Nick Saban doesn’t expect Bobby Petrino’s offense to be any easier to defend than it has been in the past.
With quarterback Jawon “Puma” Pass taking over the reins of the Louisville offense, a bevy of talented skill players returning and an experienced offensive line to anchor the unit, it will take a strong outing from Alabama’s defense to keep the Cardinals in check Saturday in Orlando. Even with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson gone, Louisville’s attack should still be formidable.
“This is an offense that hung 60 points on Florida State at one time and went into Clemson and scored 40 points or whatever,” said Saban, Alabama’s head coach. “This is a very, very challenging team when it comes to offense and our preparation that we need to have on defense.”
A major component of Alabama’s preparation will be readying an inexperienced group of defensive backs to face what could prove to be a prolific passing attack. The Crimson Tide’s starting secondary, which boasts a combined three career starts, will face a receiving corps returning three wideouts who combined for 2,321 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.
The onus to shut down Pass and the Cardinals’ receivers doesn’t completely fall on the Alabama secondary. The Crimson Tide’s front seven exists for a reason.
“We’re going to do our best to affect him up front to help our secondary out,” linebacker Christian Miller said. “I think that’s going to be our game plan, affect the passer. I mean, that’s what we’re going to do every week, that’s our job. So, we’re going to take pride in that.”
In order to claim a stake in Louisville’s backfield, Alabama’s front seven will have to find a way past – or through – the veterans across from them. The Cardinals’ offensive line has amassed 74 career starts and returns three linemen who started in every contest last season.
While an experienced offensive line with an established sense of chemistry poses a sizeable challenge, Miller expects the Crimson Tide to be able to get into the backfield with a mix of blitzes, some even coming from the secondary.
“Our front seven is more than capable of getting back there, but you always want to mix it up,” Miller said. “I think our secondary is more than capable to come down on some blitzes. Either way, I think we’re going to be able to apply some pressure and that’s our goal.”
Last season, Louisville allowed 33 sacks for a loss of 181 yards.
Getting pressure on Pass is only half the battle. Even though Pass doesn’t possess the same video-game-like speed Jackson did, the new quarterback still maintains the ability to move well within the pocket and is always a threat to tuck the ball. He rushed for 62 yards and a score on 13 attempts last year, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
“What I expect from him, I think he’s going to try to get his team involved but also he’s going to try to put the ball on the ground a lot and try to run it,” defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said. “So that’s where it’s up to us to keep it contained and do our job up front.”