One fact has been lost amid all the handwringing about Alabama’s offense: The defense is pretty good.
Led by linebacker Dallas Turner and cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry, the 12th-ranked Crimson Tide’s defense has put the clamps on two straight opponents since a loss to No. 3 Texas where the team looked vulnerable on both sides of the ball.
South Florida scored three points against the Tide. No. 20 Mississippi’s high-powered offense managed just 10 after racking up 158 through three games. Alabama’s defense even has the intimidating slogan to match — DOA — and it doesn’t stand for Defense of Alabama.
“We preach DOA, which is Dead on Arrival,” cornerback Terrion Arnold said. “Not giving our opponents anything. Just being relentless, being consistent, being persistent when adversity strikes. We’re looking to just keep expanding it and going out there and showing everybody we really are a good defense.”
How good remains to be seen. Alabama gets another test with a visit to Will Rogers and Mississippi State on Saturday.
Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers picked the Tide apart in a 34-24 Longhorns victory, passing for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Alabama has allowed just 559 yards combined over the past two games.
Some growing pains were to be expected. The defense had to replace six NFL draft picks, including three from the secondary and No. 3 selection Will Anderson Jr. at linebacker.
Nobody is comparing this group to the best of Nick Saban’s defenses in Tuscaloosa. The Tide led the nation in run, pass, total and scoring defense during its 2011 national championship season. The 2023 version does rank tied for second in the Southeastern Conference and 17th nationally in scoring, giving up 13.5 points per game.
The numbers are padded by games against Middle Tennessee State (seven points) and South Florida (three). But the Ole Miss game was perhaps a better indicator of the Tide’s defensive strength.
Bulldogs coach Zach Arnett practically gushes with praise for the Tide defenders and calls Saban “ maybe the greatest defensive mind in the history of college football.”
“It starts with tremendous players. They don’t have a weakness,” Arnett said. “They have a big, strong, physical defensive line. They can eat and swallow up blocks if they want to play that style. They can penetrate and get in the backfield if they want to play more of an attacking style.
“They have linebackers who read and react phenomenal, can cover routes. Edge rushers who are second to none in the country. And the secondary’s extremely talented. They tackle well and they get downhill and support the run very well. When you combine all those things together, you have a really good defense.”
The Alabama defense has been good enough to keep a worrisome start from getting even worse while the offense shuffled quarterbacks and struggled to find its way. Jalen Milroe seems to have firmly established himself as the No. 1 quarterback.
“We build our energy from our defense,” Milroe said. “They played great. We get energy from them. And then the things people miss — how hard they work. All 11 guys are hungry on our defense and when you have a defense like that, it’s hard to stop. I love our defense.”
Turner leads the SEC with 4.5 sacks while forcing two fumbles and recording 6.5 tackles for loss. He has picked up some of the slack from the departed star Anderson, now with the Houston Texans.
Chris Braswell has added 3.5 sacks. Freshman safety Caleb Downs leads the team with 27 tackles. McKinstry is the Tide’s latest highly rated defensive back prospect and shutdown corner.
Safety Malachi Moore credited Turner with the “DOA” slogan.
“We were trying to come up with a brand for the defense,” Moore said. “DOA was something Dallas came up with in the summer and it’s something we really believe in and really have that mentality when we go out on the field.”
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