Defense Starts Strong, Holds On To Earn Season-Opening Win
That’s more like it.
After a full calendar year of dealing with injured players, unforced errors, communication breakdowns and questions about whether it could recapture its old dominance, Alabama’s defense opened the 2020 season with a mostly clean performance against Missouri.
“I was really encouraged by the way we played defensively in the first half,” coach Nick Saban said. “We did a good job on third down.”
Linebacker Dylan Moses, the team’s leader on defense who missed all of last season with a knee injury, made his first start since January 2019. He recorded four total tackles, two of which were for loss, and had a sack nullified by a penalty on a teammate.
With a few exceptions, the mental lapses, late adjustments and coverage busts that plagued the defense last year were absent against the Tigers. The defense recorded eight tackles for loss, more than it had in any game last season.
“Dylan played well. I think he's very confident," Saban said. "We’re very excited to get him back. I think he helps everyone play better."
Saban pointed out that the team still made some mistakes in handling Missouri's variety of formations and personnel groups. He and Moses also both lamented that the defense couldn't play with the same intensity through the full game.
After giving up just 3 points and 113 total yards in the first half, Alabama allowed a 17-play drive in the third quarter that ended with a Missouri field goal.
The fourth quarter didn't get any better, with the Tigers finding the end zone on a 54-yard pass down the sideline and again on the game's final play. Their last drive covered 75 yards in just over 2 minutes.
"I wasn't impressed with the way we played tonight," Moses said. "We played very well our first half, but in the second half I just feel like we need to finish."
Two freshmen, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and defensive back Malachi Moore, started in their debuts for the Crimson Tide. Both players made three total tackles.
Anderson flashed his speed off the edge on a few play-action and option plays, but his most impactful play didn't show up on the stat sheet. On Missouri's first drive of the second half, he charged into the backfield, forcing Tigers quarterback Shawn Robinson to panic and throw a backward pass. The running back dropped the ball, which was recovered by Alabama corner Patrick Surtain II.
"He's really explosive, really fast, really quick," Moses said. "I really see him being a big factor in our defense later on down the road."