STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The numbers looked good for Alabama's defense last season.
The Crimson Tide was among the Southeastern Conference and nation's best in most defensive categories, allowing 13.5 points and 286 yards per game.
The numbers, however, were a bit misleading. In losses to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn, the inexperience of the Tide's defense was often exposed.
Now with a year's worth of seasoning, Alabama's defense is flashing a championship look.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide smothered Penn State in a 27-11 victory Saturday, with defensive backs Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Robert Lester leading the charge.
The Nittany Lions have an offense still searching for answers, particularly at quarterback, but shutting down an opponent on their own turf still had the Tide players feeling good.
"I feel like it was a great environment for us to come into and show the world we're a good defense," said Kirkpatrick, who forced two fumbles and broke up a pass.
The Tide allowed 251 yards, but again those numbers are deceiving. Alabama was even better than that.
The Nittany Lions came out strong on their first drive, giving the Tide some unfamiliar looks and mixing the running of Silas Redd with some short passes.
"They threw some stuff out there we never seen before," Kirkpatrick said after the game.
Penn State drove 54 yards on 16 plays and kicked a 43-yard field goal.
"Everybody is going to get a script to start the game, whether they're going to get different multiples and different tenedencies in what they've done before," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Penn State was doing that, they were moving the ball on us.
On the next 10 Penn State possessions, the Tide allowed 131 yards on 40 plays.
"It was really important that we kept our poise, kept our focus, kept changing the next play," Saban said. "I think it's a sign of maturity. I see that we got out of that drive and settled down and we played pretty well after that."
Penn State finally found the end zone on its last drive, a 14-play, 71-yarder with the game well in hand.
There's still areas for Alabama to improve defensively. The Tide did not have a sack or quarterback pressure. That will need to change by the time Alabama faces No. 14 Arkansas on Sept. 24. The Tide has another week to work on things with North Texas coming to Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
But the defensive backfield, a talented group prone to lapses last year when Kirkpatrick, Menzie and Lester were all new starters, looks as if it could be one of the best in the nation.
At one point in the third quarter against Penn State, Alabama defensive backs got their hands on five straight passes.
"We got to finish on the ball," Kirkpatrick said.
Barron, the most experienced of the group, had the only interception as the Alabama secondary helped finish off Penn State.