Alabama's defense needs upgrade for 2015

It’s understandable if Alabama fans don’t enjoy the sight of Lane Kiffin’s visor right now. His play calling down the stretch against Ohio State was erratic, to say the least.

A little less Blake Sims and a little more Derrick Henry could have saved the offensive coordinator some grief from the 42-35 loss.

But if you’re being honest about what happened, you have to look at the scoreboard and wonder how much blame should really rest with Kiffin. Because, really, shouldn’t 35 points be enough?

It was from 2009-12. Coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart worked with much less during those four seasons and won three national championships.

Alabama has long been built on defense, but of late it has eroded. Take, for instance, the last three games of this season in which it surrendered an average of 33 points and 493 yards.

If Saban and Smart can't build back the defense to previous heights, the dynasty they have built in Tuscaloosa could be in serious doubt.

To get back on track, it’s going to take a two-pronged approach:

Face facts about tempo

Barring a sudden change of heart from the NCAA, there won’t be any new rules coming to slow the rise of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. If anything, Oregon's performance in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual has shown us that such offenses are only getting faster and more effective.

So it’s high time that Saban and Smart rethink their stance against tempo. It’s time they consider starting from scratch and testing out a completely new way of defending it.

Because the status quo isn’t working. It didn’t against Texas A&M for two seasons of Johnny Manziel theatrics. It didn’t against Auburn in each of the past two seasons with Gus Malzahn pulling the strings. And it certainly didn’t work in the past two bowl games against Oklahoma and Ohio State.

Whether it’s recruiting a different kind of athlete or simplifying the playbook, Alabama has to adapt.

It has two of the top defensive minds in college football in Saban and Smart, but until they come up with a response to quality uptempo offenses, it’s hard to say whether their defense will be good enough when it counts in the future.

Retool the secondary

At some point, the run of defensive backs leaving school early to enter the NFL draft was going to catch up to Alabama.

Against Auburn and Ohio State, we saw the problems a young, thin secondary could have.

Just think about the starting cornerbacks in both games: a converted wide receiver and a player who tore his ACL six months earlier. Granted, Cyrus Jones was a stabilizing force a year after making the switch to defense, but Eddie Jackson was a liability in pass defense, making you question the health of his surgically repaired knee. And when Jackson was pulled, veterans Jabriel Washington and Bradley Sylve were similarly inconsistent.

Unfortunately for Saban and Smart, it wasn’t just cornerbacks, either. Against Ohio State, their depth at safety was exposed, too. When Landon Collins was injured in the College Football Playoff semifinal game, the Buckeyes took full advantage. In the fourth quarter, with Collins on the sideline, Ezekiel Elliott broke an 85-yard touchdown run. With all due respect to Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry, neither were athletic enough to catch him.

For Alabama’s defense to go anywhere, it has to start improving the quality of its safeties and cornerbacks.

The good news is there’s plenty of talent to draw upon. Former five-star corners Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey should be ready after a year in the system, and safety Hootie Jones could be poised to grab a starting spot, too. If those incumbents don’t work out, Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class could yield a few playmakers with top-5 cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick and top-10 safeties Deionte Thompson and Shawn Burgess-Becker, according to ESPN's recruiting rankings.