Arguably the biggest defensive surprise of the Penn State game was the placement of Kerry Murphy. Prior to Saturday night he had spent his first year and a half in Tuscaloosa playing the nose guard position in Nick Saban's 3-4 defense, but when the Alabama defense took the field on Saturday night, we routinely moved Murphy outside and had him playing the five-technique.
In his post-game press conference, Saban didn't mince words as to why the move was made:
We moved Kerry Murphy to five-technique instead of nose guard. That was a new position for him. We thought we needed to be a little bigger and stouter in this game to play against their team.
And, apparently, it does not seem like this was a mere one game experiment either. Chase Goodbread was at practice this afternoon, and wrote the following:
Saban must have liked Kerry Murphy at the 5-technique because he was with the ends today. Gentry with twos @ nose [guard].
Interesting. Considering that Murphy was, for all intents and purposes, effectively a starter at nose guard -- at worst splitting snaps almost equally with Josh Chapman -- you have to figure that if we move him outside to defensive end that he will likely have a starting job there as well. If so, that gives you a starting defensive line consisting of Marcell Dareus, Josh Chapman, and Kerry Murphy. Given all of the focus on Dareus' pass rushing abilities, his toughness in the running game goes largely unnoticed, so that formulation would have a stout run defender on the starting line to, in effect, go along with two nose guards.
As I wrote yesterday, the run defense wasn't exactly dominating against Penn State. We limited their running game to 31 carries for 127 yards, but it was just... limiting the running game, not dominating in the trenches like we generally have the past two years. Furthermore, we didn't get a single stop on short-yardage situations, and while the 31 carry / 127 yard performance by Penn State is solid defense, it should be noted that it's almost exactly identical to the 29 carry / 132 yard performance that Youngtsown State held the Nittany Lions. Luther Davis and Damion Square have not been able to generate the same surge at the point of attack that we saw last year from Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington.
Given all of that, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Saban and company re-shuffle the defensive line a bit. Keep your eye closely on this move to see if it sticks, because if it does it could cause a handful of other personnel changes in its wake.