TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — This Alabama defense is one-upping last year’s dominant group in one regard: Forcing turnovers.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide (2-0) has shown a penchant for knocking balls loose and intercepting passes, forcing seven turnovers in the first two games. It was a big goal for a defense that led the nation in just about every major stat category en route to a championship last season, but was 77th in turnovers forced.
Alabama’s three fumble recoveries — all against Western Kentucky — is already nearly halfway to last year’s total (7).
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said defensive coordinator Kirby Smart harps on that number “all the time.”
“He kept telling us we’re one of the lowest teams, as far as ranking in fumbles,” Mosley said. “So to get three in one game, which hasn’t happened since I’ve been here, he may applaud us on it. I don’t know. We’ll take it either way it goes.”
The Tide intercepted Michigan’s Denard Robinson three times in the opener, and Mosley returned one for a touchdown. Alabama has scored 35 of its 76 points after inducing turnovers, easily the highest percentage (46.05) of any SEC team. Next up is No. 8 South Carolina at 32.3 percent.
Alabama might either have the biggest defensive challenge, or a potential opportunity to force and capitalize on mistakes Saturday at Arkansas (1-1) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson’s status is still uncertain after sustaining a head injury in Saturday’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
If he can’t go, Alabama will face either redshirt freshman Brandon Allen or junior Brandon Mitchell, who had been playing wide receiver.
Even with mostly new starters, the Tide defense has done more than force turnovers. Opponents are averaging 2.0 yards per carry in the rushing game.
“They’re big and physical, as we all know” Razorbacks coach John L. Smith said. “You have to be able to get a little knock off on the ball, be able to run the ball to a degree. But then, you know, they’re not going to give you much, by any means. They do a great job in the secondary.”
The Tide also is expected to get back cornerback Dee Milliner, who missed the Western Kentucky game with a hip injury.
Four Alabama players have picked off passes while nine SEC teams haven’t even forced that many turnovers.
Tide coach Nick Saban said the team has always done a ball-stripping circuit daily in practice. He said the first thing coaches do in defensive meetings is post who caused turnovers.
It’s a longer list these days.
“We’ve done the same kind of emphasis and the same things to try to get turnovers that we did all last year” Saban said. “We actually in the offseason tried to visit people who were great turnover teams, whether they were in the NFL or in college, to see what were some of the things they were doing to emphasize getting turnovers. We’ve been doing that for over a year now. Last year we didn’t get them. This year, we’ve gotten a few.
“We want to continue to emphasize it. This is always something that has a tremendous impact on the outcome of games. Ball security is important for us and getting turnovers is important as well.”