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Alabama’s defense lacked aggression and played complacent versus Florida. Who’s to blame?

Christian Harris (#8) tackles a running back for Florida
Photo by Robert Sutton of Alabama Athletics/ SEC Media Portal

It has dealt with poor defensive performance in the past, but everyone was excited to see this year’s Alabama group — especially with the veteran players returning.

During the offseason, Crimson Tide fans and reporters expected Alabama to be the standard of college football and rival recent Tide defenses such as 2011 and 2016. After strong outings versus Miami and Mercer, the Tide had one good quarter defensively against Florida.

Despite having a 21-3 lead, Alabama struggled for three-fourths of the game, and fans were disappointed.

RELATED: Why is Alabama sandbagging the running back position?

The problems Nick Saban saw in 2019 resurfaced at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Alabama had missed tackles, penalties, a lack of discipline, a lack of effort, a lack of focus, a lack of intensity, and a lack of a pass rush.

Florida’s offensive line dominated the Crimson Tide’s front. Emory Jones, Malik Davis, Nay’Quan Wright, and Dameon Pierce totaled 245 yards rushing with four touchdowns on 43 carries. Each player averaged over four yards per rushing attempt, and Pierce recorded two scores. Players for the Tide could not stop Jones on quarterback runs, and he made critical plays in the passing game that kept Alabama off balance. Nick Saban’s group was caught out of position for much of the game, despite a win.

Who’s to blame for the lack of aggression and complacency?

Most are ready to isolate Pete Golding like an algebraic equation; however, he must share the blame. Golding’s responsibility as defensive coordinator is to have Alabama’s defense prepared to combat what an opponent may throw at it. He did in the first quarter, but option plays and quarterback runs had the Tide out of sorts in the second half. Whether it was players in the wrong spots or guys not in tune with the play-calling, Golding had issues as Florida outscored him (20-10) during the second half.

RELATED: Florida’s offense exposed areas that Alabama must improve in defensively

Dan Mullen has outcoached Golding for a second straight year. He did it in the 2020 SEC Championship Game, but Alabama’s offense scored enough points to win. Saban likes the 37-year-old assistant; however, some fans do not understand why.

A consistent outcry of “Fire Pete Golding” chants has been on Twitter since 2019.

He coaches well against average to mediocre offenses, but elite coordinators give him nightmares. Golding has to face Lane Kiffin in two weeks. Kiffin and Ole Miss torched Alabama’s defense last year with 48 points and 600+ yards offensively. The Tide escaped with a 63-48 victory on the road.

One could also blame the Alabama players for their performance.

A defensive coordinator cannot coach effort, toughness, discipline, focus, intensity, energy, and desire. Those traits have to be inside athletes. Saban had a famous statement he would tell the media, but he has not used it in a few years.

“The game means something to them.”- Nick Saban

How much does Alabama football mean to the players? Saban preached this message religiously, but he needs to take it a step further.

The Crimson Tide might have to reopen competitions on defense and see which guys want football. Alabama did not have half the talent it has now before Saban arrived; nevertheless, one did not question the effort, focus, and intensity those guys had.

The leaders on defense need to make themselves known.

RELATED: Alabama escapes “The Swamp” in a classic against Florida

Lastly, Tide fans have to credit the Gators.

Dan Mullen used the matchup as his Super Bowl, and the atmosphere the crowd generated provided him an edge. Also, Brenton Cox and Florida’s defense came ready to play. Florida had more effort, more energy, more focus, and more intensity. The Gators wanted it more than Alabama, but a missed extra point was the difference.

The Tide got a wake-up call over the weekend.

Saban had been trying to get the attention of his team, but Florida did it for him. Defensively, Alabama has to get it together quickly. Lane Kiffin makes his return to Tuscaloosa in two weeks.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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