After shutting out Georgia’s offense one week ago, Alabama’s defense eyed to have the second-half effort from that game carry over into Saturday’s game against Georgia.
And although there were some stumbles along the way, for the most part, it came true as the Crimson Tide was able to hold the Volunteer’s offense to 17 points and 302 total yards of offense on the day.
“I thought the defense played better tonight,” head coach Nick Saban said following the win. “I thought this was probably the best we’ve played, even though there are some plays in there you can be critical of. I’m sure we’ll do everything we can to get it fixed. But I was proud of the way the guys played. They played with a little more confidence, and we were pretty aggressive overall.”
The plays Saban may be alluding to are the two long touchdowns Jarrett Guarantano threw over defensive backs Patrick Surtain and Jordan Battle who were beaten on the two scoring plays.
What was also an area of criticism was the Crimson Tide’s run defense which gave up a total of 139 yards on the ground. Even though the total may raise some eyebrows Tennessee only averaged 3.7 yards per carry as a team with its two running backs Eric Gray and Ty Chandler combining to average 3.35 yards per attempt.
Saban shared that zeroing in on stopping the run may have been what set up the secondary to have a few slipups.
“I think at times, we did Ok, but I think we gave up at least three big plays, maybe four,” Saban said. “They were running the ball a lot. Early in the game, we weren’t stopping runs really well, so we put a little bit more pressure on the secondary. In the second half, though, we really shouldn’t have given up the plays just because we were playing split-safety coverages, but we’ll look at it and try to get it fixed. You can’t give up explosive plays. You’ve gotta be able to stop the run and not give up explosive plays.”
But what must have Saban most happy following the game is the low third-down conversion rate Tennessee had on Saturday.
Saban had been hammering his team for the first four games of the year to do a much better job at getting teams off on third down. The Ole Miss game was an example of how unruly a game could get if a team was allowed to consistently convert on the down and break the back of the defense.
Saturday was a much different story as Alabama held Tennessee to 4/16 on the crucial down with a 25% success rate. Tennessee had an average of 6.6 yards to gain on third down on the day and only gained 2.7 yards per attempt. Those are some very encouraging numbers for defensive coordinator Pete Golding who continues to work to improve each week.
The sacks still need to come for this team as they could not bring down Guarantano, but the performance from the defense was another step in the right direction.
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Patrick Dowd is a Reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter, via Pat_Dowd77