Alabama football defense bruises Miami, but an injury may be painful for Tide in long term| Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

ATLANTA — For most of the afternoon, it was the Alabama football defense fans wanted to see, a vindication for coordinator Pete Golding, who has heard his share of criticism from the hard-to-please Crimson Tide fan base over the past two years. Will Anderson Jr. lived up to the hype, the defensive line rotation helped Alabama stifle the Miami run game and the secondary showed plenty of potential. 

Again, though, we may be left wondering if we saw the best version of the 2021 Alabama defense in just a brief glimpse. That’s because less than a half into the action, Christopher Allen’s season may have come to a close.

Nick Saban didn’t pronounce it final but deemed Allen’s foot injury as “significant” and was talking in definitive terms about possible replacements. It has happened before. No one really knows what the 2019 defense might have been had Dylan Moses not injured his knee badly before the season even began. That was compounded by the loss of Joshua McMillon as well. Moses never really regained his sophomore vein though he played through pain in 2020. If there was anything at all that was good about that injury (and there certainly wasn’t for Moses, who is now on injured reserve with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars), it was that some of the young linebackers who got experience in 2019 were the same ones who gave Miami fits and bruises Saturday. 

CEIL HURT:Alabama football looks like a force again, but Miami looked like it missed the bus to Atlanta 

BRYCE YOUNG:How Alabama football QB's brilliance showed outside of touchdowns against Miami

ALABAMA FOOTBALL:5 key observations as Alabama football throttles Miami in season opener

The fact that Alabama prospered in 2020 despite significant injuries, most notably Jaylen Waddle, has only reinforced the myth of unlimited talent available at every position. There is enough to continue fielding a strong group in 2021, to be honest. But as Saban noted, it will again take young players like Dallas Turner and Drew Sanders to fill the gap.

Setting aside the fretting, Saban did not seem displeased with the defensive effort. 

“We played really well in the first half,” he said. “We had good energy, we had good enthusiasm. We did a good job executing things. We affected the quarterback on defense. They gave us a lot of stuff. They did a lot things, a lot of formations. All the receivers over on one side. A lot of stuff that we were constantly adjusting to and that probably limited a little bit what we did because we were trying to make a lot of adjustments, trying to make it simpler for the players.” 

In a way, the best news for the defense may have been the performance of the offense. That doesn’t mean Alabama can sit back and relax and shrug its shoulders if it allows 30 points per game. On the other hand, Bryce Young and the new supporting cast showed that there probably won’t be any 9-6 games either. With that pressure off, the defense seemed a little more freewheeling without sacrificing the discipline Saban demands. 

There always seems to be a mad rush to compare players, or compare defenses to those from an earlier era. What matters is how a defense performs in the context of its own time. Still, injuries are a constant and losing Allen, who Saban called a “fantastic player,” would hurt in any era from the leather helmets until today. If the gloomy prognosis is correct, he will be missed, but the defense will still have a chance to shine.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Cecil Hurt