Two games into the season, a clearer picture of Alabama’s defense is being formed. And while it’s still too early to reach a verdict, it looks as if Nick Saban has cultivated another potential top-10 defense. For once, that comes as somewhat of a surprise.
Even though Alabama has recruited well enough to keep its revolving door of elite defensive talent spinning, replacing nine defensive starters – including its entire starting secondary – had to result in some drop-off.
Or so it was thought.
After a dominant effort against Louisville in which it surrendered a mere 16 rushing yards, the Crimson Tide defense stifled Arkansas State’s passing attack in week two, holding Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen to just 140 yards and a 10.3 quarterback rating. The Saturday before, Hansen had thrown for 423 yards, albeit against a lower-level team.
Alabama’s defense has shown more than the ability to stymie its opposition. It has also displayed a characteristic that made the 2015 and 2016 UA defenses extremely successful: a knack for converting turnovers into touchdowns.
Against the Cardinals, defensive back Shyheim Carter took an interception back 63 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Saivion Smith followed suit last Saturday, scoring on a 38-yard pick-six. Those two defensive scores already match last season’s total and put this year’s defense on pace to surpass the 11 defensive touchdowns recorded by the 2016 team.
“We’ve done pretty good,” linebacker Dylan Moses said. “As far as the first two games, that was very good preparation leading up to SEC week.”
That’s how Alabama has viewed its two games so far, as on-the-job training for what’s about to come next – conference play. Saban admitted as much when he said “the real season is really starting now.”
To kick off its SEC schedule, Alabama will travel to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night to face Ole Miss. For the Crimson Tide defense, the matchup against quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and the Rebels’ potent receiving corps will provide a better measurement of UA’s progress. Ole Miss’ offense has been nearly unstoppable in its first two games. The Rebels have combined for 1,175 total yards, 724 of which were through the air, and 123 points.
“It’ll be a really great test,” Moses said. “We’ll have many great tests later on down the road, but I feel that this is many that’ll show where we are as a defense.”
Before it can become the defense it wants to be, Alabama must work out some kinks.
For all the positives, Alabama currently ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring defense (10.5 points per game), eighth in rushing defense (94.5 yards per game) and 10th in passing defense (233 yards per game).
“We’re just working on everything we’re doing and just doing what Coach Saban tells us to do and what coach Tosh Lupoi tells us to do,” defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. “So we haven’t really focused on what we’re doing right. We’re just focusing on everything we’re doing wrong and all the mistakes and errors we had so we can be better on the end part of the season.”