They let Penn State complete deep passes Saturday.
They got caught on a reverse.
They recovered a fumble and returned it from one end of the field to the other, only to fumble it back to Penn State.
Somehow, those crazy kids in crimson showed how crazy talented they are in a 24-3, early-season victory over a quality opponent.
At times, they even reminded of the wily veterans they replaced with the whole bend-but-don’t-break thing.
Penn State threatened to get into the end zone a few times. JoePa’s Jimmys and Joes never got in because the ball just kept finding Alabama’s Wills and Roberts.
“Turnovers were a real key to the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They had three, which was a real key to the game.”
Well how about that?
On a night when Trent Richardson dazzled with 190 yards in total offense, Alabama’s young defense made the plays that won a game of brand-name programs on Name-Game Saturday.
It was the group with nine new starters and little help from injured linebacker Courtney Upshaw that made the biggest plays of all.
That wasn’t supposed to happen, not this early in the season.
Alabama’s defense was supposed to spend much of the season’s first half growing up while a veteran offense cushion their falls.
Granted, Alabama’s defense made its big plays against a freshman, but he’s the first true freshman to start at quarterback in the season-opener in Joe Paterno’s storied coaching career. There must be something to him, and he showed it by dropping a deep ball just over two Tide defenders in the first quarter.
Rob Bolden showed something by getting Penn State in the Alabama red zone three times and nearly a fourth.
But because of Alabama’s athletes on defense, three of those drives ended up in turnovers -- not incidental turnovers, but forced turnovers.
Twice, Alabama pressured Bolden into errant passes that became easy interceptions.
Another time, Mark Barron stripped the ball from Chaz Powell at Alabama’s 10, launching a follies reel best viewed at fast-forward speed. Alabama’s Robert Lester ultimately fumbled it back at the Penn State 2, but that’s an 88-yard change in field position.
Veterans like Barron and Dont’a Hightower were involved in some of those plays, but how about that sophomore named Lester?
How about walk-on sophomore safety Will Lowery with an interception and redshirt freshman linebacker Ed Stinson with a pressure?
Stinson didn’t even list on the three-deep chart passed out to media before Saturday‘s game, and Lowery is the “or” guy at both safety spots. Both made key plays against Penn State.
No one ever said Alabama’s defense wasn’t deep and talented, just young and plenty athletic.
It’s the combination that gives up big plays right before atoning with big plays, big enough to hold Penn State to a field goal.
The season is just two games old, but that adjustment period for the Tide’s young defense has yet to feel much like an adjustment period.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com or 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.