Why Alabama Needs Dylan Moses to Lead the 2020 Team in Tackles
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Quick question: Do you know when was the last time the Alabama football team was led in tackles by a linebacker?
Normally, the answer would be pretty easy. Just name the top returning interior linebacker and chances are you’d be correct.
Only Alabama has been decimated by injuries at the position over the past few years.
Consequently, in 2019 it was safety Xavier McKinney with a team-high 95. With both starting interior linebackers missing the entire season with knee injuries, followed by two starting lineman suffering major injuries as well, McKinney often needed to move up closer to the line to help out.
Alabama finished 20 in the nation in total defense, it’s worst showing since 2007.
In 2018, it was Dylan Moses as sophomore, but remember that Mack Wilson was expected to be the man in the middle. Finishing fourth on the team helped lead to his dropping to the fifth round of the subsequent NFL Draft.
The Crimson Tide was 19 in total defense.
In 2017, with reserve Keith Holcombe the lone linebacker to play in all 14 games, safety Ronnie Harrison led the way with 74 tackles. It represented the fewest by anyone to lead the Crimson Tide during the Nick Saban era.
While having a safety top the team in tackles isn’t necessarily an indicator of a struggling defense, after all Alabama still won the national title in 2017, take a look at the other years Alabama finished No. 1 during the Nick Saban era (since 2007).
They all had a dominating interior linebacker:
Alabama’s tackling leaders (Saban era)
Season, Name, Position, Tackles
2007 Rashad Johnson, S, 94
2008 Rolando McClain, LB, 95
2009 Rolando McClain, LB, 105
2010 Mark Barron, S, 75
2011 Dont’a Hightower, LB, 85
2012 C.J. Mosley, LB, 107
2013 C.J. Mosley, LB, 108
2014 Landon Collins, S, 103
2015 Reggie Ragland, LB, 102
2016 Reuben Foster, LB, 115
2017 Ronnie Harrison, S, 74
2018 Dylan Moses, LB, 86
2019 Xavier McKinney, S, 96
Moreover, during that 2017 title game against Georgia, Wilson was credited with 12 tackles, which was a season high for the Crimson Tide.
What’s interesting is that even though Reuben Foster had the most tackles in a single season by any Alabama player coached by Nick Saban, with 115 in 2016, the Crimson Tide is still bucking a trend.
With college football becoming more and more offensive oriented, with teams doing everything they can to execute as many plays as possible, and trying to keep defenses on the field to wear them down, the number of snaps is up.
So obviously, the number of overall tackles is up as well.
Alabama’s Total Snaps by Opponents
Year: Total (Average)
2011: 720 (55.4)
2012: 837 (59.9)
2013: 771 (59.3)
2014: 945 (67.5)
2015: 963 (64.2)
2016: 983 (65.5)
2017: 913 (65.2)
2018: 981 (65.4)
2019: 877 (67.65
One would think it would mean more standout players having inflated numbers, but that’s not the case with the Crimson Tide.
Even with the additional advantage of having played in more games, Alabama’s leading tacklers have been posting numbers nowhere near those of Saban’s previous teams.
Most tackles in a season by a Saban-coached player
Name, School, Season, Tackles
Bradie James, LSU, 2002, 154
Ike Reese, Michigan State, 1997, 137
Aric Morris, Michigan State, 1999, 132
Aric Morris, Michigan State, 1998, 127
Sorie Kanu, Michigan State, 1998, 121
Trev Faulk, LSU, 2001, 119
Reuben Foster, Alabama, 2016, 115
Ike Reese, Michigan State, 1996, 115
Trev Faulk, LSU, 2000, 113
Bradie James, LSU, 2001, 113
The reasons why are numerous, but college football isn’t played nearly as much between the tackles as it used to be, and countering the spread has led to speed being emphasized more than ever.
Saban’s scheme is still about shutting down running lanes and then chasing everything else, only now it’s usually done out of the nickel package with an extra defensive back. Combined with the injury issues and having some outstanding players at other positions there have actually been fewer opportunities to post those kinds of numbers.
Which leads to the other crucial factor, experience.
A good example was Foster. He went into his senior season saying he wanted to play like a Ferrari and lost approximately 15 pounds so he could play at a faster speed. He did, and ended up winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s most outstanding linebacker.
It also came after working two years to become a regular contributor to the defense.
Even so, Foster isn’t among the leaders for most career tackles by Saban-coached player. Considering the depth Alabama has accumulated at linebacker it might be a while before anyone approaches C.J. Mosley’s 319 over four years.
Moses heads into his final season with 116 career tackles, a number he has the potential to double. But not even that would get him on the list of the top-10 tacklers by Saban-coached players.
Most career tackles by a Saban-coached player
Name, School, Seasons, Tackles
Bradie James, LSU, 2000-02, 376
Sorie Kanu, Michigan State, 1995-98, 365
Aric Morris, Michigan State, 1996-99, 360
Ike Reese, Michigan State, 1995-97, 328
C.J. Mosley, Alabama, 2010-13, 319
Rolando McClain, Alabama, 2007-09, 275
Lemar Marshall, Michigan State, 1995-98, 261
Mark Barron, Alabama, 2008-11, 237
Dont’a Hightower, Alabama, 2008-11, 234
Trev Faulk, LSU, 2000-01, 232
This is the second story in the 2020 Stat Pack series that will examine the Crimson Tide in a variety of ways through numbers.