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LSU-Bama: The Tide Defense

Should we even get off the bus?

Abram Booty

*I know of a lot you people reading this are Astros fans so have fun with that but remember that baseball died in 2004 when the MLB moved the Expos to DC.*

Anyways, Billy e-mailed me with the subject, “How to beat Bama?” I previewed the Alabama offense last year here so I decided to look a the Tide defense this season for any weaknesses I could find.

There aren’t.

The product they’ve shown on the field has been outstanding and the advanced stat profile they’ve put together so far has been out of this world.

Passing Down S&P+ = 1st

Standard Down S&P+ = 6th

Passing S&P+ = 6th

Rushing S&P+ = 3rd

and of course, overall defensive S&P+ = 1st.

Just incredible.

The 2017 Alabama defense might be the ultimate Nick Saban unit. An aggressive man to man, Cover-One defense. This is what Saban has always wanted to be. He’s on record as saying that Cover-One “Rat in the Hole” coverage is the best coverage in football. He plays it all the time now, especially against teams that line up in “bigger” sets with fullbacks and tight ends. That’s what LSU will line up in.

Cover-One Rat in the Hole means everyone is manned up 1v1 against an eligible receiver plus a free safety patrolling the middle deep third and a “rat” who can jump intermediate routes. This is what the Tigers will see a lot of on Saturday night. Out of a similar 1-high safety look, the Tide could play Cover Three, and they will but I don’t imagine it will be very often against LSU. I don’t think the LSU receiving corps strikes fear into Alabama’s coverage guys, nor does Danny Etling. The Tide are going to make LSU’s receivers gain separation and then force Danny to throw into tight windows.

Against spread teams, especially a one-back, 2x2 formation, Saban is more likely to show a two-high safety look pre-snap. Still, he’ll often rotate down late and play a Cover 1 defense. This gets an extra guy down against the run, when teams think they can hand the ball off against two safeties. And whenever they do rotate, I swear, it’s the safety that’s rotating down who makes the tackle. Always unblocked. You’ll see a lot of the safety rotation when LSU goes into jet motion.

Individually, in the secondary, the corners, Averett and Wallace, are fantastic. They are physical and make life really hard off the line of scrimmage for receivers. Safety Ronnie Harrison is as great at coming down and making plays against the run as he has in coverage. Finally, Minkah Fitzpatrick plays the “star” linebacker position for Saban and he’s absolutely incredible. He’s plays lockdown man coverage and the Tide use his excellent blitzing skills often as he comes off the edge and becomes a disruptive force.

Averett being physically dominant:

2 safeties become 1 and Harrison is the unblocked guy:

Minkah Fitzpatrick off the edge (I don’t know if Danny avoids that hit):

Minkah Fitzpatrick off the edge and then smartly recognizing that he should pick up the running back:

In terms of what they do with the front seven, it’s often a 4-2 defense (you could call it a 3-3 if you like based on the personnel, but I see four guys with hands in the ground more often than anything). The defensive line plays a two-gapping style, which you hear the people in the broadcast booth talk about every time you watch Alabama play. The linemen aren’t going to shoot gaps and hold their ground or penetrate, they are going to hold up the offensive linemen in front of them and then read where the play is going. When you have the talent they have up front, you can do this. This might be the biggest problem for LSU. With the lack of experience the Tigers have on the offensive line, I’m not too confident we’ll be able to find our running game just like in years past. You think about the excellent offensive linemen we’ve had in the past still get dominated up front by Alabama, it does not bode well for this mix of guys on the line. Alabama can also rotate a bunch of guys in throughout the game (who are all really good) to keep the whole line fresh. Da’Ron Payne has been the best of the bunch this year.

Watch Da’Ron Payne stand his guy up and then shed him and make the tackle. That’s 2-gap:

I love this play that linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton makes here on 4th down:

It’s tough to find weaknesses when they’ve absolutely hammered every team in their path, in fact against Vanderbilt, according to S&P+, their defensive percentile rank was NULL!!! They blew the computer up!


The only “weakness” I can see is that when you look at the schedule, they actually haven’t played anyone yet. They’ve played five SEC teams, plus FSU and the top two teams they’ve played in terms of overall S&P+ ranking are... Fresno State and Colorado State. LSU will be the best team they’ve faced so far.

The point is that this is a deep and talented team that is coached at the highest level. Hopefully Aranda can come up with another magnificent gameplan against the Tide offense, like last year, to keep us in the game because I just don’t see a lot of places where LSU’s offense can move the ball efficiently.

Either way, Geaux Tigers.