Pressure is key in Alabama defense's dominating performance against TennesseeBy Matthew Speakman | 10/21/2017 7:23pm
Alabama's defense held Tennessee to just 108 yards on Saturday.
It may not have had an impact on the outcome of the game, but it meant everything to Alabama's defense. Tennessee was inside Alabama’s 10 yard line in the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide defense wanted to walk away without allowing Tennessee’s offense to score a touchdown in the game.
On fourth and goal, linebacker Mack Wilson intercepted Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. It was a stop that did wonders for the defense’s pride.
“We just kind of went back to Clemson,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “We just wanted to stop them on the goal line. I feel like we did a good job of affecting the quarterback. Then, Mack (Wilson) made a big-time play on the interception. After that, it was ball game.”
Alabama was already up by 31 points when the interception happened, but the crowd reaction was the loudest it had been all year. The interception was the icing on the cake in Alabama’s 45-7 win over Tennessee. The defense continued its domination, only allowing 108 yards.
The crowd was a large reason why Alabama forced the turnover. After a touchdown by Tennessee running back John Kelly was overturned, the noise in the stadium forced a false start. The Volunteers had to back up to the 6 yard line, and from there, the team stalled.
“The fans really had a lot to do with it,” head coach Nick Saban said. “Obviously, they contributed to the (false start) penalty when they had the ball inside the one...On the fourth down play, we did a great job of matching the pattern and got some pressure on the quarterback. It was exciting to see our players wanting to not let them score.”
The big interception was another case of Alabama’s defense getting pressure on Guarantano. The defense forced him to run around all game, and never let him get comfortable. Alabama’s defense finished with four sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
Evans, himself, had a sack and two quarterback hurries. He said it was a big part of the game plan to get pressure Guarantano.
“I think we did a good job,” Evans said. “I feel like the No. 1 thing we wanted to do was to affect the quarterback. You could just see that we were trying to do anything we could to just get him on a scramble or throw a bad pass.”
A player at an unlikely position stole the show from Alabama’s front seven in terms of blitzing. Cornerback Levi Wallace finished with two sacks that totaled a loss of 18 yards. It was his first two sacks of the season.
Wallace had a lot of free rushing lanes to run through on quarterback blitzes. Each time he saw one his eyes got big, but he was focused on the task at hand.
“Make the tackle, nothing more,” Wallace said of what goes through his mind. “You hate to be open and then miss a tackle. Last week, I missed one. I’m glad I made them this week.”
One key factor in Alabama’s win was its ability to shut down Kelly. Kelly entered the game fifth in the SEC in rushing at 552 yards. He averaged 92 yards per game heading into this weekend.
Alabama held him to just 63 yards and 5.3 yards per carry.
“I thought we did a really good job against their running back and their run game,” Saban said. “I thought the players did a good job up front. I was pleased with that part of it.”
Alabama’s defense heads into the bye week playing lights out. The Crimson Tide has LSU on the horizon, and Saban thinks the team is just hitting the toughest part of the season.
“I think the toughest games that we have and the best teams that we have to play are ahead of us,” Saban said. “I think we are certainly going to need to play better.”