Oh yeah, that Alabama defense. A month ago, the preseason talk was that this 2015 Alabama defense was going to be downright nasty. Mostly because of the front seven. In fact, some were saying the Tide's front seven this year just may be the best front seven of the Nick Saban era.
After the Ole Miss game on Sept. 19, the much-hyped Bama defense kind of got forgotten about a little bit. Maybe it shouldn't have. Of those 43 points the Rebels scored in their 43-37 upset win over the Crimson Tide, 24 came off turnovers. One Ole Miss TD was super fluky — a desperation heave that bounced off a guy's helmet. And another was colored with controversy regarding what appeared to be an ineligible offensive lineman downfield.
Well, for those who did forget about this Bama defense, consider what happened at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday afternoon a friendly reminder. Or, from ULM's perspective, one not-so-friendly reminder. For those offensive guys wearing maroon, gold and white Saturday it was three hours of unrelenting punishment.
Sure, it was Sun Belt-member ULM. But in this day and age of college football, it's difficult to classify any foe as a cupcake anymore. Not when the likes of Toledo and Jacksonville State are beating and nearly beating the likes of Arkansas and Auburn, respectively.
And just look at what this same ULM team was able to do against Georgia in week one this season. The Warhawks racked up 251 total yards and scored two touchdowns on the heavily favored Bulldogs. And plenty of Alabama fans no doubt still remember what happened the last time ULM came to Tuscaloosa prior to last Saturday. The Warhawks went home with a 21-14 upset victory. That was in 2007.
So how did the Alabama defense do against the Warhawks Saturday? Remember how dominating Alabama's defense was against LSU back in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans? Yeah, well, the Alabama defense looked a lot like that on Saturday.
In fact, Saturday marked the first time since that game four seasons ago that Alabama held an opponent under 100 yards of total offense for a game. ULM could muster just 92 total yards, including a measly nine rushing. The Alabama D turned in six sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, eight pass breakups, 10 quarterback hurries and two interceptions and also held ULM to a woeful 3-of-20 on third down. The Warhawks had more punts (12) than first downs (10).
As far as shutouts, it was Alabama's first since it ambushed Texas A&M, 59-0, last October.
"When you're getting guys three-in and three-out and you keep doing that consecutively, that's when you know you're in a rhythm on defense," Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland said after the game. "You get on the field, you get off the field, and you give your offense more shots at getting touchdowns and field goals. That's when you know you're doing your job on defense."
Even Saban, known for his ever-critiquing eye, wasn't able to find much fault in Alabama's defensive performance Saturday.
"90-some yards (allowed) is really good," the Bama head coach said. "I thought we tackled well in space, got a couple of turnovers. We did a good job on third down, especially in the first half. So that was really positive."
The scary part — for future Alabama foes — is that it looks like this Alabama defense, which currently checks in at No. 4 nationally in rushing defense and No. 12 in total defense, is only getting better. One reason is that several young guys are starting to grow up and emerge as playmakers. Safety Ronnie Harrison is Exhibit A. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound true freshman recorded a tackle and a pass breakup and had his first career interception against ULM.
"Oh yeah, I told him it's about time he stepped up and made some plays," Ragland said of his young teammate. "... For the most part he did a really good job, and I'm proud of him."
The one health concern for Alabama moving forward is the status of defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who left Saturday's game with an injury.
"He has a shoulder that every now and then gives him a problem," Saban said after the game. "We think he'll be OK and be able to practice and play in this next game, but it'll be day-to-day. He has hurt this before, had the same problem before, and he's been able to come back from it pretty quickly."
The Crimson Tide defense will certainly want — and probably need — Allen's services this coming Saturday. No. 13 Alabama (3-1 overall, 0-1 in SEC) will play at No. 8 Georgia (4-0, 2-0)
"We got a tough matchup against some good running backs and a good offense, so we gotta come out, bow our neck up and play hard against those cats," Ragland said.
Another defensive effort this Saturday like the one last Saturday, and the chatter surrounding this 2015 Alabama defense will really crank up.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.