Commentary: Why is the Crimson Tide's defense so good?

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 4, 2010 

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Rolando McClain is an expert on the Alabama defense.

The All-America middle linebacker is the one who calls the shots, a coach with shoulder pads and a killer instinct.

And when asked to describe arguably the best defense in college football, McClain doesn’t hold back.

“This defense is scary when everybody is on the same page,” McClain said. “It’s 11 crazy guys out there trying to make plays.”

The man charged with breaking down the Alabama defense and bringing some sanity to the situation Thursday, when the Crimson Tide and Texas meet for the national championship in the Rose Bowl, is Longhorns offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Greg Davis.

And he doesn’t buy McClain’s analysis.

“I certainly know where he is coming from,” Davis said. “But when you talk about crazy guys, that implies you don’t know where they are going. I would say they are guys with bad attitudes, going real fast and they are going to the right spots.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Running a complicated scheme of blitzes and coverages, Alabama’s defense is designed to confuse offenses. It has worked to near perfection.

Alabama leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 11 points per game.

The Crimson Tide is second in the nation when it comes to total defense, allowing an average of 241 yards per game.

Numbers don’t lie.

And those are good numbers.

But this defense is more than math, it is also science, said senior linebacker Cory Reamer.

“We are 11 guys who have gotten a lot of good experience last year,” Reamer said. “We have jelled. We have done a good job of coming together and understanding how we play together. If one guy messes up, somebody else steps up. It is the kind of chemistry that doesn’t come every day.”

It is not just chemistry; it is also genetics, said Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

“Players,” he said when asked why Alabama’s defense was so stout.

“The kid over there,” Smart said as he pointed to defensive back Javier Arenas.

“The kid over there,” as he pointed to mammoth noseguard Terrence Cody.

And Smart did not stop there.

“The three in the other room,” he said as reporters crowded around.

He was talking about linebackers McClain and Reamer and end Lorenzo Washington.

“They have bought in and done what they are supposed to do, that’s what makes us good,” Smart said.

But it also is having players smart enough to digest the complicated schemes that come with Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s defense.

“You can’t walk in and in a week expect to know it,” McClain said. “There are so many different coverages and blitzes that it is hard to pick up.”

So you have to be smart to handle it.

There are other traits that help, according to Arenas and Cody.

“Set aside the talent that is on this defense and pull out the characteristics,” Arenas said.

“Relentless. Competitive. Effort.”

Cody said there is one more character trait that is critical.

“The 11 people on that field are stubborn,” he said. “We may give up yards, but, when we give up yards, it makes us mad. Somebody gets 3 or 4 yards on us, that’s too many. We play with a mentality that we are going to be stubborn.”

Texas quarterback Colt McCoy knows he has a daunting task trying to pierce the Crimson Tide defense. The senior didn’t stutter when he said this will be the best defense he has faced.

But not even McCoy buys McClain’s “11 crazy guys” theory.

“I am not sure they are crazy,” he said. “They look pretty smart on film.

“Their defense is designed where every one of them can make a play at any given point.”

Chuck Williams, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com

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