Alabama Football: More Than Scheme, Star QBs Have Been Tide's Biggest Challenge

Christopher Walsh@@WritingWalshCollege Football National ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Jalen Saunders #8 of the Oklahoma Sooners is tackled by Eddie Jackson #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If you’re wondering how long it took a University of Alabama defensive player to be asked about working on uptempo offenses this spring, it was about 30 seconds into the first interview.

Senior linebacker Trey DePriest, who is expected to be the Crimson Tide’s every-down signal-caller this fall, fielded the question and sort of shrugged his shoulders.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “It’s just something that you have to prepare a little bit harder for. That’s really it.”

While the rest of the college football world has spent a good part of the spring talking about the merits of fast-paced offenses designed to run as many plays as possible and snap the ball before the opposition can get set, there’s been a growing belief that it’s the best way to beat Alabama and Nick Saban.

That’s not necessarily true.

What alarmist fans point to are the back-to-back losses at the end of last season and Alabama giving up 31 or more points three times after doing so just once over the previous four seasons (2010 vs. South Carolina).

Combined with Southeastern Conference teams having the highest averages for points (31.7), total offense (432.5), and rushing yards (197.0) since the league expanded in 1992—and the 235.5 passing yards were second only to 2001 (245.1)—many want to see a leak that can’t be plugged.

However, if Alabama was truly flummoxed by the scheme, Ole Miss certainly would have at least gotten on the scoreboard last season, and other offenses should have had more success. Instead, the Rebels were one of three teams to be shut out by the Crimson Tide and one of nine that failed to score more than 10 points.

Did everyone suddenly forget that the only experienced player the Crimson Tide had at cornerback was limited and playing with a painful turf toe injury? That six different players started in the two spots, including two true freshmen? That one of those thrust into the mix was a converted wide receiver still learning the position?

“We've not gotten the consistency we want out of that position,” defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said at the Sugar Bowl. “And we don't have the depth that we've had in the past. So it's been a struggle.”

That past includes Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick and Kareem Jackson all leaving Alabama early and being first-round draft picks, with Javier Arenas a second-round selection and DeQuan Menzie a fifth-round pick.

A better answer may be found by taking a quick glimpse at the nine games Alabama has lost since 2008. Three had almost unbelievable outcomes and two were right after the Crimson Tide had been eliminated from the national championship picture, but the common thread among nearly all of them was the strong play of opposing quarterbacks.

Winning quarterbacks against Alabama since 2008
Year, OpponentNameC-A YardsTDs/IntsPasser rating
2008 FloridaTim Tebow14-22, 2163/0191.1
2008 UtahBrian Johnson27-41, 3363/0158.8
2010 South CarolinaStephen Garcia17-20, 2013/1208.9
2010 LSUJefferson/Lee14-20, 2081/0173.9
2010 AuburnCam Newton13-20, 2163/0205.2
2011 LSUJefferson/Lee9-17, 910/274.4
2012 Texas A&MJohnny Manziel24-31, 2532/0167.3
2013 AuburnNick Marshall11-16, 972/0160.9
2013 OklahomaTrevor Knight32-44, 3484/1164.6
University of Alabama game summaries

Three were Heisman Trophy winners and three others had career/breakthrough games. Subtract the 9-6 overtime defeat to LSU in 2011 and the combined touchdown-to-interception ratio in the other eight games was 21-2.

Going back to those 31-point games last season, Alabama won one at Texas A&M even though Johnny Manziel exploited the Crimson Tide’s cornerbacks. Yet you can’t credit Auburn’s victory to its uptempo offense, especially since the Tigers were outgained by more than 100 yards and the winning play came on special teams.

Oklahoma won in the Sugar Bowl because it simply outplayed Alabama.

As a result, Alabama’s defense finished 26th in the nation with a 116.84 passer-efficiency rating. Take out the Texas A&M and Oklahoma games and it would have been 96.7, third in the nation and in line with what the Crimson Tide had done over the previous five years.

Moreover, those two games accounted for nine of the 13 total passing touchdowns against the Crimson Tide (69 percent), 60 of the 197 completions (30.5), and 812 of the 2,344 passing yards (34.6).

Alabama team passing efficiency defense (2008-13)
YearRatingNational rank
NCAA statistics

Of course a top-notch passing performance doesn’t guarantee victory. Two of the best games Zach Mettenberger had for LSU were against Alabama, and he lost both. Georgia’s Aaron Murray played well against the Crimson Tide in the 2012 SEC championship, while both Manziel and Tim Tebow beat Alabama only to lose the rematch.

That’s why the Crimson Tide defense isn’t panicking this offseason, especially since you know the coaches are using the back-to-back season-ending losses as motivation just like they did in 2009. With last year’s rookies having a year under their belt, and the addition of numerous prize recruits, look for few lapses in 2014.

“We're just going to prepare more for fast offenses,” junior linebacker Denzel Devall said. “We're just going to be better as a team. That's really our main goal this spring is to prepare for the fastball teams and things like that. I feel like we're going to accomplish that goal.”


Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh


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