Are Alabama fans mad at the wrong coordinator?

Pete+Golding+speaks+at+a+press+conference+in+December+2019.

CW File

Pete Golding speaks at a press conference in December 2019.

Blake Byler, Contributing Writer

“Fire Pete Golding.”

These three words were echoed by Alabama fans on Twitter following their football team’s narrow 20-14 win over rival LSU on Nov. 6 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

This was not the first time, either.

There has always been weariness of Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding since he was hired at Alabama at the end of the 2018 season, replacing Jeremy Pruitt after Pruitt took the Tennessee head coaching job. 

Alabama showed some defensive struggles in Golding’s first year at the helm but was given a pass by fans after season-ending injuries to his starting middle linebackers, which caused him to start two true freshmen for the majority of the season as the signal callers of his defense. 

It wasn’t until a game last season against the Ole Miss Rebels that noise started to increase. The Rebels did whatever they wanted against Alabama, scoring 48 points. This marked the most points ever scored against Alabama since Nick Saban took over in 2007.

Now we arrive in November 2021. Alabama is 8-1 with a loss to Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide has hard-fought wins against what now appear to be inferior opponents such as Florida, Tennessee and LSU. 

Many Alabama fans are attributing the struggles of this season to the defense, specifically Golding.

This season, however, Alabama’s defense has been better than Twitter analysts have given them credit for. 

Six out of nine Alabama opponents have been held below their season average, typically by a very wide margin. Alabama was also one point away from holding both Florida and Southern Miss below their season averages. 

Alabama is 11th in the country in total defense, fifth in rushing defense, 12th in turnover margin and eighth in interceptions. The Crimson Tide has been above average statistically in almost every major defensive category. 

While there have been defensive lapses and breakdowns during games just like with any defense, Alabama has undeniably been strong on the defensive side of the ball this season.

The defenses of the early Nick Saban era that gave up fewer than 10 points per game have been gone for a long time, fading out with the evolution of the modern offense, but the current defense absolutely can and has held its own.

Moving to the offensive side of the ball, Alabama has experienced more struggles than fans could have imagined after watching the past three seasons. 

Former offensive coordinators Mike Locksley and Steve Sarkisian turned Alabama into one of the highest-powered offenses in recent memory. With both of them moving on to head coaching jobs at Maryland and Texas, former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was hired to inherit and enhance the offensive juggernaut that was Alabama.

Things immediately felt off.

The downfield shots to swift receivers that fans became accustomed to have been few and far between. The unique play designs that worked to get Alabama’s best skill players the ball have disappeared. The once-feared running game is now stagnant.

Most importantly, the head-scratching play calls have come in waves.

Look no further than LSU for recent examples. Alabama faced a third-and-two around midfield, and ran a direct snap to wide receiver Slade Bolden, not wide receiver JoJo Earle or running back Brian Robinson Jr.

Alabama failed to get a first down. 

Quarterback Bryce Young hit Jameson Williams for a 58-yard touchdown early in the second half to extend the lead. Alabama did not attempt another deep ball for the remainder of the game. A critical fourth down scenario late in the game with Alabama only leading by six points led to a Young rollout. 

The play call was so obvious that he was surrounded by LSU defenders before he reached the line of scrimmage.

That isn’t the only example.

After a hot 21-0 start against Florida, O’Brien’s play calling turned conservative. The Crimson Tide’s momentum was killed, and Florida worked its way back into the game. 

Against Texas A&M, Alabama had a first and goal from the 4-yard line. Three straight passes were called out of shotgun, resulting in a field goal. 

Alabama head coach Nick Saban recognized this. After seeing a shotgun formation at the goal line the next week against Mississippi State, Saban called a timeout. 

Alabama ran three straight run plays in a goal-to-go situation and scored a touchdown.

These struggles are by no means placed on talent. Golding may not be as decorated and respected as current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was when he ran Alabama’s defense, but he doesn’t have to be. 

The defense is doing what is asked, and if it weren’t for a myriad of stops in the fourth quarter against LSU, or a two-point conversion stop against Florida, Alabama’s offensive shortcoming would have the Crimson Tide in a much worse position. 

This story was published in the Rumor Edition. View the complete issue here.

Questions? Email the Sports desk at sports@cw.ua.edu.