TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama’s run defense hasn’t looked as formidable in November.
Blame it on injuries. Blame it on communication.
If SEC leading rusher Kerryon Johnson and the Auburn offense runs the ball effectively in the Iron Bowl in two weeks, Alabama may have to blame its run defense from keeping it out of the SEC title game.
Alabama (10-0, 7-0) can use Saturday’s game against Mercer to fix communication problems between the linebackers. Without injured senior Shaun Dion Hamilton making the calls and checks, senior Rashaan Evans, Keith Holcombe and Dylan Moses weren’t always on the same page in last week’s dramatic, 31-24, win at Mississippi State in which the Tide gave up 172 yards on the ground and three rushing scores.
“Stability of the defense has to be created through confidence in the signal caller, making the right calls, doing the right things, getting us in the right place and everybody having confidence that they need to do their job,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We did that for a great deal part of the game and there were times we had breakdowns that were costly.”
Holcombe, a four-year junior, looked shaky against the Bulldogs. Moses is a five-star recruit with electric ability, but he’s young. If they have missteps at Auburn, Johnson and the Tigers, with all their misdirection and jet sweeps, could run wild on what was once the nation’s top run defense.
“We all need to sort of have the ‘attitude’ that we need to do more to try to improve our ability to be consistent in how we play as a defensive team, totally, but starting from inside out,” Saban added.
Alabama must control the middle to contain Johnson in Auburn’s read-option. Averaging 5.2 yards a carry, Johnson has 1,035 yards and an SEC-best 15 rushing touchdowns this season.
“I’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks, he’s one of the best running backs in the country, if not the best,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn after Johnson’s 167-yard performance in last week’s 40-17 upset win over Georgia, the top team in the College Football Playoff poll going into last week’s game. “He needs to be in the Heisman talk.”
Going into the LSU game, the Tide was allowing just 66.4 yards and 2.31 yards per rush a game. Alabama had allowed just total two rushing touchdowns.
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