Alabama’s defense is elite without a doubt, but even the elite defenses in college football have their weaknesses. In Alabama’s two biggest games to date this season, against Ole Miss and Arkansas, the secondary has proven to be the closest thing to an Achilles’ heel that can be found in this defense.
In the Crimson Tide’s matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville this Saturday, Tennessee’s greatest hope in pulling off the upset lies in its ability to attack the Crimson Tide in the vertical passing the game as other teams have this season.
In those two games, the Crimson Tide surrendered a total of 821 passing yards to quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Austin Allen. Ole Miss and Arkansas also put up 45 and 30 points, respectively, on Nick Saban and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. However, while the Rebels and Razorbacks have had the most success against Alabama on offense this year, the Alabama defense also scored multiple touchdowns in each of those contests.
It was the poor defensive execution against Arkansas that had Saban throwing down his headset in anger on his way to shake hands with Bret Bielema.
In terms of vertical passing, it’s no coincidence that Ole Miss and Arkansas rank first second in the SEC in passes of 20 yards or more this year, but the Vols aren’t far behind on that list, ranking fourth. Tennessee has already won one game this year largely thanks to the deep ball: A Hail Mary as time expired gave the Volunteers a victory over Georgia in Week 5.
The Volunteers are also one the few teams that have the personnel to win one-on-one matchups against the Alabama defense. Tennessee has a true deep-threat receiver in Josh Malone, who is tied for third in the SEC with four receptions for 30 yards or more. He also has five receiving touchdowns this season.
Additionally, Tennessee can spread out the Alabama defense using Alvin Kamara, who showed his versatility against Texas A&M in the absence of Jalen Hurd, rushing for 121 yards and collecting 161 receiving yards in the process.
The lackluster performance by the secondary has been addressed not only by the Crimson Tide’s head coach but by the players themselves. According to BamaOnline’s Charlie Potter, the secondary hosted a defensive backs-only meeting during the week.
“We’re having a meeting today talking with the DBs about how we need to execute and get back to that national championship secondary,” sophomore cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick said.
“We’ve got to do that by just staying focused, executing and paying more attention to details. We have the talent, we have the athleticism that nobody has in the country. We should be able to execute and keep teams under at least 200 receiving yards a game.”
It’s clear from all parties in the Alabama program that the secondary is capable of playing at a higher standard than it has shown thus far this season. Still, the vertical passing game seems to be the only useful way for teams to consistently attack Alabama’s defense.
Tennessee has to create some magic in the passing game to avoid losing to Alabama for a tenth consecutive year on Saturday.