Alabama football found defensive success by breaking up passes later in season

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

In the beginning, fixing Alabama’s pass defense woes was easy. After allowing 379 yards on just 29 attempts against Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide faced Georgia and its 5-foot-11 quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, giving defensive linemen the chance to stop passes before they got going by batting them down at the line. They did, producing four pass breakups.

Since then, those duties have fallen on Alabama’s secondary, and it has delivered.

The same UA defense that got picked apart in the first three games of the season is now leading the SEC in pass breakups, which could prove critical when No. 1 Alabama concludes its regular season against Arkansas on Saturday.

Arkansas is fourth in the SEC in yards per attempt.

“I think we’ve really improved week by week,” Alabama inside linebacker Christian Harris said. “Like I said previously, we like to go into practice and really work on communication to make sure everybody’s in the right spot, everybody understands what to do post-snap and pre-snap. I think it plays a really big role in our success on the back end, and it helps us out as linebackers, as well.’

Nov 28, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses (32) and linebacker Christian Harris (8) force Auburn running back Tank Bigsby (4) out of bounds at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Iron Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via USA TODAY Sports

UA’s pass defense numbers have improved alongside the pass breakups numbers: Since that infamous Ole Miss game, it has held five of its six opponents to a completion percentage under 60, has nearly double the interceptions (eight) that it does passing touchdowns allowed (five) and has yet to allow 7 yards per pass attempt in a game.

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UA has gotten production from all three levels of its defense, particularly over the last five games, where defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis, inside linebacker Dylan Moses and defensive back DeMarcco Hellams all have two pass breakups each.

No UA defender has more pass breakups in the last five games than cornerback Josh Jobe, who’s broken up five passes in that stretch. Jobe was targeted by LSU multiple times on the opening possession and has been through many recent games, given Patrick Surtain II’s track record, but he has recently produced against increased targets.

LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte (1) runs against Alabama defensive back Josh Jobe (28) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

“The big thing is we didn’t give up explosive plays when we were in coverage,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think Josh has done a really good job for us. He’s really maintained a level of consistency in his play, which has really been good all year long.”

Continuing the trend going forward could prove critical for UA as its ends its regular season and begins its postseason. The next two quarterbacks Alabama will face, Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks and Florida’s Kyle Trask, are completing 68% and 71.4% of their passes, respectively, and they’re both two of just 17 quarterbacks in the nation to average at least 8.8 yards per attempt while playing five or more games.

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