Alabama defense chewing up opposing quarterbacks

Alabama outside linebacker Christian Miller had 2.5 sacks of Jordan Ta'amu during last Saturday night's 62-7 shredding of Ole Miss.

Playing top-ranked Alabama hasn't done much to improve the efficiency ratings of opposing quarterbacks so far this season.

On Saturday afternoon, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond will try to reverse that trend as the No. 22 Aggies (2-1) play their Southeastern Conference opener in Tuscaloosa.

CBS will televise the 3:30 p.m. game as the Crimson Tide (3-0) go for their second SEC win of the season.

Louisville's Jawon Pass, Arkansas State's Justice Hansen and Jordan Ta'amu of Ole Miss have been the first three quarterbacks to face a Crimson Tide defense that had to replace eight starters, and they combined to throw four touchdown passes and five interceptions.

When not facing Nick Saban's juggernaut, those three quarterbacks have combined for 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.

"They have the same productivity that they've always had," Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said this week. "Nick does as good a job on defense as anyone in the country. There is no doubt. He is a tremendous defensive football coach.

"They are as good as they've ever been."

Overshadowed by a dazzling offense now under the direction of sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the defense is one play away from having shut out each of its first three opponents in the first half. It was especially dominant last week at the expense of Ta'amu, who threw a 75-yard touchdown to D.K. Metcalf on the opening play before going 6-of-21 passing for 58 yards the rest of the game with two interceptions.

Asked this week which level of Alabama's vaunted defense gave Ole Miss the most difficulty, Rebels coach Matt Luke chose the line of Isaiah Buggs, Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams. Buggs and Davis are two of the three returning defensive starters, with outside linebacker Christian Miller the other. Miller had five tackles and 2.5 sacks against the Rebels.

"Up front, to me, was the difference in the game," Luke said. "They were able to get pressure on Jordan, and it probably started on that quarterback draw when they were able to get pressure on him and get a good hit on him to force a turnover. They were able to get pressure on the quarterback, and we had gotten pretty comfortable in the pocket in the two games before that."

Enter Mond, who wrested the starting role from Nick Starkel in preseason camp and has completed 56 of 89 passes for 824 yards and six touchdowns so far this season and hasn't thrown an interception. Feasting on Northwestern State and Louisiana-Monroe tends to inflate numbers for SEC programs, but Mond also went 23-of-40 for 430 yards and three touchdowns during the 28-26 loss to then-No. 2 Clemson on Sept. 8.

Mond was 19-of-29 for 237 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last year's 27-19 loss to the Crimson Tide in College Station.

"He's a really good athlete, and he does a great job of extending plays, which he did last year," Saban said. "I think Jimbo does a really good job with quarterbacks systematically. He looks a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident in the passing game and executing the passing game, which is something they have been very effective at."

Mond, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore from San Antonio, threw for 206 yards in the fourth quarter alone against Clemson, but Fisher knows that Alabama continues to be the standard of the sport.

"They lost some key guys up front, but it seems like they just plug more guys in," he said. "Raekwon, Williams and Buggs are big, physical guys who can still two-gap and use their hands. They are so well-coached, and they keep leverage on the football.

"What Nick has always done a tremendous job of is relating the front end to the back end and how he fits things. He doesn't expose his guys, but he knows who to expose and the great players he can depend on."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.