TUSCALOOSA — It is a question that can be answered in several ways.
It’s very mention can prompt reactions ranging from agreement to rolling eyes.
Could this group of Alabama defenders rival their counterparts from the 1992 national championship winning team?
Writers and analysts have made the suggestion and defensive end Lorenzo Washington reacted.
“It is definitely something to look up to, but I am not trying to be them,” the senior said. “I am trying to go out there and be the best I can be. That 1992 defense was incredible; they had so many first-round picks and won the national championship. They were an amazing defense. That is something like man, I wish we could be like that. But still, we want to get better at everything. I want to be that good, but still get better.”
That 1992 squad that featured the likes of George Teague and Antonio Langham were the last to lead the Crimson Tide to the pinnacle of college football. It also rose to the top of nearly every statistical category and produced three shutouts, including a 17-0 win over Auburn.
The 2009 answer has All-Americans such as Terrence Cody up front, Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower at linebacker and Javier Arenas playing cornerback among the eight returning starters. Through 12 games last fall, the defense gained much of the credit for the program’s quick turnaround from mediocrity to prominence. It also held Auburn scoreless.
But for all the attention and praise the unit has received, coach Nick Saban is there to remind every one of the last two games.
To do that, the coach points to one number: 31
It exemplifies the dueling defensive failures in the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl. Both Florida and Utah scored matching 31s on the group that ranked third nationally and first in the SEC in total defense. The 1992 defense never gave up more than 21 points and held its 13 opponents to an average of 9.3 points per game while leading the nation in total defense and rushing defense.
Before any of those numbers and rankings are approached, Saban said this group would have to gel.
“This year’s team, regardless of how many players are coming back from last year’s team, there is a new chemistry there,” Saban said. “They are going to have to go through all the same things about how they play. We are going to play some very good competition so it is going to be interesting to see how they respond.”
There is certainly a spirit of reshaping its reputation following the two disappointing losses that closed the 2008 season. McClain harped on the renewed focus this team would have on closing strong.
Motivation won’t be an excuse if the defense crumbles this fall, Washington said. There is a newfound maturity has made a difference long before kicking off the season Sept. 5 with Virginia Tech.
“In the past, I feel like people had to be motivated by somebody else from the outside like vocal leaders Rashad Johnson or somebody like that,” said Washington, who played a big role in making the Tide rush defense second-best nationally in 2008. “Now I feel like the motivation comes from inside. We pick ourselves up. We pick everybody up. If we are one of the best defenses, we have to play like one of the best defenses.”