Are busted pass coverages part of Alabama football's DNA? Nick Saban has some thoughts on that | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Busted coverages go with Alabama football coach Nick Saban defense like sunlight goes with Dracula. He knows of their existence but doesn’t want to see them, ever.

He saw some Saturday night when Alabama defeated Tennessee 52-24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, explained that a couple weren’t actually “busts” – more like bulbs on Dracula’s tanning bed. The busts that were “official” didn’t prove lethal but created an interesting juxtaposition: the big plays that did come feed the fuel of fan fury, but the overall performance allowing Tennessee to convert just 2 of 13 third downs and never allowing UT’s offense into a rhythm, it likes.

Saban said the 70-yard touchdown from the Vols in the fourth quarter wasn’t technically a coverage bust.

"We weren't lined up and ready to play on the 70-yard touchdown,” Saban said. “Josh (Jobe) was looking at the sideline to get the play and the wide receiver ran right by him. That's not a really a bust.” 

Oct 23, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban against Tennessee at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The bust that really seemed to annoy Saban wasn’t one of the deep balls that Tennessee completed, but the first Volunteer touchdown, an 8-yard pass from Hendon Hooker to Velus Jones Jr.

”We’ve got half the guys playing one coverage and half playing the other,” Saban said. “We could have gotten off the field right there. Then there were two long passes that were busts. We didn’t execute.”

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The Pete Golding debate is going to rage around Alabama’s defensive coordinator for the rest of the season. Those misalignments certainly deserve attention. So do the adjustments that stymied Tennessee over the final three quarters, for which Golding seems to get little credit. The days of devastating defensive dominance are over, no matter who comes in to take over the defense. Even Jeremy Pruitt.  

There has been improvement since the Texas A&M loss, although Saban still grumbles that “you shouldn’t have to be humiliated” to improve. Will Anderson Jr. was as dominant as he was in Starkville a week ago when he was the National Defensive Player of the Week and showed he still deserves to be on the All-America Wrecking Crew. The linebackers were better, notably Henry To’o To’o, who had to be battling a conflicting set of emotions. Phil Mathis was a disruptive force up front.

But, oh, those busts, even the ones that weren’t busts to Saban. Whether LSU, which appeared to have reached the end of the gas tank after yet another crazy week in Baton Rouge that ended with a farewell to Ed Orgeron, can capitalize remains to be seen. Struggling against the Ole Miss defense as LSU did doesn’t bode especially well, but Saban wants to take full advantage of the two weeks until the Tigers arrive.

For his part, Saban refused to throw offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien under the bus after the Texas A&M loss, and he certainly isn’t going to scold Golding after a 52-24 win in which he says he is “not going to be negative.”

”Look, we should be a team that wants to beat other teams because of who we are, because of our DNA,” Saban said.

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