Alabama football defense continues recent trend of effective in-game adjustments to stifle LSU

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Alabama’s defensive improvement in the second half of its regular season is apparent in almost every form. It has not allowed more than 3.7 yards per carry in a game since allowing over 4.7 in consecutive games against Ole Miss and Georgia; it has allowed one passing touchdown in its last four games, after allowing 10 in its first five.

Few areas make that improvement more clear than how it reacts to the opening possessions of games.

Early in the season, a quick score by the opposition would likely be followed up by a few more, as was the case against Ole Miss and to a lesser extent against Georgia. In Saturday’s 55-17 win over LSU, it was the second time in three games that top-ranked UA (9-0) overcame an effective opening script from its opponent to put on a defensive display.

“They had a good game plan against us in the first half, but our players adapted and adjusted, so I’m really proud of our team,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “Our coaches did a really good job. We were down four coaches, three coaches on defense. Everybody in the organization sort of stepped up and did a really good job.”

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UA ultimately held LSU to 352 yards (4.9 yards per play), but 154 of those yards came on the first three possessions of the game, which produced a touchdown and another trip to the red zone stopped on fourth down. LSU used creative methods of opening up tight end Arik Gilbert and running back John Emery as pass catchers, plus a more diverse running scheme than it had displayed previously.

After those three possessions, LSU mustered a meager 4.04 yards per play.

As Saban referenced, UA did it all with a cast of coaches in different roles. Defensive line coach Freddie Roach, outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri and cornerbacks coach Karl Scott all did not make the trip to Baton Rouge as part of testing or contact tracing for COVID-19. Among the elevated coaches was Nick Perry, a former Alabama safety, and Charlie Strong, he of 10 years of head-coaching experience at Louisville, Texas and USF.

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“The defense made some mental errors in the first half — both of their scores were big-play touchdowns on actual coverage busts in the back end,” Saban said. “We made some adjustments at halftime, I think we played a little better in the second half.”

The performance comes two weeks after a more drastic version of the same phenomenon against Kentucky, when the Wildcats gained 145 yards on their first four possessions and 34 yards in their final nine.

This ability could prove crucial as UA  prepares for a regular season finale Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) at Arkansas (3-6), one of five SEC offenses averaging more than 6 yards per play. It will be followed by an SEC Championship Game against Florida (seventh in the nation in yards per play) and a possible berth in the College Football Playoff.

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