Alabama football continues increasing pass rush through win over Auburn

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Alabama bringing down quarterbacks at a high clip had been a borderline guarantee for many years before this one.

From 2014-19, Alabama averaged at least 2.2 sacks per game and averaged more than three sacks in three seasons.

The Crimson Tide entered Saturday averaging barely over 1.5 sacks per game. Two sacks of Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, and the consistent pressure around those sacks, took Alabama’s resurgent defense to a new level in its 42-13 win over Auburn.

“I think our entire defense has improved and jelled together as a unit, all 11 guys playing better,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think we’re playing better in the back end. We’re using more players, which I think enhances everybody’s opportunity to have a role and be able to go out there and contribute.”

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Against Auburn, it took the form of two sacks and nine quarterback hurries, among other pressures that forced Nix to complete just 60.5% of his passes, after completing 76.7%, 75% and 65.4% in his past three games.

In a larger context, going beyond the Iron Bowl to prior games, as Saban alluded to, it has meant turning to more players to create that pass rush.

Some of it was of sheer necessity, when LaBryan Ray’s elbow injury forced him out of three games and into a limited role in the most recent two. In the beginning, it meant more of Phidarian Mathis and more of Byron Young and a handful of snaps from freshman Jamil Burroughs.

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Recently, more and more each week, it has meant more snaps for another freshman: Tim Smith, who made good on the playing time with a forced fumble and fumble recovery against Mississippi State, a tackle for a loss against Kentucky and a quarterback hurry against Auburn.

The results were most apparent at the end of the first half, when Alabama consistently affected the pocket with a three-man rush. Not that long ago, Alabama was struggling to bring down quarterbacks while rushing five.

“I can’t really tell you. I guess we’re just doing our job up front,” Mathis said. “Whatever the coaches give us on the sideline, we come on the field, do our job and it works.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson