The debate that no one in the college football world could imagine — is Alabama a dominant defensive football team? — continued on Monday. It didn’t exactly rage. There are always a few Alabama fans upset if an opponent gets a single first down, even if the Crimson Tide offense scores 60 points. The conversation seemed almost scholarly at times. Take what may be the school’s best offense, then blend it with a fierce defense and what, exactly, would the harvest be?
For some, there really didn’t need to be a discussion. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, appearing on Monday’s Finebaum Show on the SEC Network, called the Alabama defense “fantastic” and said that “giving up a few plays” happens to every team. Nick Saban didn’t really wade into the debate, except to note that he “wasn’t going to apologize for scoring (as he shouldn’t). The Alabama coach was far more concerned about the next six games-plus than the statistics of the preceding six.
Saban’s announcement that Trevon Diggs, a starting cornerback, had broken his foot in Fayetteville and would be out of the lineup for an extended period of time has big ramifications. For a second straight season, the Alabama defense finds itself on a narrow piece of pavement above an injury precipice, as if it had swerved from one shoulder of a mountain road to the other, with the same steep drop at hand. He noted five defensive players who would have been considered contributors in the summer — defensive backs Diggs, Daniel Wright (injured/suspended) and Jalyn Armour-Davis, along with defensive ends Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen. Every one of the five would have had some impact on UA’s pass defense, either in coverage or in pressuring the passer to minimize the time that the secondary had to cover receivers. Now, all are gone with a legitimate power-arm quarterback, Drew Lock of Missouri, coming to town.
By Monday evening, one prominent Alabama player was on social media promising to take up the slack.
“I’ll take the blame on how this defense been performing even though we (have) been winning,” junior linebacker Mack Wilson said on his Twitter account. “There’s a difference between winning and there’s a difference in making the other team quit, and that’s our goal every game! That’s just how we built at Alabama, its the STANDARD.”
That sort of comment has been fairly rare over the years. The Alabama defense has had some vocal players — hello, Tony Brown — but few who voiced that sort of self-criticism.
There is no way of knowing what Missouri will walk into at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. Perhaps Alabama will continue to have defensive problems, especially against Lock. Perhaps Arkansas revealed a blueprint, or at least a few sketches, on how to successfully attack the Crimson Tide. So it may have been the worst thing that could have happened, “worst” being highly relative for a team that scored 65 points.
On the other hand, having a few issues might have been the best thing that could have happened. The hype had grown so tremendously over the course of September that it had to deflate a bit. So the scenario could be this: a frenzied crowd, a jammed student section at a night game with mild weather, a stadium ready to roar with every completed pass. Medical science is no closer to finding a cure for Tua Fever than it was in January. Then mix in a defense with something to prove.
That perfect storm is only a possibility at this point. Missouri will have something to say about it, although the Tigers would do well to speak up quickly.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.