No. 1 Alabama's overshadowed defense pretty good, too
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The offensive questions kept coming for Alabama coach Nick Saban at his latest news conference.
Did you create such a different kind of offensive team by design? How has the offense evolved since the opener? Talk about the offensive line, the receivers.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide still plays defense , too, if not with quite the same smothering dominance of past years.
Alabama heads into Saturday's game with No. 18 Mississippi State fresh from its first shutout of the season, 29-0 over No. 9 LSU .
"Everybody talks about the offense and not a lot about the defense," Tide cornerback Xavier McKinney said Monday. "We try to put everybody on notice. We have something to prove when we go out there."
Before the emergence of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, it was typically the other way around. The defense not only dominated opposing offenses, but got much of the credit for Alabama's five national titles under coach Nick Saban. The offense mostly played second fiddle, especially the passing game.
Now, Alabama is leading the nation in scoring and total offense and has already secured a spot against No. 5 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
The Tide has ranked in the top 10 in both rushing and scoring defense each of the past 10 seasons and led the nation in both categories the past two years. Now, Alabama is seventh in scoring defense and 11th against the run.
"Yards are hard to come by against this defense, whether it's on the ground or in the air," Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. "I don't think you're going to be able to string together multiple 12-, 13- or 15-play drives and make your way down field.
"At a certain point, you have to take a chance with a shot downfield or a trick play or something that's going to generate a chunk of yards."
This Alabama defense still has plenty of star power and award candidates in players like nose guard Quinnen Williams , defensive end Isaiah Buggs, safety Deionte Thompson and linebackers Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson.
Alabama held LSU to 196 total yards, including just 12 rushing. It was a vintage Tide performance even it was mostly overshadowed — of course — by Tagovailoa's exploits.
"They were in the backfield all night," Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. said.
The defense is still producing plenty of big plays. Buggs is fifth nationally with nine sacks and the team ranks fourth nationally in that category.
A secondary that had to replace last year's top six players, including the versatile All-American defensive back Fitzpatrick, has emerged too. Alabama has 13 interceptions and has returned four of them for touchdowns.
Thompson is the team's leading tackler.
Plus, the Tide has allowed just 37.7 rushing yards on average over the last three SEC games with Williams stepping in for Payne and also consistently generating a pass rush up the middle.
Moses and Wilson have emerged as standouts at inside linebacker in Evans' absence.
The defense has allowed somewhat uncharacteristic numbers at times: 23 points to Texas A&M, 31 to Arkansas and 21 to Tennessee.
Saban said the young defenders have gained confidence along with the experience and gotten better at things like playing together and communicating.
"I think we've grown in some of those areas, and we need to continue to improve in all parts of our team," Saban said. "We're going to see a different kind of attack this week, so we're going to have to adjust and adapt to that as well."