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Consistency and Preparation: Lessons Learned by Alabama's Defense through Three Games

While the Crimson Tide has a 3-0 record and its defense is seemingly solid, its defensive players acknowledge that there is always room for improvement.

Consistency and preparation.

If you're a follower of Alabama football, you've likely heard those words many times over the years. Under head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide has used those cornerstones along with others to create one of the most dominating dynasties in college football history.

This season, Alabama is off to a solid 3-0 start, though not without its fair share of faults. The Crimson Tide's offense has struggled to get off the ground early in games, while the defense continues to have question marks — primarily at cornerback.

Let's talk about that defense.

While Alabama fans have likely thrown their hands up in the air on several moments this season regarding offensive struggles, the Crimson Tide has started off strong. In fact, through three games played Alabama has surrendered just two offensive touchdowns to opponents.

Opponents' yards per game has also been exceptionally low through the first three games, with the Crimson Tide holding steady and giving up an average of just 233 yards per outing. When you look at the level of competition, though, those numbers make much more sense.

Texas presented by far the biggest defensive struggle for Alabama thus far. While only one touchdown was scored by the longhorns and its corps of running backs only managed 79 yards, quarterbacks Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card managed 292 passing yards between the two of them.

Not a good sign when there are still plenty of talented SEC quarterbacks left on the Crimson Tide's regular season calendar.

However, Alabama fans can sleep a little easier at night knowing that their defense is well aware of its shortcomings and is actively attempting to fix them. Acknowledging a problem is the first sign of fixing it, and the Crimson Tide is actively doing just that.

When asked about the lessons he and his defense have learned through the team's first three games, Alabama defensive lineman DJ Dale did not hesitate to answer.

“I feel like one thing that we learned is that you have to be consistent," Dale said. "We started off pretty well with practice and everything. We didn’t have a great week against Texas and it kind of showed. That’s something that we’re really harping on right now. I feel like that’s the biggest thing we’ve learned so far.”

DJ Dale

There's the first word: consistent. Leading up to and following the game at Texas, Saban repeatedly cited his team's lack of preparation. The result? A win, but one that cost the Crimson Tide its top spot in the AP Top 25.

Preparation goes hand-in-hand with consistency. By preparing in a consistent manner regardless of the opponent next up on the schedule, players and coaches can ensure that they are giving their absolute best every game, every drive, every play. When that happens, that's when you see a 63-7 on the scoreboard, not a 20-19.

After the team's slim victory in Austin, Texas, consistency in preparation became a primary factor of focus for Alabama. That much has clearly been evident in all of the defensive players' press conferences thus far.

On Monday, outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. backed up Saban by acknowledging the team's prior lack of preparedness.

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“I think it all goes back to preparation," Anderson said. "I think Coach hit it on the head when he talked to you guys. The preparation that week just wasn’t where it needs to be. I think the team focus wasn’t where it needs to be and I think we have to make an identity of what kind of team we want to be and Coach talked about all week ‘make a choice.’ I think that’s what we did this week. We made a choice to show what kind of team we want to be and we just want to keep the whole thing going of making the choice of that.”

Will Anderson

Last weekend, Alabama notched its third win of the season with a 63-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe. While the Warhawks didn't present nearly as much of a threat as the Longhorns (but don't tell Saban that), it was clear that the team had not only prepared better but had also improved its communication.

On Tuesday, defensive back Jordan Battle outlined the weaknesses that his defense had spotted against Texas that they had actively worked to fix.

“I feel like we're in a good position, but there is always room to improve," Battle said. "Whether it's in our rushing lines [in] the Texas game. Whether it's in coverage, or in angles to the ball, trying to lower our missed tackles. We've missed a couple tackles that led to big plays. Taking the right angle, being able to secure tackles, and make plays down the field, create turnovers, improve our turnover ratio and get some turnovers on defense to get the offense going.”

Against ULM, Alabama's defense surrendered just 169 total yards — 91 in the air and 78 on the ground — and the one touchdown. The additional effort in preparation elevated the Crimson Tide's game. Now, it's just a matter of adding the element of consistency in that preparation.

Jordan Battle

This coming Saturday, Alabama will open SEC play when it hosts Vanderbilt at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Thus far, head coach Clark Lea and the Commodores have produced a 3-1 record and have averaged 42 points per game — a notable improvement over last season.

Between quarterbacks Mike Wright and AJ Swann, Vanderbilt is set at signal caller. While Wright is downright dangerous as a scrambler, Swann is capable of some impressive downfield passes. Wide receiver Will Sheppard also leads the SEC in receiving yards and touchdowns with 313 and seven, respectively.

When either quarterback is on the field — particularly when alongside Sheppard — opposing defenses need to be on their toes.

There's no shortage of lessons learned by the Alabama defense through its first three games. Consistency, preparation and consistency in preparation seem to be at the forefront of the players' minds heading into the team's SEC opener. While the Crimson Tide is a heavy favorite, the team must keep in mind that it was also highly favored just two short weeks ago heading into Texas.

At the end of the day, Dale said it best when he stated that his team needs to play smarter. By doing that, the silly mistakes that the team has made through its first three games should dramatically decrease.

"I think overall we’ve played extremely hard and tough," Dale said. "We’ve met some of the goals that we set for each game, but I feel like we need to play smarter. We made a lot of mistakes I feel like we shouldn’t make. There’s been some discipline issues, but overall I feel like we’re getting better. We all understand what we have to do, and that’s what we’re working on."

See also:

Familiar Foe: Tyler Steen Prepares to Face Former Team

Jordan Battle Has New Touchdown Celebration Waiting to Break Out

Nick Saban Praises Clark Lea for Culture Change at Vanderbilt