The offensive line tends to receive more flak than any other position group. Maybe it’s because those players don’t record any official stats, so it’s hard to quantify improvement or success. And people like cold-hard facts.
Regardless, the latest area in question was Alabama’s ability to protect its quarterback.
“Well, I can’t really say that the pass (protection) has been that bad,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. “I mean, we have like the fewest sacks I think of anybody in the league.”
He’s not wrong.
Alabama is No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference and No. 4 in the nation when it comes to sacks allowed. It has given up six.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State is third in the conference at sacking the quarterback. It’s at 23, which ranks 34th nationally. It has made at least one in every game this season.
“We’re going to get challenged this week by some individual players who are going to be a real challenge to be able to get blocked,” Saban said. “So it’s not going to just be a scheme thing. It’s going to be a personal challenge to a lot of guys to get a lot of really good players blocked.”
Those players would be Mississippi State defensive linemen Braxton Hoyett, Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat and Gerri Green. The four of them combine for 13 sacks and 28 tackles for loss.
Simmons is the Bulldogs’ fourth-leading tackler with 42 total stops. Sweat has made the most sacks with 9.5 takedowns and pressured the quarterback the most with seven hurries.
“Every year I’ve been here, they’ve had a really tough defensive line, tough front seven,” UA running back Damien Harris said. “We don’t expect anything to be any different this year.”
Against LSU, Alabama’s offensive line consisted of Jonah Williams and Deonte Brown at left tackle and guard, respectively. Ross Pierschbacher was at center. On the right, Alex Leatherwood stepped in at guard and Jedrick Wills Jr. did so at tackle.
The Crimson Tide rushed for a season-high 281 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground.
“Week one, we started a little rough,” Wills said. “I feel like ever since then it got better and better. I feel like last week against LSU, being in that environment, it was really rolling.”
Alabama is averaging 224 rushing yards per game. It has lost 118 yards on the ground, but that’s nothing compared to the 2,134 it has gained.
Mississippi State has been holding opponents to an average of 111.4 ground yards per game.
“Every single week, (the offensive line is) met with a new challenge, a new form of adversity somehow,” Harris said. “Coach Saban challenges them every single week because we know we’re going to get a defense’s best game and it really starts up front with the O-line. They really set the tone and the standard for how we’re going to play in a game. They’ve rose to the occasion every single week.
“We’re lucky to play behind those guys.”
Have been all season.
“I don’t think it was ever bad,” Saban said. “We have improved.”
Reach Terrin Waack at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.