Tide defense silencing doubters

Jason Galloway

Alabama’s victory over No. 7 Florida Saturday proved the Crimson Tide’s second-half comeback the week before against Arkansas was no fluke.

If anything, it proved the fluke of that game was the first half.

After allowing more than 300 total yards in the first half to the Razorbacks last week, Alabama’s defense continued its run of redemption against the Gators, forcing four turnovers and surrendering only two field goals in the Tide’s 31-6 victory.

“We’re maturing every day,” junior defensive end Marcell Dareus said. “Every play, we’re maturing – we’re working hard and just gelling together. We haven’t played our best game yet, but we’re still working at it.”

The Gators actually outgained the Tide in the game, 281-273, but that was perhaps more of an underachievement by Alabama’s offensive unit. And like it has all year, the Tide’s defense came up with opportunistic turnovers in key situations.

Alabama, who ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with 11 interceptions, forced two turnovers when the Gators were inside the Alabama 2-yard line. Sophomore linebacker Nico Johnson intercepted a pass on fourth-and-goal on Florida’s first drive of the game, and Courtney Upshaw recovered a fumble near the goal line in the third quarter.

“A lot of times, turnovers save us,” junior safety Mark Barron said. “I feel like that’s playing a big role in our defense playing as well as we are.”

Sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley also had interceptions in the game. Mosley returned his for a 35-yard touchdown to put the Tide up 31-6.

Head coach Nick Saban said after Saturday’s game that a big emphasis has been placed on creating turnovers this season.

“It’s something that we have emphasized tremendously with this group in terms of the turnover drills that we do,” Saban said. “Every time the ball hits the ground, they have to pick it up and run with it. So, there’s a lot of conscious effort going into trying to make and get turnovers. That’s the one thing that probably has the biggest affect on the outcome of the game as anything.”

Ever since last season ended, the Tide has been bombarded with doubts about the ability to repeat as national champions with nine new starters on defense.

The first half of Alabama’s game against Arkansas last week seemed to validate those doubts, but the Tide defense has forced six turnovers and given up just nine points in the three quarters since.

“We hear it every week,” sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “Especially going against Arkansas, people were saying that we lost nine starters, and Mallett’s going to come in and pick on our corners. He tried to in the first half, but in the second half, young guys like Robert Lester and Dre Kirkpatrick came up with big-time picks.”

Junior running back Mark Ingram said, “Just because we lost nine players doesn’t mean that they’re not a great defense. I believe they’ve been playing with a chip on their shoulder. I’ve had the utmost confidence in them. They have great athletes, playmakers.”

Two of the Tide’s biggest tests are now out of the way, and Alabama remains undefeated. The Tide has only given up three touchdowns through five games, and Hightower said he only expects improvement from here on out.

“I feel like our defense is as good as it was last year,” he said. “It was just a matter of time before everybody started clicking.”