Arkansas State’s offensive line didn’t allow one sack against Southeast Missouri State the previous week. In fact, Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen was hardly even pressured in the win, with no quarterback hurries recorded against him.
It was a different story in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Alabama’s front seven on defense was kept out of the backfield for two whole possessions before it was able to bring Hansen down for a sack.
“We felt like when they was getting the ball out fast they was cutting a lot, so it was kind of hard to get pressure on them,” linebacker Mack Wilson said. “We were throwing a lot at the quarterback, and I felt like he was making some good plays and some good throws.”
However, once Alabama had adjusted to the speed at which Arkansas State was getting the ball out of Hansen’s hand, the pressure was on. The Crimson Tide got to Hansen behind the line again on the Red Wolves’ next drive.
Although that would be the last sack of the game for Alabama’s defense, the front seven kept Hansen under the gun the whole way through, recording eight quarterback hurries. Each of those eight hurries was made by a different defender.
This constant pressure disrupted an Arkansas State passing attack that totaled 497 yards the week before. Against Alabama, the Red Wolves tallied 218. As opposed to finishing with six touchdowns, Hansen threw for one.
“We have to go to get quarterback hits, quarterback pressures,” defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said. “. . . Affecting the quarterback is the main thing and getting pressure, so we did a great job of that today.”
Facing an air attack that emphasized throwing the ball quickly and often, a key part of Alabama’s pass defense was getting arms and hands up along the line of scrimmage. Defensive lineman and linebackers alike swatted passes before they could get very far out of Hansen’s hand.
“We practice that (swatting passes),” Buggs said. “Everybody, we get batted balls practicing getting balls out. We have drills and we work on that every day and it shows in the game.”
Alabama’s defensive front wasn’t just successful putting pressure on the passer. It also shut down Arkansas State’s rushing attack for the majority of the game.
At the end of the first quarter, the Red Wolves had mustered a mere 5 yards on the ground. Without a productive run game, Arkansas State’s offense became overly reliant on airing the ball out, which wasn’t working well either. While the Red Wolves finished the game with 173 rushing yards, over half came in the fourth quarter when the contest was already decided.
“That’s our main goal, to stop the run,” Buggs said, putting it simply. “And that’s what we did, stop the run.”