I went through the offense in part one—let’s break down the defense and special teams. Complimentary football means winning in all three phases but also having each phase help the other out. And despite the box score not looking particularly great for any of the phases, all three worked together and did their part to get us the win. Let’s take a quick look at the defense, special teams, and talk about what this means moving forward.
What’s so odd about this game is that, statistically, the defense didn't have a great game. We gave up 522 yards. Brian Robinson averaged 6 yards a carry and went for 147. Alabama won the time of possession battle by a full 7 minutes.
But two things jump to mind: 1) we made them (well we didn't make them, honestly they made some puzzling red zone decisions) settle for FGs instead of TDs, and we won the turnover battle. That latter one is a frustration many of us have had with Elko’s offense. For all the exotic blitzes we show we just can't create turnovers and haven't been able to do so consistently for the past couple of years. But two this weekend and when combined, both resulted in the game-winning difference. We got points off of Leon’s fumble recovery and kept them out of the endzone on Demani’s beautiful break on the ball.
Last week the big frustration against Mississippi State was the fact that we only rushed 3, got no pressure, didn't get home on blitzes and left a secondary (who’s struggling a bit right now) out to dry. This week I dont know that the secondary played any better but the front 4 (not just 3!) got pressure, and to top it all off we had Bryce Young’s head spinning as to where he’d be seeing pressure from. Whether it’s Antonio Johnson streaking in for a hurry, or Leon patiently waiting for a hole and then streaking through for a sack—the pressure got there and came from everywhere.
Last but not least, man, how about this defensive line. Tyree Johnson came through with 2 big sacks. We gave the RT for Alabama fits all dang night. That poor kid is going to have a rough go of it in film session. The front four combined with the pressure dialed up from Elko kept Bama from putting together a complete game. Yes they got yards, but they could never quite put it all together.
I posted something on a message board the other day about how we might need a dedicated special teams coach because it just didn't seem like were maximizing performance out of that group. We had talent and the kicking game has been great, but it just felt like we could get more. And in the past when we did get a good return it was always negated by flags.
How many of us fully expected to see a flag on Achane’s long run? I know I sure as heck did.
That run was beautiful. Sprung by the Mullet God himself Baylor Cupp getting the opening block and giving Achane room to run, the special teams performed beautifully on that play. My favorite thing was Jardin Gilbert (20) having the spatial awareness to slow up and let Achane run by him. I would have completely understood if Gilbert just didn't see him coming, bumped into him a bit, and resulted in Achane missing a step but Gilbert slowed up and got out of the way just enough to let things happen. Beautiful play.
Not even worried about the punt block. Alabama is elite on getting nonoffensive touchdowns and you knew they were going to get one.
Good things can happen when you create turnovers and have excellent special teams play.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
"This game's over with. I'm tired of talking about it. It's over." - Jimbo Fisher— Billy Liucci (@billyliucci) October 11, 2021
I get it Jimbo. I get it. This win means nothing if it doesn't springboard us to good performance the rest of the way. I’m surprised we won this game given all that we were missing due to injury, but if I told you over the summer that we would beat Bama by 3 at home you’d be excited but not surprised at all because the talent is there.
How do we leverage this performance in a way that it sets the bar for performance the rest of the year and isn't just a one-off kind of thing? Bama is done, it doesn't matter anymore. And it’s time for the team to stop thinking about it and move on to the next one.
This season has been frustrating, in some sense, due to promises unfulfilled. I know we are talented. I know we’ve got stars. And this weekend was the first time we got to see it all be put together (combined with an unworldly performance by our QB). So in the same way that Jimbo delivered after his summer comments about playing Nick Saban, it’s time for the team to do the same and deliver what they are capable of delivering. Everything is still on the table. EVERY SINGLE THING IS STILL ON THE TABLE.
The whole “we ain't done yet” is a bit cliche but in some sense, it encapsulates this season quite well. We weren't done after Haynes went down. We certainly weren't done after two disappointing performances in absolutely winnable games vs Arkansas and Mississippi State. And we are not done yet after this game. Not done at all. This game is now the standard of how well we can perform. Now it’s time to see if this is how we will perform the rest of the way in our 6 remaining games.