Defense Remains Stout After Two-Week Layoff
After back-to-back off weeks, a rarity in a normal season but not uncommon in this one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many wondered how long it would take Alabama’s defense to pick up where it left off in late October — if it did at all.
The answer was revealed during the Crimson Tide’s 63-3 win over Kentucky on Saturday: less than a half.
It took 34 plays, to be exact.
Despite coach Nick Saban’s warnings that the sputtering Kentucky offense could still cause some confusion, the Wildcats were moving the chains on inside and outside runs, swing routes, jet sweeps and quick slants — the same formula that has troubled Alabama’s defense all season.
“The intensity [and] the attention to detail early on in the game was not what we wanted it to be,” coach Nick Saban said. “A lot of the things where they hit runs on us, 10- or 12-yard runs, were we misfit the gaps. We made some mental errors on shifts or motions. We didn’t adjust properly, so they would hit a run and we’d lose the edge and we wouldn’t be in our gap.”
After an opening four-play drive, three consecutive Kentucky drives lasted eight, 12 and 10 plays, and all took up more than 4 minutes. But, courtesy of Alabama's strong red-zone defense and some gaffes in the kicking game, the Wildcats only scored 3 points.
After that, Kentucky had just one first down and gained 30 yards over its next seven drives. Its passing game was especially anemic, going 10 for 25 across three different quarterbacks for just 120 yards and six first downs, both season lows.
Alabama’s third-down defense, which earlier this season was one of the worst in the FBS, held Kentucky to just 2 of 13. It limited Mississippi State to going 2 of 15 in its last outing three weeks ago.
“They do have a lot of quarterback runs, and it makes you be more sound with your gap control,” sophomore linebacker Christian Harris said. “We struggled with that a little bit in the first quarter, but once we got it adjusted, I think we handled it pretty well.”
The highlight of the game defensively was a 45-yard pick-six in the third quarter by sophomore safety Jordan Battle, who baited Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson into a short underneath throw before breaking on the ball and sprinting to the end zone untouched.
He broke up a similar pass a few plays later, had another pass breakup on a blitz in the first half, and made several open-field tackles.
After he recounted the interception, Harris made sure he didn’t get too full of himself by reminding him with a smile, “You dropped the second one.”
“Earlier I had missed [the interception] because I ran the wrong call,” Battle said. “And then they came back at it, and then I came down in my hook and I saw it again. I saw the RPO and I broke on it, and I just cribbed it after that.”