Is Alabama football's run defense better, worse or the same compared to 2019?
By the most basic statistics, Alabama’s current run defense is almost inseparable from the 2019 version that drew criticism and ire from all angles. Last year, Alabama allowed 3.82 yards per carry to rank tied for 43rd nationally; so far this season, it is allowing 3.79 yards per carry to rank 41st.
The most obvious difference is the 2020 defense can still improve its standing.
The enigmatic picture of UA’s defense to this point in 2020 could gain a little clarity on Saturday against LSU — if the game is able to be played, as the Tigers deal with a COVID-19 outbreak on their team.
To this point, the Tigers have done nothing but expose bad rushing defenses and struggle against average or good ones. LSU averaged 5.03 and 5.11 yards per carry, respectively, against Vanderbilt and South Carolina this season — doubling as the two games the Tigers have won this season — against two run defenses that are among the bottom three in the SEC (both better than only Ole Miss) and both 87th or worse nationally.
The other three games — against Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn — came against run defenses that are currently top 50, the Bulldogs and the Tigers cracking the top 40. In those games, LSU ran 85 times for 161 yards, a total of 1.89 yards per carry.
UA coach Nick Saban sees some of LSU’s rushing struggles in a patchwork offensive line that could be coming together.
“I know they had a lot of changes on the offensive line, but those guys have improved and are playing extremely well,” Saban said.
Alabama’s defense is in a similar situation. Its season-long numbers remain unkind mostly from the Ole Miss game, in which it allowed 268 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry. The next game against Georgia started on a similar note, allowing 5.3 yards per carry in the first half before righting the ship to the tune of 4.1 yards per carry allowed in the second half of that game, 3.66 the following week against Tennessee and 2.47 in its most recent game against Mississippi State.
Alabama will have more run defense challenges on its schedule: Auburn, for instance, is second in the SEC in yards per carry and top 25 nationally in runs of 10 yards or more. But LSU’s propensity for a sharp contrast between success and failure relative to the quality of its opposition should give UA a first step in knowing on which side of that line it currently sits.
“I don't know that we have progressed that much from last year to this year. I think we progressed a lot throughout this year, which is what I'm focused on,” Saban said. “We don't really make a lot of comparisons to, 'OK, what were we doing last year? What are we doing this year?' I mean, we're trying to take the players that we have right now and do what we need to do to get them to be able to play their best so that we can stop the run and we can read run-pass and pressure the quarterback when we need to and convert pass rush so and I think we've made progress so far this year.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson