Defense working on communication problems
The quarterback question wasn’t the only thing coach Nick Saban was fired up about on Saturday night. Barely two minutes into his press conference following Alabama’s dominant 51-14 win over Louisville, Saban launched into a rant about a block in the back penalty. At the end of his tirade, he delivered a warning to reporters in the room.
“If I sound a little bit pissed, you’re right. I am,” Saban said. “So, you know, be careful.”
The block in the back, which wiped out freshman Jaylen Waddle’s spectacular punt return touchdown, was not the only Alabama penalty that got under Saban’s skin. In total, Alabama was flagged 10 times for 111 yards. A defense that replaced eight starters was responsible for six of those, costing the Crimson Tide 76 yards and gifting the Cardinals with five first downs.
A young, inexperienced defense made errors that a young, inexperienced defense is bound to make.
It was ironic, then, that the penalty drawing the most animated reaction from Saban during the game was called on veteran linebacker Christian Miller. Miller received a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct when Alabama was up 34-0 in the third quarter. Miller’s penalty, along with another personal foul, opened the door for Louisville to put its first points on the board.
“We had way too many penalties as a team, and I think it was even more clear on defense when we executed and did things correctly, we had pretty good success,” Saban said. “And when we made mental errors and didn’t do the right things, they did take advantage of it on occasion, and it led to some of their very big plays.”
While penalties plagued Alabama’s defense throughout the contest, miscommunication was also an issue.
Louisville found success confusing Alabama’s secondary with unfamiliar routes. On multiple occasions, quarterback Jawon Pass took advantage of busted coverage and found a seemingly wide-open receiver downfield. Safety Deionte Thompson, who has stepped into a leadership role in Alabama’s secondary, shoulders a portion of the blame.
“I don’t know how many [busted coverages] we had, but we had a few,” Thompson said. “And that’s just a lack of me not communicating the calls with other guys, so I have to do a better job with that and making sure we’re all on the same page.”
Linebacker Mack Wilson won’t have Thompson taking all of the heat for Alabama’s errors, since his job is to be the voice of the defense.
“Coach Saban tells me all the time that, if someone messes up, he’s coming at me regardless,” Wilson said. “I’m the signal caller, and I need to make sure everyone is on the same page. That’s something that I take responsibility of, too.”
With a high-powered, Arkansas State passing attack coming to town this weekend, Alabama’s entire defense will need to fix its communication issues this week in practice. To do so, defensive back Shyheim Carter said his key is to practice “like you’re going to play in the game.”
“You play the game even before you play the game,” Carter said.
Despite accruing double-digit penalties and suffering from several breakdowns, Alabama’s defense was smothering in its debut. The Crimson Tide allowed Louisville to gain only 268 yards of total offense, including a mere 16 yards on the ground. If Alabama can clean up its play, it will be a long day for Arkansas State’s offense on Saturday.