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Alabama Run Defense Not As Bad As It May Seem

Remember a week and a half ago, Alabama Coach Nick Saban suggesting that reporters look for something to write about that the Crimson Tide needs to improve? He wanted to be able to show the players something that didn’t look so good.

Tough assignment.

Alabama is now 5-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation with an overwhelming majority of voters in the Associated Press and Coaches Poll giving their first place votes to Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

And why not? Alabama is outscoring its opponents by 54.2 to 13, a margin of just over 41 points per game. (Things look a bit tougher this week with Bama only a 35 ½-point favorite over Arkansas. The Tide will meet the Razorbacks in Fayetteville with kickoff at 11 a.m. CDT Saturday.)

Those numbers, of course, are just statistics.

Which brings us to Alabama’s run defense in rolling to victory in its first five games.

Looking at the numbers, the Crimson Tide – ordinarily in first or second place in the Southeastern Conference, if not the nation, in rushing defense — is giving up 126.8 yards per game rushing. That ranks ninth in the 14-team SEC. Opposing offenses have run 160 times for 634 yards.

Opponents are averaging 4.0 yards per rush, and three 4-yard runs makes for more than a first down.

That would be enough for most to make an assessment.

To the surprise of no one, when Saban was asked about the run defense following Wednesday’s Crimson Tide practice, he had a broader view. 

Particularly relevant is which defenders are involved in the total statistics. In this season of romps, the Bama first team players have seen little to no fourth quarter action.

“I guess if you look at things statistically, you would say that you would be a little displeased,” Saban said Wednesday evening.

“Do I think we can play the run better?” he said. “Absolutely. Do I think we could tackle better? Absolutely. 

“Do I think our statistics this season are misleading? 

“I think that’s also true. 

“We’ve given up a lot of yards in the fourth quarter when we play other teams, just like this last week (a 56-14 win over Louisiana).” 

Deionte Thompson
Safety Deionte Thompson leads Alabama in tackles (Photo: Stuart McNair, 247Sports)

Louisiana, Saban pointed out, “had 128 yards through three quarters. Put the other guys (backup defenders) in the game, they gained 158 yards on 17 plays.

“So it looks all the same in the stats, but if you really slice it and dice it, what’s the issue here?”

He did point out that the first team defense gave up a 23-yard run. “We didn’t fit the run right and we have to get that fixed,” Saban said, “but other than that we didn’t play the run poorly. The other guys (backups) gave up a lot of yards rushing. So we have to get them better.

“I think there’s definitely room for improvement. We can definitely do a better job.”

But, he said, “Is it as bad as it looked? I don’t think so.” 

Incidentally, Alabama has given up only two rushing touchdowns this year, which is best in the SEC. That statistic, however, reeks of poison. Rat poison.

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