Remember us? Alabama defense still a shutdown force

BATON ROUGE, La. — There were times during Alabama’s lopsided 29-0 win over LSU on Saturday when it appeared that Quinnen Williams was putting on a personal audition for the NFL scouts in attendance. The spectacle of a night game at Tiger Stadium fell by the wayside as the third-year sophomore dominated the competition, throwing around grown men like sacks of potatoes. He proved to be too fast — far faster than any 6-foot-4, 295-pound nose guard has a right to be — as he made a beeline to Joe Burrow, sacking him 2.5 times on his way to finishing with a team-high 10 tackles.

Linebacker Dylan Moses’ eyes lit up when he was asked afterward about Williams’ performance. What he did, Moses said, was make everyone else’s job easy.

“Quinnen … is … a … dog,” he said, drawing out each word as a point of emphasis. “Quinnen is a beast.”

This is true. Williams is a smiling, energetic monster of a man. He’s also the anchor of an Alabama defense that set out to make a statement against LSU.

To be sure, the beatdown of the third-ranked Tigers wasn’t single-handed. While Williams certainly stood out, you couldn’t ignore the similarly freakish-caliber athletes bracketing him at defensive end, 293-pound Isaiah Buggs and 306-pound Raekwon Davis. It truly was a team effort that limited Burrow, Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire to a combined 12 yards on 34 carries — the same trio that racked up 275 rushing yards and three touchdowns against a Georgia defense that’s widely regarded as among the best in college football this season.

To shut out a team that not too long ago hung 36 points on Georgia spoke volumes. But if it didn’t say enough, there was the exclamation point of a Mack Wilson interception late in the fourth quarter that led the Alabama fans in attendance to sarcastically chant, “We want Bama! We want Bama!” Standing on a bench, Davis waved at LSU fans as they headed home early. Williams grinned and put both of his hands together to form an “O.”

Maybe it’s true. Maybe the only thing that can stop Alabama’s offense is its defense.

In the waning hours of Saturday night, disappointed LSU coach Ed Orgeron had no choice but to admit that his team was overmatched.

“I think Alabama overpowered us,” Orgeron said. “When you max protect, you’re doing everything you can in protection, and they’re beating you, you’ve got to look at personnel, and you got to get better. I don’t think it was scheme at all. I think they overpowered us, and there was nothing we could do about it.”

Showing their competitiveness, revealing their will to dominate a full 60 minutes, was what Alabama coach Nick Saban saw from his spot on the sideline. All week he said he could tell that his team wanted to make a statement, and against LSU, they did exactly that.

What statement was that?

“That it’s not all about our offense,” safety Deionte Thompson said. “We’re pretty good on defense, too. We came out and proved that.”

You can be honest: If you’re reading this, you probably overlooked their side of the ball amid all the hoopla surrounding quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the offense. Tagovailoa’s march to the Heisman Trophy has been spellbinding, with a barrage of how-did-he-do-that? completions. The weapons he has in the passing game, from Jerry Jeudy to Henry Ruggs III to Irv Smith Jr., are borderline unfair. With the offense averaging 51 points per game, this is the exception to every Alabama team we’ve seen under Saban in that it is defined by its offense rather than its defense.

But Thompson and Moses and Williams are here to tell you that this program hasn’t forgotten its roots. Marlon Humphrey and Levi Wallace might be gone, but first-year starting cornerbacks Saivion Smith and Patrick Surtain II were challenged repeatedly by LSU and answered the bell every time. Burrow barely completed 50 percent of his passes (18-of-35) for 185 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Shyheim Carter, maybe the most undersized of all the Alabama defensive backs, clearly felt that they had something to prove. On a strip of eye black that crossed over the bridge of his nose, he wrote a message to anyone who would look closely enough to see: “NUMBER 1 DEFENSE”.

Moses wasn’t going to downplay the meaning. This, he said, was personal.

“We’re competitive,” Moses said. “Just because our offense is good, we want to show we can play both sides of the ball well. We don’t want to be looked at as one-dimensional — good on offense and not as good on defense. We want it to be looked at as a whole, as a team. We came out here with that on our mind and did what we were supposed to do.”

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