Big plays scarce against Alabama defense

Marvin Gentry/US Presswire

Nick Saban and Alabama rode a dominant defense to the 2011 BCS National Championship.We have all heard the cliché that defense wins championships. Nowhere is this saying more exemplified than at the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide ranked in the top three in scoring defense and top five in yards allowed during each of the last three seasons. During that time, they won two of the three BCS National Championships.

In fact, the only season that Alabama did not rank in the top seven in both scoring and total defense under Nick Saban was 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa. It was also the only season that the Tide did not win 10 games under their two-time national coach of the year.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Alabama is 48-6 with all six loses coming against opponents ranked in the top 20. Three of the six eventually played in the BCS National Championship Game.

With all of the great defenses that Alabama has had under Nick Saban, last season might have been the gold standard. The Tide held opponents to 8.2 points per game, the best scoring FBS defense since Auburn in 1988 (7.2). Georgia Southern was the only opponent that scored more than 14 points against Alabama in 2011.

The Tide allowed 12 touchdowns last season in 158 possessions, which is the lowest touchdown percentage (7.6) of any team in the last eight seasons. Three of those 12 touchdowns were scored when the defense was not on the field.

It was virtually impossible to move the ball against Alabama last season. The Tide held opponents to 3.3 yards per play, the lowest average of any team since 2000 and they allowed just 75 plays of 10 yards or more. That is 47 fewer than any other FBS team and it was the lowest percentage (10.4) of such plays allowed by any team in the last eight seasons.

Alabama Defense
2011 Season

Alabama ultimately forced a “3 & out” on 61 of its opponents’ 158 possessions (38.6 percent), the most total possessions and the highest percentage in the FBS. In the last eight seasons, only Ohio State in 2007 (40.1) and TCU in 2009 (39.0) forced “3 & outs” at a higher rate.

Everyone involved seemed to contribute, but the most impressive part of the Alabama defense might have been the play of the secondary.

The Tide’s opponents had a combined pass efficiency of 83.7, lowest in the FBS since the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. Alabama allowed 15 completions that gained 20 yards or more--10 fewer than any other FBS team--and on throws that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, the Tide had the same number of interceptions (seven) as their opponents had completions.

Alabama returns just four starters from last season’s dominating defense according to ESPN’s Chris Low. If Nick Saban and the Tide are able to replace the other seven, Alabama could roll toward its third national championship in the last four seasons.