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All Things CW: Will Anderson Jr. Already Setting Sack Records, Both Officially and Unofficially

A complete look at sacks during the Nick Saban era at Alabama, 10 things you may have Noticed Since the National Championship Game, and don't forget about Julio Jones in the NFL Playoffs.

According to the NCAA, Will Anderson Jr. didn’t lead the nation in sacks last season.

Granted, he had the most sacks with 17.5, but that’s not how the NCAA calculates its leaders. It’s by sacks per game.

Anderson had 17.5 total, over 15 pages, for an average of 1.17.

Andre Carter II of Army had 15.5 over 13 games. His average was 1.19.

No one else in college football averaged more than 1.0 sacks per game, which was accomplished by three players including Michigan senior defensive end Aiden Hutchinson.

As for team sacks, the Crimson Tide had 57, which was tied with Oklahoma State for the most, but the Cowboys only played in 14 games, so had a higher average of 4.07.

Pittsburgh, with 54 over 14 games for a 3.86 average was second, and Alabama third.

As for what it means, it’s hard to say.

Ask any coach if the number of sacks recorded translates to defensive success or wins and he’ll probably say “maybe.” It can be indicative of the pressure being applied to the quarterback, which is always a good thing for a defense, but the answer is not considered clear-cut.

Most coaches, including Nick Saban, consider it an overrated statistic. Yet they also will never turn one down either.

Consider the top 10 teams in the nation this past season, along with their final records:

Team, Sacks (average), Record

  1. Oklahoma State 57 (4.07), 12-2
  2. Pittsburgh 54 (3.86), 11-3
  3. Alabama 57 (3.80), 13-2
  4. Central Michigan 43 (3.31), 9-4
  5. Michigan State 43 (3.31), 11-2
  6. Western Michigan 43 (3.31), 8-5
  7. Georgia 49 (3.27), 14-1
  8. Colorado State 39 (3.25), 3-9
  9. Texas A&M 39 (3.25), 8-4
  10. Clemson 42 (3.23), 10-3

That’s a pretty good list, although the next three schools were Houston, Troy and Nevada, with Buffalo just outside of the top 15. Among the other two playoff teams, Cincinnati was tied for 32nd, and Michigan was 53rd, even with Hutchinson.

"Sacks have nothing to do with winning, nothing at all," Saban said in 2009, and has maintained ever since. "There's no stat in the NFL that says how many sacks you're getting contributes to winning. It's good to affect the quarterback. We affected the guy because he was throwing it so fast, we couldn't sack him. To me, that's affecting the quarterback, is it not? You can't hold it to throw down the field.

"It's about affecting the quarterback. You don't have to sack him to affect him."

With that in mind, here’s Alabama sack totals during the Saban era:

Alabama sacks (2007-21)

Year, Number

2007 24

2008 26

2009 32

2010 27

2011 30

2012 35

2013 22

2014 32

2015 53

2016 54

2017 40

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2018 45

2019 32

2020 35

2021 57

Alabama had 22 more sacks during his past season compared to 2020, which it went undefeated and won the national championship.

However, the 57 this past season were not the most by a Saban-coached team.

That distinction goes back to his last year at Michigan State, 1999, when the Spartans notched 60 to go with 119 tackles for a loss.

When Saban was at LSU the Tigers went from just 11 in 2000 (while giving up nine), to 20, 27, 44 during the national championship season, and 37 in 2004.

As for individually, Anderson set a new single-season standard among Saban-coaching players, but he’s not first in total career sacks. 

The following are the season and career sacks leaders during the Saban era at Alabama, and then including those playing when Saban was the head coach at Toledo in 1990, Michigan State from 1995-99, LSU from 2000-04.

Will Anderson Jr.
Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen
Will Anderson Jr. vs. LSU
Julian Peterson, Michigan State
Derrick Thomas at Alabama
Derrick Thomas

The Alabama record book lists 27.0 by Derrick Thomas in 1988 as the most sacks in a single season, and he holds the career mark with 52.0 (1985-88). However, Thomas doesn’t hold the NCAA record in either because sacks weren’t considered an official stat when he played. 

10 Things You May Have Not Noticed Since National Title Game 

• Strange, but true, Alabama average more yards per play on its field-goal drives, then its touchdown possession. At averages 2.5 yards when it reached the end zone, but 7.1 all the times it had to settle for the four field goals.

• Georgia gained an average of 7.4 yards on first downs. Alabama had an edge of 182-121 yards on second downs. The Crimson Tide was 9-for-20 on third downs, while the Bulldogs were 4-for-12 and needed 8.0 yards on average. However, Georgia was 3-for-3 with it needed five yards or less (1-for-9 when needing 6 or more) while Alabama was 8-for-13.  

 • Heisman Trophy winners are 8-12 in national championship games. They had won six of the last seven before this year, including Alabama's first three Heisman winners Mark Ingram Jr. (2009), Derrick Henry (2015) and DeVonta Smith (2020). 

Cameron Latu set the Alabama record for touchdown catches by a tight end with eight, surpassing Irv Smith Jr.'s previous record of seven from 2018. Latu also finished tied for seventh in the SEC for touchdown receptions. incidentally, O.J. Howard had seven touchdown catches for his entire Crimson Tide career.

• Outside linebacker Dallas Turner had more sacks (8.5) as a freshman, then Anderson tallied in 2020 (seven) when he was named the FWAA Freshman of the Year. 

• The No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff won the championship for the first time. The winning team has been seeded, in order: 4, 2, 2, 4, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

• Alabama's defense finished second in the nation in three-and-outs with 69. Georgia was first with 73. 

• The Crimson Tide only had two games during the season in which the offense had more than one turnover. It lost both games, at Texas A&M and against Georgia in the National Championship Game. 

• Since the start of the College Football Playoff era in 2014, Alabama has only lost twice by 13-plus points. Both were in the National Championship Game. Also, the 20 points given up in the fourth quarter were the most scored by an opponent in any quarter this season. 

• Dating back to 2013, only two schools entered the 2021 season having not had lost to a team that finished under .500: Alabama and Florida. However, the Gators lost to LSU and Missouri this past season, both finished 6-7, leaving the the Crimson Tide. 

Don't Forget the 'Other' Guy

A lot of attention this week has been on Henry, who appears set to return to the lineup after having surgery to repair a fractured foot three months ago, but don't overlook the Titans' other playmaker from Alabama, Julio Jones

The wide receiver has been dealing with hamstring issues all season, but was able to rest it during the team's top-seeding bye last week. 

In eight career playoff games with the Atlanta Falcons, he had 834 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The 104.3 average tops all active wide receivers who have played in at least six playoff games. 

It's been five years since Jones made his only Super Bowl appearance, when against the Patriots he caught the only four balls thrown his way, including a spectacular late catch that put New England in field goal range (an opportunity it squandered). He finished with 87 receiving yards, but the Falcons lost in overtime by a score of 34–28.

“I’m never a stat guy, don’t really pay attention to it,” Jones said this week, per All Titans. “But my team needs me, so … I’m here for it. We’re just going to take what the defense gives us and go crazy.”

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Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears every week on BamaCentral.