There was plenty of offseason conversation about Alabama having the potential to showcase a defense reminiscent of the early Nick Saban years in Tuscaloosa.
Then came Texas and the 349 passing yards by Quinn Ewers that included touchdown tosses of 44 and 39 yards.
Yet the Crimson Tide have rebounded in respectable fashion from that 34-24 defeat on Sept. 9, opening Southeastern Conference play the past two weekends with a 24-10 win over Ole Miss and a 40-17 victory at Mississippi State. Another league test awaits this Saturday afternoon (3:30 on CBS) as No. 11 Alabama visits Texas A&M in a matchup of 4-1 teams that are 2-0 in SEC play.
"I feel like we're starting to come together a lot more," Crimson Tide junior outside linebacker Dallas Turner said this week in a news conference. "We're starting to bond and play for each other instead of playing for ourselves. There are a lot of things starting to happen and a lot of good things starting to come together as well."
Ole Miss is averaging 53.25 points in games not involving Alabama, but the Rebels were held without a touchdown in the final three quarters of their Sept. 23 loss inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide followed that up by sacking Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers four times and forcing him into three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown.
"Defensively, except for a couple of spots in the game when I thought we lost our intensity a little bit, I thought we played well and made some improvement," Saban said of the triumph at MSU. "We need to build on the things we're doing well."
The Crimson Tide have snagged six interceptions through five games after compiling just seven all of last season. Alabama ranks among the top 20 nationally with 7.4 tackles for loss per game and with 3.4 sacks a contest, and the Crimson Tide's 14.2 points allowed per game ranks second in the SEC and 17th nationally.
Alabama has been formidable in the secondary with cornerbacks Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold with the experience of Malachi Moore and talent of freshman Caleb Downs, and Turner has done his part in stepping up for third overall NFL pick Will Anderson with 22 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Turner's 1.1 sacks per game ranks third nationally.
"Dallas has always been a good player for us," Saban said. "He's always been a hard worker and a really conscientious guy. He has a high standard for how he wants to play and do things.
"This year, he's tried to take on a little more of a leadership role in terms of how he can impact or affect other people, which I think he's done a good job of."
One year later
Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe made his first career start last season against Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa, when Bryce Young was out with a shoulder injury.
Saturday will mark Milroe's fifth career start and the first in his home state.
"I think experience is the best teacher," Milroe said. "I've definitely learned a lot of football with more game experience. I'm not a finished product at all.
"I'm simply learning and growing."
Milroe is 14th nationally in passing efficiency, having completed 54 of 78 attempts (69.2%) for 838 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
Waiting up late
With last Saturday night's game at Mississippi State kicking off at 9:10 Eastern, Terry Saban did not make the trip to Starkville to cheer on her husband and his team.
"She waited up for me to get home, so that was a good thing," Saban said. "It was one of the first games she has missed and didn't go to since we've been here, and I think it is the first game, actually.
"She said she can see what's happening a lot better on TV, so I got coached up quite a bit when I got home."
Alabama leads its series with Texas A&M 12-3, having won eight straight meetings from 2013-20. ... Saban is 29-3 against his former assistant coaches, topped by five wins over both Jimbo Fisher (5-1) and Lane Kiffin (5-0). ... The Crimson Tide are 55-4 in October under Saban but have lost each of the past two years -- at Texas A&M in 2021 and at Tennessee last season. ... Alabama is 16-of-17 so far this season in the red zone with nine rushing touchdowns and seven Will Reichard field goals.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].