Saturday's meeting with Georgia will provide Nick Saban's secondary with its most significant test since consecutive poor efforts against LSU and Texas A&M.
Alabama’s struggles in the secondary against LSU and Texas A&M earlier this month are nothing more than a faded memory if you look at any measurable statistic that matters.
After all, the Tide are ranked No. 2 and playing for a spot in the national championship game opposite top-ranked Notre Dame if they can knock off No. 3 Georgia in Saturday’s SEC championship game.
But have the issues that nagged Nick Saban’s club in a close win in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3, and followed it a week later in a home loss to the Aggies completely gone away after consecutive drubbings of hapless foes Western Carolina and Auburn?
Saban—who specializes in molding beastly defensive backs—knows that the real test will come when they try to stop Aaron Murray and company inside the Georgia Dome this weekend.
Clearly, the Bulldogs offense resembles an outfit similar to the two Top 10 SEC heavyweights that combined to rack up 549 passing yards and convert 55 percent of their third-down attempts against Saban’s defense.
The game film from those two contests will certainly not be used in Alabama’s offseason coaching clinics.
While the entire defense was shaky in that two-week stretch, it was the secondary that sprung the biggest leaks.
Safeties Robert Lester and Ha’Ha Clinton-Dix were isolated in coverage in spread sets, and each was repeatedly exploited for big plays in both games.
Corners Dee Milliner and Deion Belue were simply a step behind two of the more talented receiver units they have seen all season.
The entire secondary struggled to bring down shifty skill players in space.
Blown coverages, missed tackles and simply a lack of physicality all were present against the Tigers and the Aggies.
Undoubtedly, the first two things on that list can be corrected on the practice field—which should be expected considering Saban’s history with teaching that unit.
The latter element is the key to getting back to the brand of defense that fans in Tuscaloosa lauded, and more importantly, a style that the rest of the nation feared.
Do you think it's coincidental that the games against LSU and Texas A&M accounted for two of only three games this season (FAU was the other) where Alabama failed to record a turnover?
It is no secret that Georgia has had a tendency to be pushed around in bigger games—with this season’s 35-7 loss at South Carolina providing the most recent example of this case.
However, the Tide should be ready to face the Bulldogs squad that bounced back and was able to wear down a physical Florida team and handed the Gators their only loss this season.
The best way Alabama’s secondary can prove that it has learned from its subpar efforts in the beginning of November is by being the aggressor against the Bulldogs from the opening snap.
That means maintaining its discipline in coverage and getting back to sound tackling fundamentals against the run and in space.
It also means playing with an edge and attitude that sets the tone for the rest of the defense.
While that sounds simple in theory, great defenses master the art of making it look routine.
If Alabama’s defense hopes to get back to the elite level its supporters are accustomed to seeing, the secondary will have to play a primary role in helping the Tide make a statement against the Bulldogs.