TUSCALOOSA — Quinnen Williams didn’t make any bones about it — last weekend’s defensive performance at Arkansas simply doesn’t cut it.
As unapologetic as its offense is with its ability to score at will, the Crimson Tide defense made clear this week allowing 31 points and more than 400 yards of total offense to anybody isn’t going to good enough anymore.
“We haven’t really been playing to the Alabama defense standard,” Williams said. “We’ve been doing good, we’ve been doing well, but Alabama’s defense doesn’t make a lot of (the) mental errors that we’ve been making. We can’t just sit and give excuses about it. We have to build on it and build a new standard.
“We’re going into this game like a whole new season, basically. We’ve been getting by. We’ve been playing good. The offense has been scoring fast and stuff like that. But, we haven’t been playing to the standard we want to play to, and we’re going to begin to start playing to the standard that we want to play to so we can be the defense that we want to play like.”
For an Alabama defense that ranks middle-of-the-pack in its own conference allowing 332 total yards per game (7th in the SEC), re-establishing its identity as a dominating force begins with Saturday’s Homecoming game against Missouri (6 p.m., ESPN), which features one of the country’s top NFL quarterback prospects in senior Drew Lock.
Through five games this season, Lock ranks second in the SEC averaging 297.4 passing yards per game but is just 10th in the conference with a 59.9 completion percentage. If Williams and company can make things difficult for Lock to even get the ball off Saturday, the Crimson Tide defense might just manage to redeem last week’s performance and set the new standard of excellence it expects of itself.
WHO: Missouri Tigers (3-2, 0-2 SEC) at (1) Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC)
WHEN: 6:05 p.m.
WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
LINE: Alabama by 28
ON THE AIR: TV — ESPN. Radio — WXFX-FM 95.1, WDXX-FM 100.1 WTLS-FM 106.5, WTLS-AM 1300
TWITTER: @_AlexByington, @mgmsports
1. First-half barrage: Thanks to an offense that can strike at literally any time, including on the very first play of the game, Alabama has opened up every game on fire, outscoring opponents 238-34 in the first half of games this season. The Tide’s average of 39.7 points in the first half would actually rank 28th nationally and fourth in the SEC in full-game scoring, while its average of 375.7 total yards in the first half this season would still be good enough for 10th in the league. Alabama has scored on its first offensive possession of every game this season as sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has come out firing early and often, throwing for 16 of his 18 touchdowns this year in the first half of games.
2. Tua tearing it up: Although he’s done it against everybody Alabama’s faced this season, Tagovailoa has been especially efficient in conference play, torching SEC competition for 912 yards and 10 touchdowns on 43-of-58 passing (74.1 percent) with a quarterback efficiency rating of 263.12. Despite not playing in the fourth quarter yet this season, Tagovailoa still leads the country in several categories, including touchdown-to-interception ratio (18-to-0), quarterback rating (258.4), completion percentage (75.2) and yards per attempt (14.8), while ranking in the Top 3 in the SEC in most other categories.
3. Tight end U?: While Alabama might be deep at tight end, Missouri boasts arguably the nation’s best playmaker at the position in talented sophomore Albert Okwuegbunam, a preseason All-SEC pick and Mackey Award watch list candidate. Okwuegbunam led all tight ends nationally last season with 11 receiving touchdowns but has just two this season to go with less than 200 yards on 27 receptions. Meanwhile, the Tide tandem of junior Irv Smith Jr. and senior Hale Hentges have combined for five receiving touchdowns this season, with Smith ranking second on the team with 332 receiving yards.
4. Familiar face: Failed former Tennessee head coach and ex-Nick Saban assistant Derek Dooley returned to the SEC this season as Missouri’s offensive coordinator after a 5-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys. The son of legendary former Georgia head coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, Derek Dooley couldn’t quite translate his pedigree into success with the Volunteers, including losing all three meetings versus Saban and Alabama.
Alabama NG Quinnen Williams vs. Missouri C Trystan Colon-Castillo
In speaking with the media Tuesday, Alabama’s young but talented nose guard Quinnen Williams made it clear last weekend’s defensive effort wasn’t up to the “Alabama standard” of excellence. Well he and his fellow defensive teammates will get to show exactly what that means moving forward against Missouri’s fast-paced offense and preseason Heisman hopeful Drew Lock at quarterback. Of course, as is the case against most elite quarterbacks, the ability to provide a relentless pass rush can do wonders to disrupt the opposing offense’s plan of attack. And for the Crimson Tide, that pressure starts in the middle with a speedy Williams, a converted defensive end who has transitioned well inside this season. Of course, he’ll be challenged inside by Missouri sophomore center Trystan Colon-Castillo, an All-SEC freshman team selection last season who has started the Tigers’ last 18 games in the middle of its usually stout offensive line. If Williams can get through Colon-Castillo with any regularity Saturday, it could spell certain doom for the Tigers’ future NFL first-rounder at quarterback.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jerry Jeudy — WR, Soph., 6-1, 192
So far this season, Jeudy has more than risen to the challenge of replacing the production of former prep teammate and fellow South Florida product Calvin Ridley, especially from a scoring aspect. Jeudy’s eight touchdowns through six games is tied for second nationally and is tops in the SEC this season, while also keeping him on pace to challenge Amari Cooper’s school-record 16 touchdowns in 2014. While Alabama has certainly managed to spread the wealth offensively this season, Jeudy has risen above and beyond to become the Crimson Tide’s biggest big-play threat, averaging a SEC-leading 24.3 yards per reception to rank third nationally. Jeudy will go against a Missouri secondary that allowed Purdue to roll up 572 passing yards just last month and doesn’t have the sheer volume of athletes it takes to slow down Alabama’s multi-faceted offensive attack. All of which should mean another potential big game for Jeudy, who’s proven he can strike from anywhere on the field.
BY THE NUMBERS
2.89: After limiting South Carolina to just 128 rushing yards last weekend, Missouri is holding its last 12 opponents to less than 3 yards per rush, and ranks 15th nationally and second in the SEC allowing just 107.4 yards per game on the ground this season.
3: Having won the last three meetings between the two schools, Alabama holds a 3-2 advantage over Missouri in the all-time series, but the Tigers won the first two meetings 35-10 in the 1968 Gator Bowl and 20-7 in their first regular season matchup Sept. 5, 1975 at Legion Field.
6.8: Alabama senior running back Damien Harris’ career yards-per-carry average is currently tied for second on Alabama’s all-time record list with former tailback Eddie Lacy (2010-12), and is just 0.4 behind all-time leader Wilbur Jackson’s 7.2 ypc average (1971-73)
10,182: With a season-low 204 passing yards last Saturday against South Carolina, Mizzou senior quarterback Drew Lock became just the ninth SEC QB ever to eclipse the 10,000-yard career passing mark, currently sitting at 10,182 entering the midpoint of the 2018 season.
If Nick Saban thought last week’s game at Arkansas was a potential “trap game,” this week’s matchup against Missouri might as well be a giant trap door everyone sees coming. With a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate and almost-certain Top 10 NFL Draft pick at quarterback in senior Drew Lock, these Tigers from up north have the potential to shock some folks with their ability to score points in bunches. Mizzou is coming off back-to-back divisional losses to No. 2 Georgia (29-3) and South Carolina (37-35), the latter of which came on a last-second field goal, but has shown flashes that indicate it’s not all that far removed from the Tigers team that went to back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013-14. Given how Alabama surrendered season-highs in both 405 total yards and 31 points to lowly Arkansas last week, Missouri’s offense is more than capable of providing the Crimson Tide a serious challenge. Add to that a run defense that ranks second in the SEC allowing just 107.4 rushing yards per game this season and a pass defense that has held every opponent outside of Purdue to a sub-60 percent completion percentage, the Tigers could be a serious threat to surprise Alabama. That said, this year’s Tide offense appears to be playing on another plane of existence all together, one where Tagovailoa has opponents waking up in a cold sweat with nightmares of all the different ways Alabama can score on them. So, while Missouri might be able to hang with Alabama offensively, at least offensively, a highly motivated Tide defense will be able to make more than enough stops to this Crimson train rolling to another convincing victory Saturday. Alabama 45, Missouri 21