Alabama Football 2022 Season Recap: Defense

Heading into the 2022 season, the defense for Alabama football was supposed to begin and end with the pass rush. Alabama returned the elite trio of Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner, and Chris Braswell on the edge, and was slated to field one of the most relentless pass rushes in college football history.

While the pass rush was solid, it did not impact games in the way that many expected. The trio of Anderson Jr., Turner, and Braswell combined for 16.5 sacks on the season, which fell short of Anderson Jr.’s solo production in 2021.

To further compound the matter, Alabama could not depend on a reliable pass rush from its interior defensive line. Senior Byron Young contributed 4.0 sacks, but the rest of the defensive line recorded just 5.5 sacks collectively. In my opinion, the general lack of disruptiveness in Alabama’s front seven was the primary cause of its defensive struggles.

Alabama Football: Defense by the numbers

On paper, the Alabama defense was better than it appeared. The Crimson Tide finished ninth in scoring defense (18.2 points per game allowed) and 13th in total defense (318.2 yards per game). Surprisingly, Bama tied for third nationally and led the SEC in per-play defense, allowing just 4.6 yards per play.

Because the Alabama dynasty was built on dominant defensive play, Tide defenses will always be scrutinized and held to a high standard. For this reason, Alabama’s defensive performance in 2022 was unacceptable as compared to the standard. Additionally, much like the offense, Bama’s numbers were skewed by outlier games against poor competition.

Consider Alabama’s run defense: the Tide finished 36th in run defense (130.4 yards per game) and 30th in average run defense (3.6 yards per carry) on the season. While these numbers are well below par on the surface, they don’t even accurately illustrate how much Alabama struggled against the run in its most important games.

The Crimson Tide was subpar to downright bad against the run in six of its 13 games. It gave up at least 180 yards rushing in each of these six games, which included both of Alabama’s losses.

In the other seven games against Utah State, Texas, UL-Monroe, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Austin Peay, Alabama held its opponents to just 63 yards per game on the ground and less than 2.1 yards per carry.

The only two impressive games in this grouping are Texas and Texas A&M, both of which had potent running games.

Unfortunately, the Crimson Tide could not replicate these performances in its other six games. Instead, it swung to the other end of the pendulum and allowed 209 yards per game on 4.9 yards per carry in those contests.

The inability to stop the run often exposed the defense and allowed it to be attacked from multiple angles. The Tide was generally good against the pass, but it struggled to get off the field in games against Texas and LSU, resulting in one loss and nearly resulting in another.

Of course, the Alabama pass defense had a total meltdown against Tennessee, allowing nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns in a loss.

For the year, Alabama ranked 11th in completion percentage allowed (54.8 percent) and 17th in passing yards per game allowed (187.8 yards per game).

Alabama Football: Achilles’ heel

Given all of Alabama’s defensive issues in 2022, the Crimson Tide could’ve still contended for a championship if not for one glaring problem. Prior to the season, few could have predicted that Alabama would be one of the worst teams in the nation at forcing turnovers.

Bama ranked 80th nationally, forcing just 1.3 turnovers per game. The defense recorded just seven interceptions all season, ranking 108th in the FBS. Keep in mind, this includes the two interceptions Alabama recorded in the Sugar Bowl.

When a team is unable to force turnovers to such an extreme degree, it leaves itself very little margin for error. This ultimately resulted in two narrow losses for Alabama football, which just missed a College Football Playoff appearance.

All things considered, the Alabama defense just wasn’t good enough in 2022. With plenty of returning starters, many expected the unit to return to elite status. Bama was stacked with talent, experience, and depth at every level of the defense, leaving no viable excuse for defensive coordinator Pete Golding. It remains to be seen if a change will be made, but Golding has recently received interest from other schools.

Regardless of who is coordinating the 2023 defense, it will be a young and inexperienced yet supremely talented unit. With guys like Kool-Aid McKinstry and Caleb Downs roaming the secondary, it’s hard to imagine Bama will again be unable to force turnovers.

Perhaps schematic and personnel changes in the front seven will make the group more formidable against the run and allow it to generate more pressure against opposing quarterbacks.