing.”
Two wins and the Iron Bowl left
Alabama is three games away from becoming the third team during the Saban era to finish the regular season undefeated (2008, 2009).
These next two weeks shouldn’t be too hard of a challenge for the Crimson Tide. Mississippi State defeated Texas A&M this past Saturday, but the Bulldogs aren’t good enough to come into Tuscaloosa and win. Chattanooga serves as this year’s Iron Bowl tune-up.
That leaves Auburn on Nov. 26. Auburn plays at Georgia on Saturday, and gets Alabama A&M at home in two weeks.
Alabama gets this Iron Bowl at home, and you’d expect them to win because the Tide are the more talented team. Auburn has the best rushing attack in the SEC, but as we discussed earlier, no one has run on Alabama with much consistency.
Auburn’s defense could make this one interesting. The Tigers have a salty group of defenders that could give Alabama problems.
Here’s hoping both teams arrive at the Iron Bowl relatively healthy for a good matchup.