Midseason Grade: C-
Final Grade: B+
There are new starters all over the place — as well as some notable busts. But this is a group that has lived and died by the man in the middle — Dylan Moses.
Let’s be frank too: For about a month, he saw his draft stock absolutely plummet. He was lost in coverage; he was running by plays; this was his first year calling the defense and miscommunication was rampant. Adding to those issues, he’s also coming off of a potentially draft-killing ACL injury. For several games Moses would be in position to make a play and would shy away from contact...
The outside has been the biggest mystery though. For this defense to reach its goals, Alabama devoutly needed to develop a pass rush, and that just has not come to fruition. Christopher Allen and Christian Harris have been the best at it, but they still account for just 3.0 total sacks. In fact, Barmore is tied with Allen for team lead in sacks with a miserly 2.0...
To say this edge rush has been a bust isn’t entirely fair — there have been many almost-moments, and they are getting pressure and affecting the passes. But they’re not getting there nearly enough, consistently enough...
We are pleased to report that, as with the defensive line, the linebacking corps saw tremendous improvement in every respect — and almost to a man, down the stretch. Rewatching the film, there were a few reasons for this. The first, was greater consistency by Dylan Moses. He was far more active in run support and trusted his body much more. The second improvement occurred for a reason we discussed last week — the vast improvement up front on the defensive line, and led by Christian Barmore in particular.
The Alabama defensive scheme is designed such that the line shuts down the interior, occupies space and then funnels plays to the outside. From there, it is up to the linebackers to clean up the play, to laterally flow with the direction of the play as it bounced outside — to play “inside-out.” (This really only makes sense once you know what you’re watching. To refresh your memory, we published a primer on the 3-4 defense in the offseason of 2017. You can check out this series of articles here, and in particular the linebackers, as they are the single most critical part of the scheme.)
How did it all come together? Well, we’ll start with a pass rush that absolutely flourished after the break. Before the Bye, Alabama was a gross 11th in the SEC in sacks generated. But afterwards, the Tide were able to finish first in total sacks, and had risen to 4th in sacks per game (just under 3 PG). Talk about turning it on.
That comment at the midway point about the outside needing the step it up? They did.
Though Barmore still led in sacks for the Tide, with 8.0, he had competition. After registering just 14 sacks in its first 8 games, Alabama’s defense notched 20 in its final five contests. This was led by the emergence of freshman Will Anderson. At the end of the regular season, Anderson led the SEC in sacks — with 7.0, and this is despite the fact he had just one before the bye.
Junior Christopher Allen was third on the team with 6.0, and right on his heels was Sophomore Christian Harris, chipping in another 4.5. Together, the trio had just 6 total sacks before the break. After the Bye, in just five game, they tallied 11.5. They also doubled their TFL numbers.
As if that weren’t gilding the lily, Will Anderson led everyone in the nation in QB pressures, an unreal 34 in just 13 games.
As a freshman.
He’s special, folks.
It wasn’t just the pass rush that improved, however.
The unit was significantly better in not only generating pressure and affecting the quarterback, but in shutting down the run. This was a group that spent the final five games of the season living in the backfield. The Tide went from surrendering almost 168 RYPG, to finishing 3rd in the SEC in both yards allowed and YPG, at a very respectable 113 YPG, almost a 35% improvement in yards allowed. Team TFL almost doubled after the bye. The Tide were a paltry 8th in the SEC in TFL generated before the break. Afterwards they found another gear, and the Tide finished first overall in the conference in total TFL, and had vaulted all the way up to 3rd in TFL per game (6.36). Even the adjusted stats agree — per the FEI and F+ data, Alabama was able to finish second in total Defensive DFEI, and 20th overall in rushing DFEI. That 20th doesn’t sound great, but Alabama was sitting at 69th going into its offweek.
69th. Nice indeed.
In ‘Bama’s most meaningful contests — the final three games with titles on the line — they were simply stellar. Against Notre Dame, which came into the CFP Semis, the Tide allowed just 139 yards on 38 attempts. And, though the yards and YPA were greater, they did their best work in the championship against OSU. The Buckeyes had rushed for 250+ in 4 of their last five, and had hit 300+ in half their contests on the season. OSU was actually 8th in rushing offense on the season, and was the highest ranked non-option team in the country. The Tide simply stoned them — The Bucks had just 147 rushing yards, and 67 of those were scrambles by Justin Fields. In fact, fully a quarter of the Buckeyes’ rushing yards came by way of one scramble down the sideline.
If we could grade this unit on its post-bye work, they’d get an A easily. But its hard to overlook just how shaky and flaky and ineffective they were for the first 1/3rd of the season. So, we’ll give them a B+ and a giant gold star.
I’m really looking forward to watching this group in 2021.
Grade the 2020 Alabama football linebackers
This poll is closed
Lower: I’ve still not forgiven them for the Ole Miss game.