Costly offsides penalties.
The fundamentals have broken down on large scale for the Alabama defense. So practice this week has been a mash up of two-a-days and game preparation for the visit from Ole Miss.
For a program and a unit that prides itself on mastering the basics, having the failures contribute in large part to last Saturday’s 35-21 loss at South Carolina has players and coaches searching for answers.
Make no mistake about it, the poor practice habits in weeks past are a prime culprit.
“There are some fundamental things that you can never get away from,” coach Nick Saban said. … “Even though we don’t tackle everybody and take them to the ground (in practice), you have to get in the right position to thud the guy and roll your hips and do all those things.
“Well, we have harped and harped and harped and harped on our guys all year long to finish, you know, finish. Thud the runner. Finish. Do what you’re supposed to do. Well, we haven’t done that great as a team, so what happens in the game? We start missing tackles.”
The whiffs were especially damaging in the backfield against South Carolina.
Saban pointed to the fourth-and-2 situation in the first quarter when a host of Alabama tacklers appeared to have Gamecock quarterback Stephen Garcia corralled in the backfield. But Garcia squirted out the left side of the scrum and a first down kept the drive in business. One snap later, a touchdown pass gave South Carolina a 14-3 lead.
More important than any other contributing factor in a tackle is body positioning.
“I mean, we get in front of them, square the runner and just thud them up instead of just taking them to the ground,” nose guard Josh Chapman said. “It’s good position, really.”
Because they learned the hard way with the first loss in 19 games, Saban said players are now willing to correct the issues that existed long before traveling to Columbia last week.
Another matter needing attention involves over-aggressive anticipation of snap counts. In six games this season, Alabama has been flagged 11 times for jumping offsides. At this point in the season a year ago, Alabama defenders had just one offsides flag and finished the season with just five total.
Though a few of this year’s flags were charged to special teams, the bulk belong to the defensive line including three of the four racked up at South Carolina. Also, two of the four came on touchdown drives while the first was declined since it was on the Gamecocks’ first touchdown play.
“It’s being disciplined,” said defensive end Marcell Dareus who jumped over the line of scrimmage twice against Florida. “We have to work on that. It’s just something that doesn’t need to be happening.”
Now with an Ole Miss team that likes to run the option coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, discipline will be needed more than ever for the Tide defense. And since Alabama hasn’t seen an offense anything in the ballpark of the Rebels, radical adjustments compete with fundamental reminders in practice.
At the helm is quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the shifty transfer from Oregon who can be a tackler’s worst nightmare.
“The guy has a great feel for running the offense that they’re running now which is more of an Oregon-style offense,” Saban said of Masoli. “It still has a lot of the typical Houston Nutt things that they’ve done — down hill, run the power — but the option part of it, the guy is extremely quick.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.