You’ll have to admit, things looked rather bleak for the ‘Bama defense at half time of Saturday night’s LSU game.
The Tide was physically whipping the Tigers on first and second down, but couldn’t get off of the field on third downs. LSU was 6-of-7 in third down conversions in the first half.
Alabama fan boards were in melt down status and, I’ll have to admit, from my vantage point on the couch, things didn’t look good. I thought that statistically things had to average out sooner or later, but, on the other hand, wondered if Zach Mettenberger had indeed dialed up another Johnny Manziel-Stephen Garcia type of I’m-on-fire-all-night mode. Like I said, things looked bleak.
The second half, as it turns out, was a different story. This AL.com article sheds some light on what happened in the Alabama locker room at half time:
“I just told them at halftime, ‘Look guys, you’ve got to cover them,'” he said. “‘We’re not playing split safeties all the time and keeping somebody behind you. We need to pressure the quarterback, we need to affect the quarterback. We’re going to have more of an attack mode and you’re going to have to cover them.'”
Senior cornerback Deion Belue, who has played with a nagging toe injury but looked as healthy as he’s been in months Saturday, embraced the added responsibility. His colleagues in the secondary followed suit.
“He put us in man-to-man, so it was all on us,” Belue said. “We had to bring our best in the second half and we did just that.
I love this. Saban essentially says, “We’ve taught you the technique, we have the right game plan, but we can’t baby you any more. Just cover them.” He kicked the training wheels off and pushed them down the street.
And, you know what? It worked.
This brought back memories of Alabama – Arkansas 2010. The Tide was trying to defend its 2009 national title and Hog quarterback Ryan Mallet was trying to eat the lunch of Alabama’s rebuilt secondary. And he did for a half by throwing for 250 yards in the first two quarters. But something happened at half time of that game, too:
What actually happened, Saban said, was that his defense grew up and quit playing scared.
“We were much more aggressive,” Saban said. “We were so worried about making mistakes in the first half, we played plain vanilla. The best thing (the Razorbacks) do is when you try to rush four guys and cover with seven, the guy (Mallett) will eat you alive. You’ve got to try to mess with him, get him out of rhythm, get some pressure on him, show it on this side, do it on the other side.
“That was our game plan, and we didn’t do it in the first half because we were afraid. We were making mistakes on the basic things, so we assumed we would make mistakes on more difficult things.”
‘Bama limited the Hogs to three points in the second half of that game, too, and won 24-20.
I think that game was won by Saban making the same adjustment: kicking the guys out of the boat and saying sink or swim.
Our guys swam Saturday night and I think we’ll see this secondary getting better and better in these few games we have left in 2013.