Alabama Football: Is the Defense Finally Focused, Fixed and Fabulous?
By Larry Burton
When Alabama shut out a high powered Ole Miss team this past weekend, many fans breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not so much for the win that had many worried, but that the Alabama defense had finally come around to playing “Alabama” football.
Recently I wrote an article that showed the depth that Alabama’s defense had fallen to. In that article it was stated that (previous to the Ole Miss game) Alabama had fallen to 58th in total defense ranking. Of course that’s actually an increase from the 85th place they had the week before that.
This certainly wasn’t the Alabama defense that many have become accustomed to seeing. Saban had been swapping and trying different players at cornerback and other positions since spring ball, trying to find the combination that works best. When you have as many players on the roster from back to back top recruiting classes as Alabama does, the stockpile of adequate talent is not in question but the maturity and cohesiveness of how they work together has been.
That has been what is driving Saban so crazy, not to mention the fan base.
To address the cohesiveness on defense, Saban has a player to thank. In interviewing C.J. Mosely and most every Alabama star over the last few years of all these championships, one would be hard pressed to find a true college football star that is more humble and generally more quiet than Mosley. He’s just not one of those Ray Lewis, “rah rah in your face” vocal leader. He doesn’t call out players, he doesn’t grab jerseys and yell out half time pep talks.
Saban has often wished he’d be a more vocal leader. Maybe that’s why despite the fact it’s obvious he’s less comfortable with it than other players, that Saban makes sure Mosley is always available for interviews. This is not to say Mosley doesn’t speak on the field, he is defensive quarterback that calls the defensive sets and repositions players. But he shuns being a focal point and any controversy, at least until last week when he, McCarron and Sunseri called a players only meeting to hash out a little of the good, but a lot of the bad that’s been going on with the team.
They were going into a game with an offense that had been as prolific as Texas A&M’s. In three games that up tempo Ole Miss offense had averaged 38 points a game in their first three games and two of those opponents had been bowl teams the year before. Judging by what they had been able to do after their own first three games, especially against a similar up tempo team, the Ole Miss game was looking to be another embarrassing chapter for the Alabama offense.
Sometimes when people talk too much, a lot of what they say goes unheard as people tend to zone them out, so when Mosley chose to finally be front and center, all eyes were on him and every word resonated with the players. Here was a guy who has always preferred to be the example rather than the voice. Mosley has always preferred to let his play and performance do the talking.
While not everything that was said will ever be known outside out of that meeting, we do know that Mosley finally opened his vocal cords, anger and wisdom to tell this defense that he was seeing them make the same mistakes that the 2010 team made that kept them from repeating when they too were a team full of stars with the talent to repeat, but not the mental edge to do it. He warned them that this was a team filled with just as much talent, but looking at going down the same road as that 2010 team did by failing to focus and going through “The Process” as they had the year before.
Having someone like Mosley “Call them out” perhaps resonated with the team far more than Saban could have done and for at least this week, the results were both obvious to the most casual observer and the box score as well.
Any parent of a child, any classroom teacher and any coach of any sports knows however, that sometimes such a change in behavior and results don’t always stick and that like a child, players can fall back into old habits. That is what Saban, Mosley and the fan base fear.
The Ole Miss game will either be a turning point for the players for the rest of the season or just a statement of the potential they did have before they let the season slip away with a loss.
Saban is hoping that the change in personnel, finally finding a freshman, Eddie Jackson, to take that cornerback slot that has been up for grabs, will be the piece that has been missing personnel wise. As for the focus, fixed and fabulous part, only time will tell, but if you’re an Alabama fan, it’s better to be at the crossroads wondering if the changes will stick rather than wondering when and if the team will come around at all.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter