Only once did Alabama’s defense go without a sack in a 2019 game. The same was true a year earlier, and while Nick Saban famously downplays the impact of that stat, those two games have something in common.
Of the three games Alabama’s lost in that span, these were two. The CFP title game blowout to Clemson was more than a play away from shifting the 44-16 outcome but last year’s 48-45 Iron Bowl loss to Auburn had a few crossroad moments.
And that’s only relevant today because Alabama completed its Week 2 win over Texas A&M without recording a sack.
With a 52-24 final, it wasn’t a factor, but interesting with a high tempo Ole Miss offense up next. Lane Kiffin’s group leads the SEC averaging 536 yards in this young season with quick quarterbacks and schemes that can gas a defense.
Context, here, is also important. Alabama hurried Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond eight times by seven different defenders. Pursuing the quarterback remains a talking point, Alabama defensive end LaBryan Ray said, with a 5 p.m. CT Saturday trip to Ole Miss next..
“It’s a big emphasis on it, we focus on especially as a defensive line getting after the passer, getting off blocks, making negative plays,” Ray said. “So you know, that’s one of the big key factors for us going in every week. Something that we have to do at a high level.”
Alabama ranks fifth in the 14-team SEC in tackles for loss with 13. Eleven different defenders contributed at least half of a TFL with middle linebackers Dylan Moses (3.0) and Christian Harris (2.0) leading the way.
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Ole Miss (1-1) has struggled at times protecting starting quarterback Matt Corral. Florida sacked him four times in the season opener while recording three additional hurries. Kentucky had two sacks and no hurries in Ole Miss’ 42-41 overtime win in Lexington.
Coach Lane Kiffin said the offensive line play has been “very up and down” early on.
“I think the center and the tackles have played well at times,” Kiffin said Monday. “We struggled at guard so we’re gonna have to play a lot better.”
That’s good news for the interior pass rush and players like Christian Barmore. The defensive lineman missed the opener with a minor knee injury but was back against the Aggies and Saban said he continues to progress.
“He makes a big impact, you know just to have a person who wreaks havoc, just makes big plays,” Ray said. “Just to have him back in the huddle as well, it’s definitely good to have. Just to work across from him, see how he works, you know, I think that his energy he feeds, other people feed off it too.”
Off the edge, veteran and new starter Christopher Allen is making progress in an expanded role. The fourth-year junior outside linebacker hit Mond for a two-yard loss on a running play Saturday, then his pressure forced an off-target fourth-down pass at the end of the third quarter.
The Baton Rouge product played behind starters like Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings before getting his shot this fall. Saban said it just took time for players like Allen who had to adjust to a completely different style of play in the SEC.
“So they play with their hand in the dirt because they’re bigger than everybody else in high school,” Saban said. “So, it’s kind of a work in progress sometimes when you make them stand up players and Chris now is much more confident in what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to do it.”
On the other end of that spectrum is true freshman outside linebacker Will Anderson. He’s been in both opposing backfields in his first two collegiate games with six tackles, one for loss, and a quarterback hurry.
The Hampton, Georgia product known by “The Terminator” in the Alabama locker room has influenced a few other plays.
“I think since he really stepped on campus, he’s been wreaking havoc,” Ray said. “He’s definitely gotten better and better every day. He comes to work trying to prove himself for sure.”
There were still issues getting to Mond and that showed itself on third-down passing situations after halftime. The Aggies were 8-for-10 converting third downs and cornerback Patrick Surtain has a solution.
“I think we got to get after the passer,” the junior said. “We have to rush smart, rush fast. I think everybody across the line just has to do their job. That’s the most important thing when it comes to going against a high-powered offense like theirs.”