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Stat of the Day: Alabama Sacking the Quarterback

"Nearly two centuries after Mark Twain warned of "lies, damned lies, and statistics," our beloved Will Muschamp has been known to growl that "stats are for losers." Their points are well taken, but I suspect if you pressed both geniuses on the issue, you could and would squeeze out an admission about statistics' utility... properly applied. Numbers can tell lots of stories, some more complete than others."

-- Peter Bean, from a previous Stat of the Day

There's no question that Alabama has an extremely effective defense. Likewise, there's no question that Saban's bunch is so effective as to rank among the top several defenses in college football. Texas belongs in the discussion. So does Nebraska. TCU probably has an argument, as did Florida, before a certain high-profile collapse. It's an elite bunch.

There's no question about Alabama's place among the elite because a quick glance at the numbers tells the tale. Some of those will be saved for later posts, but suffice it to say that they are eye opening and representative of the unit's considerable overall strength. As coverage of Alabama ramps up in the next several days as I finish and post a series of thoughts about Alabama based on the Tennessee, Auburn, and LSU games -- Snap Shots, an Anatomy or two, as well as some more stats, several things will become clear about the vaunted Tide defense. Most glarlingly, basic statistical research indicates that it's hard to find much on tape even in close games that shows any major or well, glaring, flaws with the unit. Small things here and there, but few and far between.

Without getting into too deep of a discussion about the macrocosm here (Alabama's overall defensive success), this post is really about a microcosm (how often Alabama brought down the quarterback for a sack), a specific statistic that's telling about how the Alabama defense has played this season. A statistic that does provide insight, does provide value -- heck, it might not even be for losers...

2009 Alabama Defense: Sacks

How were those sacks distributed? Is there any trend from the sack numbers? From the opponents that they came against? From how they were distributed among individual players? Do the sacks indicate that there are "three Suhs" along the Alabama defensive line as Mack Brown commented in his press conference. By the way, taking that statement to the logical conclusion, Colt McCoy will be sacked about half the time when he drops back to pass in the national championship game, leading to somewhere around18 sacks? As it turns out, not likely.

 Date            Opponent                Surf.    Result   Sacks/Sack Yards

09/05/09 + 12 Virginia Tech Turf W 34-24 5.0 38
09/12/09 Florida Int'l Grass W 40-14 5.0 38
09/19/09 North Texas Grass W 53-7 0.0 0
09/26/09 Arkansas Grass W 35-7 3.0 28
10/03/09 @ Kentucky Grass W 38-20 2.0 10
10/10/09 @ Mississippi Turf W 22-3 0.0 0
10/17/09 South Carolina Grass W 20-6 5.0 26
10/24/09 Tennessee Grass W 12-10 2.0 19
11/07/09 13 LSU Grass W 24-15 3.0 27
11/14/09 @ Mississippi St. Grass W 31-3 2.0 18
11/21/09 Chattanooga Grass W 45-0 0.0 0
11/27/09 @ Auburn Grass W 26-21 3.0 32
12/05/09 + 5 Florida Turf W 32-13 0.0 0



  • The 30 sacks put Alabama at 27th in the country, but 37th in sacks per game at 2.31. The disturbing trend for Alabama, besides the fact that one third of the sacks on the season came against Virgina Tech and Florida International in the first two games, is that the number of sacks per game decreased every month of the season, culminating with no sacks against Florida and dropping to 2.00 sacks per game in November after peaking in September with 3.25.
  • In the last four games, Alabama only had five sacks, good for barely more than one sack per game.
  • In a game against an FCS school that they blew out and shut out -- something the Longhorn defense has failed to do this season -- but failed to register a sack. Likewise against North Texas, a team that finished with two wins. Of course, North Texas didn't give up many sacks on the year -- only 12 sacks all season, a remarkably low number for a team with so few wins.
  • On the other hand, Florida was a poor team in keeping opponents from sacking Tebow, giving up two a game, but Alabama did not manage to register a sack. However, against teams that consistently gave up sack this season, like South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Florida International, Alabama was able to pick up a higher number of sacks than expected.
  • The sack distribution reveals a lot about the Alabama defense -- Marcel Dareus leads the team with six, a defensive tackle who came up with a big sack against LSU that's a likely candidate for a Snap Shot in the near future here. Even though Dareus leads the team, he hasn't made a sack in the last four games -- he's the most likely candidate to sack McCoy in the game because he will be matched up against a Texas guard all day playing as a three technique. Nickel back Javier Arenas checks in second with 5.0 -- he's a frequent blitzer in the Alabama scheme. Then Rolando McClain and Eryk Anders, both listed at linebacker, both with four.
  • That means two things -- Alabama most often puts pressure on the quarterback blitzing with McClain or Arenas  or others and the defensive ends don't make a lot of plays. Part of the reason for that is that Alabama often plays with three down linemen, meaning they often play a technique inside the tackles -- they aren't rushing from the edge much, that's the job of a "linebacker" like Anders, who plays a similar position to Sergio Kindle and, though, I didn't see it much on film, McClain as well. A notable absence on the list is Terrence Cody, who has not recorded a sack this season.

Conclusion: A relatively isolated statistic like sacks does not represent a defense as a whole, but it does provide some perspective into what the Alabama defense is about -- playing fundamentally sound football that uses a variety of blitzes to put pressure on the quarterback, but doesn't get a lot of pressure from the three down linemen in the scheme. What the sacks by Alabama don't indicate is why exactly those three players in the middle of Alabama's line sack the quarterback, or why Alabama has relatively pedestrian sack numbers compared to other teams in the country. The first part of the that last query -- Why so little pressure from the middle? --  will hopefully become more apparent as coverage continues and the game approaches.

Against Texas the stats say that Alabama will probably sack McCoy between two and three times, with the potential to reach an extremely damaging number like five if the interior of the line completely falls apart like it did against Nebraska -- looking at you Michael Huey and David Snow -- with Arenas and Dareus the most likely candidates, and not because they lead the team. In the case of Dareus, it's because he will get one-on-one match ups against Huey and/or Snow in passing situations and the odds are that at least once in the game he will absolutely destroy them with a pass rush and get to McCoy. In the case of Arenas, it's because there's a good chance he comes on several blitzes during the game and is a likely candidate to be in McCoy's lap if the Longhorns go jet tempo and try to bootleg McCoy to his right with it. However, if the Longhorns do manage a similar type of performance as Florida, or, say, FCS school Chattanooga, then they have a good chance of moving the ball offensively and sustaining some drives.