It's hard to argue giving anyone on the defense a passing grade. All night long it seemed like Alabama did anything they wanted to do. But let's go through the grades and talk about some of the positions and players.
If there's one part of the defense where I thought Penn State might have success, it was on the defensive line. But that was not the case. Alabama's offensive line pushed them around and created huge holes for Trent Richardson to run through.
Devon Still had a tough time staying on his feet in the early going as Alabama was cut blocking him on just about every play taking him out of the action. He got better at staying on his feet as the game went on and became more of a force. He was credited with a sack which I honestly can't remember after watching the game twice. There were a few plays where he created pressure that forced Richardson to bounce his run outside and go down for a loss or little gain. The key for him is staying on his feet.
I was not pleased with the play of the defensive ends. Jack Crawford is too hesitant and not aggressive enough. He runs into his blocker and can't get away. Twice he tried to mix it up with an outside passrush or an inside spin move and got taken completely out of the play which allowed Alabama to make a big run. On one play McElroy got flushed from the pocket and Crawford took after in pursuit, but he never closed on him. He just kind of shadowed the quarterback allowing Greg McElroy to hold it an extra second and scan the field. Luckliy McElroy couldn't find anything and threw it away, but Crawford has to go into destroy mode on that play. This isn't basketball. Hit the guy. For two years I've been hearing that Jack "The Ripper" is a "monster". Well, so far I'm not seeing it, and I'm starting to wonder if I ever will. Time to live up to the hype, Mr. Crawford.
Eric Latimore was a complete non-factor getting pushed outside if Alabama wanted to run inside, and sealed inside when Alabama wanted to run outside. He plays too upright. Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley played better than the starters at least beating their guys once in a while. If it were up to me, they would get the start next week.
I thought Tom Bradley explained it best after the game. The linebackers were catching the ball carrier instead of running through him. It seemed like Michael Mauti and Chris Colasanti were just standing their ground and waiting for Trent Richardson to come to them, and once he got there he pushed them for another three or four yards. Colasanti needs to hit guys in the belt buckle and not in the shoulders.
I thought Nate Stupar looked like the fastest linebacker on the blitz. He was bringing good pressure from the outside, but McElroy is such a good quarterback he just dumped it off to the hot route in the vacated area every time for a big gain. He was also exploiting all of the linebackers in pass coverage with perfect throws right over their heads and in front of the safeties.
Bani Gbadyu is still his same old self taking bad angles and over running the play, but at least he's doing it like a 230 lb. bat out of hell.
Overall these guys were just outmuscled and showed poor technique. Last week I said they looked good as individuals but just weren't playing well as a unit. This week they just plain out stunk. And sadly, we might have lost the best guy for a long time when Gerald Hodges got injured on the opening kickoff. He was walking around in a boot and crutches during the second half.
Alabama didn't challenge the cornerbacks often, but when they did I felt they did a pretty good job. The Tide chose instead to attack the safeties, and our guys looked like they were standing in mud too often. I had flashbacks to the 2009 Rose Bowl and USC wide receivers torching Anthony Scirrotto and Mark Rubin all over again. But at least this time they never gave up the really big play.
The most disturbing thing to me about the secondary is that they haven't forced a turnover yet this season. They haven't even been close. They need to start jumping some routes and trying to create some interceptions to set up the offense for some easy scores. They can't go on letting guys make the catch in front of them and hanging on to the ball carrier for dear life until help arrives to make the tackle.
Nothing much to complain about here. Anthony Fera shanking three of his four punts. Each one went under 40 yards. Though Stephfon Green didn't break any long kick returns, I liked the pace of the blocking in front of him. Much better than last year where the kick return blockers lined up at the 15 yard line and treaded water until the runner was up their backs.
Collin Wagner hit his one field goal attempt.
Grade: B (Fera gets a D)
I'm really concerned about the disregard for fundamental tackling we saw last night. The defense, and particularly the front seven, did not come prepared to play.
When Richardson started running them over, it looked to me like Bradley countered with some run blitzes to get his linebackers running forward instead of waiting for Richardson to come to them. So once Alabama realized this they went to the passing game, and McElroy masterfully hit his hot routes in the areas vacated by the blitzes.
At this point, what do you do as a defensive coach? Do you sit back and let Richardson run your guys over? Or do you try to apply pressure and give up big plays? I don't know the answer, and neither did Tom Bradley. When your players are getting beat up and not tackling, there's only so much you can do as a coach in the course of the game.
That said, we didn't let anything deter us from sitting back in the same old Cover-3 defense. It's bad enough we sit our safeties back there like traffic cones, but can't we mix it up once in a while? For all the innovation and creativity we've seen in the offense in recent years, we still sit back in Cover-3 on every passing down. Every time McElroy broke the huddle on a passing play last night, he walked up under center knowing he was going to be facing a Cover-3 defense. I don't understand why they don't at least try to disguise it or give the quarterback something to think about. Why we handicap ourselves in this way is beyond me.