ATLANTA — There was much chatter this offseason among the Alabama faithful about whether the 2021 version of the Crimson Tide defense could return to its vaunted status among the top of college football's elite units. After its first test of the year, it passed with flying colors.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide suffocated Miami quarterback D'Eriq King and the rest of the Hurricanes offense to a 44-13 rout inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
King, who entered the weekend as the most experienced signal caller in the nation playing in his sixth season combined from Houston and now Miami, compiled 179 yards through the air on 30 attempts while throwing one touchdown and two interceptions.
Alabama's front seven led by a quartet of linebackers that includes Will Anderson Jr., Christian Harris, Henry To'oTo'o and Christopher Allen—before his foot injury in the second quarter—made it a living nightmare for King, sacking him a total of four times.
Miami running backs Cam'Ron Harris and Donald Chaney combined for only 60 yards on 19 carries.
"We stuck to our game plan saying we had to contain [King] and we had to rush together and rush as a unit and nobody can be selfish," Anderson said postgame. "And we all just have to play as a team and play up front as a team and just hold our gaps and be responsible to do our job."
The Hurricanes had six drives in the first half, four of which ended in punts, one with a fumble and the other with a 37-yard field goal by Andre Borregales. Through the first two quarters, Miami managed a mere 107 total yards of offense.
Trailing 27-3 entering the third quarter, King engineered a drive that lasted 14 plays and 74 yards but ultimately fell one yard short of the end-zone thanks to a goal-line stand by Anderson and senior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis.
"The defense competed well in the game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We had a couple stops in the red zone, which just was a sign of how they competed in the game."
Three plays later, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young hit Ohio State transfer wideout Jameson Williams for a 94-yard touchdown, leaving the game in no doubt.
"I think it goes back to that team chemistry we've been building, and everybody locking in and doing their job," Anderson, who led the Crimson Tide in tackles with nine total stops, one sack and one tackle for loss, said. "And not one person being selfish but everybody, all 11 on the field playing the same play, same call and getting the job done. I think that's what it went back to."
The majority of the Hurricane's success came in the second half where it recorded 159 of its 266 total yards. Miami's lone score came from a 29-yard deep ball from King to wideout Xavier Restrepo near the end of the third quarter to make it 41-10.
"I think we've just got to finish," Mathis said. "That's going to be a big thing for us in the future is finishing. Our four quarters we've got to finish the whole game out. I think we kind of let up and laid back towards the end and that's something we've got to fix quickly."
While the Crimson Tide's front seven was creating havoc, its secondary was making things difficult as well. Both sophomore safety Malachi Moore and senior linebacker Jaylen Moody intercepted passes from King.
"The defense competed well in the game," Saban said. "We had a couple stops in the red zone, which just was a sign of how they competed in the game. Got to give a lot of credit to Miami. I have a lot of respect for, you know, their players and their quarterback. You know, they got really good skilled players on offense. So I was really excited. And I'm sure that when we watch the film, we'll see a lot of things that are a lot — way too many penalties. There's a lot of things that we can go through that we would like to get better.
"But those things happened more in the second half when the game got a little bit sloppy for us. And so we'll work on trying to correct those things."