TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s sort of like hearing a baby cry. You know at its root to be a good thing, but just wish for a little more rest.
This is life for the University of Alabama defense, which has barely had a chance to sit down and catch its breath this season. Half of the time it’s just when the players are beginning to get comfortable on the bench and recover they have to go back out on the field.
A perfect example was the start of Saturday’s game at Arkansas. The National Anthem was still echoing through the stadium on the first snap when tight end Irv Smith Jr. went running by the Crimson Tide sideline on a 76-yard touchdown.
The defense subsequently went to work, made the stop, and the Crimson Tide scored again in two plays. This time it was the dramatic Smith fumble with sophomore wide receiver Henry Ruggs III recovering.
“I don't think anybody wants to apologize for scoring, so we're not going to do that,” Nick Saban said.
Nor should Alabama.
Yet with the defense still putting things together with so many new starters, it is putting the Crimson Tide into some new statistical territory.
Opponents have executed more offensive play than the Crimson Tide (407 to 395), and the last two Southeastern Conference opponents have had a significant advantage in time of possession.
Alabama's Defensive Snaps
Year, Total snaps, Average per game
2011: 720, 55.4
2012: 837, 59.8
2013: 771, 59.3
2014: 945, 67.5
2015: 963, 64.2
2016: 983, 65.5
2017: 913 65.2
2018: 407* 67.8
Of course, against Arkansas it was largely due to Alabama scoring on every possession minus one and running out the clock at the end of the half and regulation. The Razorbacks had the ball for 10:34 of the first quarter, but were down 21-7.
"Yeah, but we don't want our offense to stop scoring,” junior safety Deionte Thompson said. “We want them to light up the scoreboard.”
In the grander scheme it’s not so much a problem (one that every team in college football wishes it had), just kind of surprising for a program that’s known for three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust on offense and a suffocating defense.
But under Saban the Crimson Tide has also been vary adaptive to its talent and playing to its strengths. When wide receiver Amari Cooper was the Crimson Tide’s best playmaker the offense was geared toward getting him the ball.
When Derrick Henry was the offense’s best player, Alabama rode him to both a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. The same goes when Greg McElroy was the quarterback and Mark Ingram Jr. was in the backfield with Trent Richardson. Those teams were geared more toward ball control because it was their best option to win.
“Our goal on offense is to score one more point than the defense,” senior running back Damien Harris said. “That’s our mindset every drive. We want to put up as many points as we can. We’re not really concerned about how much we need to hold on to the ball. If we could score on the first play of every drive, we would because that’s our job as an offense, to put points on the board. I don’t think we’re going to change our offense to hold on to the ball longer.”
What’s different this year is the combination of sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the speed at his disposal, in addition to a potent running game. With run-pass options Alabama can strike and attack in just about every way imaginable.
There are times Alabama doesn’t even have to really disguise anything. If Tagovailoa sees a defender playing off sophomore Jerry Jeudy in the slot all he has to do is get him the ball on a slant pass and he’s gone for six points. His eight touchdowns are second in the nation, but there’s also Ruggs, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Irv Smith Jr. …
“We feel like we an score on any play,” the junior tight end said.
The quick-strike touchdowns have been one of the results. Alabama has scored on its opening possession of every game this season. The 15 touchdown “drives” in under a minute top the nation, and seven have taken less than 30 seconds.
It’s the time needed for someone to run into the end zone after making a catch in stride.
Even though that may not be traditional Crimson Tide football, Alabama isn’t going to make any excuses.
“As our offense, our job is just to score,” senior tight end Hale Hentges said. “I know we sometimes probably don’t give the defense enough break as we should. Trust me, as an offensive player, sometimes it’s even frustrating how fast we can score.
“It’s like, ‘OK, let’s get in a rhythm, let’s get in a groove.’ You throw a block and you’re like, ‘OK, that was one play.’ The second play, I’m getting my feet wet and all of sudden we score and it’s like, ‘Well, off to the sideline again.’ I mean, we’re very lucky and blessed and fortunate to be able to have those big-play guys that we do.”
The defense has a few as well. It’s already scored four touchdowns and is beginning to show a knack for creating turnovers at key times, like last week’s fumble recover at the 1-yard line. Alabama’s +9 turnover ratio is second in the SEC and tied for sixth nationally.
So don’t expect the Crimson Tide to change anything until it has to. Alabama showed it can establish the run when it wants at Arkansas, and the defense will continue to try and make strides despite its uncharacteristic national rankings of 11thin scoring defense, 25thin total defense and tied for 48thin rushing defense.
The object, after all, is to win, and there’s just no way to argue with the results: 51-14, 57-7, 62-7, 45-23, 56-14, 65-31.
The only ones crying about those scores have been the opponents.
“We’re just pedal to the metal,” Hentges said.