On Nov. 6 against LSU, it's safe to say that Alabama football's offense was bailed out by the team's defense. In that game, the Crimson Tide held the Tigers to 295 total offensive yards and 14 points on a night that that an ineffective Alabama offense was able to only manage 308 yards and 20 points.
This past Saturday against Arkansas, it was the offense's turn to bail the team out of a difficult situation.
The Razorbacks came with an effective game plan that threw the Crimson Tide's defense off-balance. After the game, Alabama linebacker Henry To'oTo'o gave Arkansas a lot of credit for how it had been able to exploit his defense all game long.
"Arkansas has a great offense," To'oTo'o said. "They do a great job of getting unbalanced formations and making the defense adjust to them, so the communication part was huge today so we give our props to them and the scheme that they had today. Really worked out and paid off for them."
In the 42-35 win in favor of Alabama, Arkansas was able to garner 468 offensive yards, with 358 of those yards coming through the air. Due to the Razorbacks' efficiencies and ability to overrun the Crimson Tide defense throughout the course of the game, Alabama was never able to fully pull away and seal the victory until the final minutes.
While the Crimson Tide defense had been rendered ineffective, the team's offense picked up the slack. On the night, Alabama accounted for 671 yards of total offense, including a single-game program record of 559 passing yards for quarterback Bryce Young. 122 rushing yards from running back Brian Robinson Jr. certainly didn't hurt the Crimson Tide's cause.
After the game, To'oTo'o reflected on how the team's offense bailed out the defense on Saturday, pointing out that both sides of the team see themselves as one cohesive unit that complements the other side.
"We're a unit," To'oTo'o said. "We all have an 'A' on our chest and we harp on it every single day at practice. We harp on it every single Saturday. When something bad happens on offense, we come out, dap each other up, make sure our heads are high. So I think we do a great job of that as a team because we're gonna need it. That's definitely an important thing in football."
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Young immediately followed up To'oTo'o's answer by poking fun at the linebacker's answer.
"So well said," Young joked. "I'm not even gonna add anything else. Phenomenal."
Barring a few non-conference games that serve as outliers, Alabama has struggled throughout the course of the season at finishing games. The Crimson Tide's troubles first reared their ugly head at Florida back on Sept. 18, when the Gators were held off on their final offensive drive to give Alabama the 31-29 win.
Failure to put away Texas A&M led to Alabama's only loss so far this season, then came the issues against LSU a few games later. Against Arkansas, the issues were no different.
“What I look at is how did we execute in the game?" Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after the game. "What did we do in the game that kept us from putting the game away? So that’s perspective that I look at, and a lot of the things that I just talked about is why we didn’t put the game away."
Saban then elaborated on several examples of how the Crimson Tide's defense failed to adequately put away the game, giving the Razorbacks ample opportunity to maintain a narrow gap on the scoreboard.
"I mean, the last touchdown, [linebacker Christian Harris] is not supposed to be on the running back," Saban said. "So we don’t play the coverage the way it’s supposed to be played. They might have scored anyway, I don’t know. But you’d at least like to think that you’re out there executing and doing what you’re supposed to do. Guys don’t take the right guys on slide or boots. We turn people loose in man-to-man. We get a penalty when we score a touchdown that would put the game away. Then we take a sack and miss the field goal. All these things contribute to not putting the game away.
"So that’s the kind of stuff that we need to fix, but it’s also stuff that can be fixed. We’ve just gotta keep working on it, and we’ve gotta have the players buy in to what they need to do to get it fixed.”
Despite the narrow win against Arkansas, Alabama still clinched the SEC West and will be headed to Atlanta on Dec. 4 to face top-ranked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Before that game, though, the Crimson Tide has to travel to The Plains to take on the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. While Auburn has certainly had its own fair share of issues this year under first-year head coach Brian Harsin, the Tigers bring their A-game year-in and year-out and will likely not be put away quietly.
Fortunately for Alabama, both sides of the team are able to bail out the other should either falter. That being said, the Crimson Tide will hope to have both sides in sync and not have a need for one side of the football having to step up to provide an assist.
While Alabama has been able to put the proverbial nails in coffins throughout the season, Auburn and Georgia aren't exactly two teams that you want to enter the fourth quarter in a tight game with.