How Pete Golding fixed Alabama football's defense after it was torched by Ole Miss

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

When Alabama football defensive coordinator Pete Golding reviewed the tackling miscues from 2019, he didn’t see lack of skill or lack of effort. He saw lack of preparation.

He went about fixing it with specific practice drills. After an extensive self-study over the spring and summer, he identified some commonly missed tackles and designed drills to replicate them in practice.

As he sees it, it took early failures to draw his players’ attention to those drills.

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Golding’s defense spent the first three weeks of the season exhibiting many of the flaws that plagued it in 2019, allowing 6.01 yards per play over its opening games against Missouri, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. In the eight games since, Alabama has allowed 4.6 yards per play, presenting a much better version of itself going into Friday’s College Football Playoff Semifinal against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“I think the biggest thing, we tackled better,” Golding said. “I think early, obviously, in the year, you look at the Ole Miss game, they had 250 yards after contact. You can't play good football teams and not eliminate obviously the yards after contact.”

Golding referenced a “come to Jesus” meeting after that game, one that reaffirmed the emphasis on the tackling drills from the preseason. With fresh eyes and renewed attention, Golding and the defensive staff went about the same project again: showing players tackles that were missed, following those visuals with drills that teach the correct technique.

When Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding reviewed the tackling miscues from 2019, he didn’t see lack of skill or lack of effort. He saw lack of preparation.

From there, Golding left it up to the players.

“Look, man, you'll either come out every day and rely on your technique and get better and improve because we're putting you in this situation and it's going to carry over on Saturday, or you're going to think it's not important, you're going to BS it, your pad level is not right, your eyes aren't right, you don't run through contact and now this is the result,” Golding said. “But I think with a lot of young kids these days, until it happens to them and then you can show them – 'Hey, this is why we're doing it, hey, here's the situation' – I think some of them just don't get it.”

The process of it all, “humbled us a lot,” according to cornerback Patrick Surtain II. Some of the defense’s younger players gained even more valuable lessons.

“We learned that that whole week that we wasn't focused, we wasn't locked in and we didn't have a great week of practice. So that played a big role in what happened during that game,” UA nose guard DJ Dale said. “So from that point we focused and locked in at practice and everyone just came together. We didn't want to repeat that in any other game.”

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The tackling fixes put in place since the Ole Miss game most show themselves in explosive plays allowed. Missed tackles contributed to UA’s first three opponents generating 53 plays of 10 yards or more, averaging 17.6 per game; in the eight games since, Alabama has allowed 89 such plays, 11.1 per game. Similar trends hold true on plays of 20 yards or more (4.6 allowed per game in the first three games, 3.5 since) and plays of 30 yards or more (2.3 allowed per game in the first three games, 1.5 since).

Continuing the trend against the Fighting Irish would go a long way toward a win, given Notre Dame ranks 12th nationally in plays of 10 yards or more.

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