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2014 SEC Championship: Alabama's defense is big, fast and reactionary

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I'm pretty sure Alabama is the only team in FBS to list defense first on its depth charts. (Which side of the ball did Nick Saban coach again?) We'll follow that lead and look at that portion of the two-deep first.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

DE
Jonathan Allen (6'3, 272, So.) (22.5 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 6 QB hurries)
Dalvin Tomlinson (6'2, 290, So.) (15.0 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 QB hurries)
Dee Liner (6'3, 295, So.) (1.0 tackles)

NG
A'Shawn Robinson (6'4, 320, So.) (23.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 3 QB hurries)
Brandon Ivory (6'4, 308, Sr.) (6.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
Darren Lake (6'3, 323, Jr.) (3.5 tackles, 1 QB hurry)

DE
Jarran Reed (6'4, 315, Jr.) (32.5 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 5 PBU)
D.J. Pettway (6'3, 265, Jr.) (15.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 3 PBU, 5 QB hurries)
Da'Shawn Hand (6'4, 273, Fr.) (4.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks)

Year in and year out, Alabama has the best reactionary defense in the country. "Go ahead and do what you're going to do. Okay, so you're doing that?" WHAM. The Tide don't rack up the sacks -- they're 87th in Adj. Sack Rate this year, and that's actually a pretty significant improvement over last year -- they just let you show your hand and hit you really hard.

It helps that they've got some boulders up front. Because of the sheer blocker-occupying girth of A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, the linebackers are free to roam, and undersized (relatively speaking) Jonathan Allen is able to find a role as a play-maker up front. You simply cannot move Robinson and Reed off the ball, and they're pretty good at joining in on tackles as well.

Alabama ranks first in Rushing S&P+ and second in Adj. Line Yards. That's ... really good. If there's a silver lining here, it's that Mizzou nearly posted a 50% rushing success rate last week against an Arkansas defense that ranks sixth and fifth, respectively. Alabama's a different animal in this regard, but if Mizzou can carve out its share of four- to five-yard runs, that will help immensely.

JACK
Xzavier Dickson (6'3, 268, Sr.) (30.0 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 2 PBU, 6 QB hurries)
Ryan Anderson (6'2, 258, So.) (16.5 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR, 6 QB hurries)
Tim Williams (6'3, 242, So.) (3.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries)

SAM
Denzel Devall (6'2, 254, Jr.) (5.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 QB hurries -- 7 games)
Dillon Lee (6'4, 243, Jr.) (16.5 tackles)

MIKE
Trey DePriest (6'2, 250, Sr.) (57.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 QB hurry)
Reuben Foster (6'1, 244, So.) (14.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks -- 9 games)
Shaun Dion Hamilton (6'0, 233, Fr.) (1.5 tackles)

WILL
Reggie Ragland (6'2, 254, Jr.) (64.0 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 3 FR, 1 QB hurry)
Walker Jones (6'2, 238, Fr.)

If you had asked me who Alabama's leading tackler was, DePriest would have been my first and second guess. I would not have guessed that it was Ragland. It's funny to think about a top-50 recruit flying under the radar, but Ragland kind of has. He fills the box score, he rakes in the tackles, and he's probably the third most well-known Bama LB after DePriest and Dickson.

Ragland and DePriest are the water carriers, and Dickson and Anderson (who has played a decent amount at SAM) are the play-makers. More than a third of their tackles have been made behind the line, and they're the ones getting sent in as the fourth pass rusher as much as anybody.

And yes, this unit is enormous. Mizzou's biggest linebacker, 240-pound Kentrell Brothers, would rank ninth among the names above. That's what happens when you recruit nothing but blue-chippers. You get the guys who are big for their position and fast for it. And so much of what Alabama does to you on defense comes down to hemming you back toward a bunch of 250-pound defenders running at you full-speed. It is tiring playing Alabama, in other words.

CB
Eddie Jackson (6'0, 188, So.) (30.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR -- 9 games)
Tony Brown (6'0, 198, Fr.) (7.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry)

CB
Cyrus Jones (5'10, 194, Jr.) (38.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FF, 1 FR)
Maurice Smith (6'0, 195, So.) (8.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 PBU)
Bradley Sylve (5'11, 180, Jr.) (7.5 tackles, 2 PBU)

SS
Landon Collins (6'0, 222, Jr.) (64.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU, 2 QB hurries)
Jarrick Williams (6'1, 215, Sr.) (9.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 PBU)
Hootie Jones (6'2, 221, Fr.) (1.0 tackles)

FS
Nick Perry (6'1, 211, Sr.) (58.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 1 QB hurry)
Geno Smith (6'0, 197, Jr.) (34.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FF)
Jabriel Washington (5'11, 183, Jr.) (11.0 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)

No matter what you may have read here or there, the Bama secondary, and the pass defense in general, aren't "weaknesses" by any stretch of the imagination. The Tide still rank 22nd in Passing S&P+ and 16th in Passing Downs S&P+. It's a weakness only in relative terms. That Auburn was able to torch them with Duke Williams and Sammie Coates (combined: 12 catches, 327 yards) is great, but Mizzou doesn't have Williams and Coates. The Tigers have guys who can make some plays but who aren't that type of athlete.

In a semi-defeatist way, it's almost okay that Mizzou can't out-athlete Alabama anywhere in this matchup. Nobody can anyway. If Missouri wins, it will be because the Tigers were able to put together a couple of strings of good plays, won the turnover battle, and did enough on unsuccessful drives to at least move the chains a bit and avoid field position damage.

That's how Missouri beats basically everybody it beats. There is no margin for error here -- the line needs to have gotten all of its false starts out of its system, and the receivers need to have already dropped all the balls they're going to drop -- but Mizzou's success in this game comes down to carving out four yards at a time on the ground and, when a receiver comes open, getting the ball into his hands. Game management all the way.

Special Teams

K
Adam Griffith (5'10, 188, So.) (42-43 PAT, 8-11 FG under 40, 4-7 FG over 40; 57 kickoffs, 15 touchbacks)
J.K. Scott (6'4, 185, Fr.) (1-1 PAT; 24 kickoffs, 8 touchbacks)
Gunner Raborn (5'10, 185, Fr.) (9-10 PAT, 2-3 FG under 40)

P
J.K. Scott (6'4, 185, Fr.) (45 punts, 47.2 average, 14 fair caught, 24 inside 20)

KR
Christion Jones (5'11, 187, Sr.) (27 KR, 24.6 average)
Landon Collins (6'0, 222, So.) (3 KR, 18.3 average)

PR
Christion Jones (5'11, 185, Jr.) (16 PR, 8.8 average)
Cyrus Jones (5'10, 194, Jr.) (4 PR, 20.5 average)

And while we're at it, Mizzou needs to have gotten all of its special teams miscues out of the way as well. A month ago, the Tigers ranked 12th in Special Teams F/+. The Tigers now rank 43rd. Missouri will need the "Marcus Murphy breaking off big returns, Christian Brinser flipping the field with punts, and Andrew Baggett reaching the end zone on kickoffs" special teams unit for this one, not the "Brinser booting line drives to return men, Baggett missing PATs and kicking short of the end zone, and Mizzou allowing one big fake per game" unit.

Alabama's kind of in the same boat. We know Adam Griffith has a strong leg, and we know Christion Jones can be one hell of a return man -- he was maybe the nation's best last year -- but he hasn't had much of a chance to break into the open this year, and Griffith has been just inconsistent enough to be maddening. Alabama ranks 92nd in Special Teams F/+, and Missouri will need to hope/make sure the Tide still rank in the 90s (or worse!) next week.