Mississippi State’s 49 rush attempts for 172 yards Saturday night against Alabama was seen as nearly sacrilege for UA fans.
They’ve been spoiled, you see, taking for granted that stopping the run is just automatic for Alabama defenses. But dig a little deeper into the metrics and you’ll learn that, although not a vintage Crimson Tide defensive performance, the rush defense wasn’t as bad as you’ve been led to believe.
First it needs to be established that the best metric to evaluate stats is yards per rush and not yards per game. In that regard, the defense allowed 3.51 yards per carry against the Bulldogs. To provide context, Colorado State (3.6 yards) and LSU (3.6 yards) averaged more yards more carry than did Mississippi State.
So why did it look and feel so different to fans Saturday? Because Alabama didn’t get off the field on third down, allowing the Bulldogs about 19 more carries than other teams had averaged against the Crimson Tide.
“It can be frustrating,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said.
Frustrating is an apt way of describing it, the failure to get off the field as team’s put together extended drives. Mississippi State converted eight of 15 third downs during a game in which it slowed down the pace and had only 11 drives in total, including the final drive that ended in a failed hail mary.
“…when you have them 3rd-and-10, you have them 3rd-and-seven, you have them 3rd-and-eight, you have them 3rd-and-nine, when you play teams that run the ball like that, you have to get off the field,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “So don’t give them a new set of downs to go run it again and again and again, and keep sort of, three, four and five yards.
“Not getting off the field on third down, giving them extra possessions, whether it’s penalties or whatever, so all these things sort of go hand in hand in how do you stop the run? Stopping the run to me is more about how many yards per play do you get than how many yards they gained.”
Another problem is that Alabama is dealing with an unprecedented amount of injuries at the linebacker position, including the loss of Shaun Dion Hamilton. Keith Holcombe and Dylan Moses took Hamilton’s reps, and they’ll most likely be the guys inside going forward.
Evans said getting comfortable with his new inside backer is key to performing better.
“I feel like we’re starting to get a chance to just gel now,” Evans said. “I feel like this game was probably the most important for us to just play with each other, learn each other, the different calls we make, how we fit gaps. Kind of like the chemistry (I) had with Shaun Dion. We kind of knew each other, how we kind of fed off each other. And with the fact that he’s gone now, me and Keith can really just focus on me and him.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.