Bolstering the trenches

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's no secret that in the SEC, winning starts at the line of scrimmage.

Sure, the skill players deserve their recognition and play their parts, but it all boils down to what's happening in the trenches.

A shaky foundation will always fail. Time and stress are all that's needed.

Alabama's offensive and defensive lines haven't been soft this season, but they haven't been as strong as expected either.

"Some good, some bad," said Alabama coach Nick Saban when asked to size up the Tide's play at the line of scrimmage.

UA is 12th in the country with 16 sacks and 34th in tackles for loss with 34.

"We've played the run fairly well on defense at times, and a couple times we've given up some runs that, whether it's misalignment or missed execution," Saban said. "We see a lot of stuff, though. And in a lot of cases, we didn't adjust properly, but didn't adjust properly to things we hadn't seen much before."

Defensive end Damion Square said that while the number of negative plays have been good, the pass-rushers aren't satisfied. Facing a no-huddle team such as Missouri on Saturday necessitates getting into the backfield and disrupting timing, he said.

"Oh, we want more," he said. "You want to get to the quarterback, especially in those situations where a team is running an up-tempo offense. Up front, you've got fatigued linemen. If he can get on the ball, I can get on the ball also. You want to get to the quarterback. Maybe they'll blow a blocking assignment, and maybe our guys on the back end might blow a coverage assignment on the same play. You want to exploit them up front and get to the quarterback, because that could've saved us from having a touchdown thrown on us or a big-yardage gain."

Offensively, the play on the line has been inconsistent. After surrendering six sacks to Western Kentucky, Alabama has given up just three sacks over the last three games.

"Inconsistency has been probably the biggest thing on the line of scrimmage in terms of not getting a hat on a hat, where people have given us bad plays at times, not maybe executing in pass protection or the quarterback getting the ball out of his hand quickly enough," Saban said.

Chance Warmack, who is the highest-rated offensive lineman in next year's draft according to ESPN, said there's plenty of room for improvement.

"We can do better at everything: running, passing, everything in terms of us as a team," he said. "I think we need to focus on every little thing and continue to get better every week."

Even Alabama's running game, which has been borderline dominant this season at 188.2 yards per game, has its faults, according to Warmack.

"I'm not satisfied," he said. "I tell my teammates that we need to do better and show that instead of just saying it."

Center Barrett Jones said it's all a matter of cleaning up mistakes.

"The main thing is execution," Jones said. "Execution is where most of our mistakes have come. Communication has actually been pretty good. We've done a lot of things well but we just need to clean up details."

Missouri's defensive line will test Jones' ability to get the right protection called. The Tigers move around a lot and stunt often -- and create negative plays, according to Jones.

"They really have created confusion in their prior games," Jones said. "I think they're a really hard team to game plan for. We really have had to work hard this week mentally and watch a lot of film and just prepare because they do a lot of different things on defense.

"The good news in all that is we play against a defense every day that does a lot of different things. That enables us to prepare for teams like this that show a variety of looks."

One of Jones' biggest challenges will be Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The 6-foot4, 295-pound junior was an All-Big 12 honorable mention last year.

"He's a very good player," Jones said of Richardson. "He plays really hard which I really respect. He plays with a lot of intensity and passion. I think he's definitely going to be bringing his best. So we're excited to have the opportunity to face a good opponent like him. I think he definitely presents some challenges."

Missouri has nearly 20 more tackles for loss than Alabama, averaging 8.8 per game. Of Missouri's 15 sacks, Richardson has accounted for three on his own.

"Their front is very, very good," Saban said. "They play with a lot of effort. They're athletic. They have a couple of guys that can rush and (Richardson) is one of them. He's a very good player."

Defenses have consistently brought eight men in the box in an attempt to stuff the run and make Alabama one-dimensional. The Tide expect the same from Missouri.

"We have grown to expect that," Jones said. "It's going to happen a lot. We did a good job of making some throws to loosen up the run game a little bit. Also, I think it's important that you establish the run no matter how many people are in the box. That's always been our mentality around here."