Paschall: Could SEC defensive woes be related to COVID-19? Lane Kiffin believes they might

Alabama photo by Kent Gidley / Alabama senior running back Najee Harris rushed for 206 yards and five touchdowns during Saturday night's 63-48 outlasting of Ole Miss.

As Alabama's head football coach and offensive coordinator, Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin shared in the accomplishment of three consecutive Southeastern Conference championships from 2014-16, the only multiyear SEC title run of Saban's career.

As competing coaches, Saban and Kiffin have produced two absolute polar opposites.

In 2009, Saban's Crimson Tide topped Kiffin's Tennessee Volunteers 12-10 in a defensive classic that contained just one touchdown and was decided on a blocked field goal. The two met again Saturday night, with Alabama surviving Ole Miss 63-48 in the highest-scoring regulation game in the SEC's 88-year history.

They combined for 1,370 yards and just three punts in Oxford, totals that left Saban visibly frustrated with Alabama second-year defensive coordinator Pete Golding on the sideline.

"We've never played this way on defense, and it's certainly not what we aspire to try to be as a defensive team," Saban said Saturday night after winning a 93rd consecutive game against an unranked foe. "We're going to work hard with our players, and I believe in our players. We have to get our players to play better, and I think we're capable of that."

Mac Jones completed 28 of 32 passes for 417 yards and two touchdowns, and Najee Harris rushed 23 times for 206 yards and five scores on Alabama's potent offense. Yet of the 76 Football Bowl Subdivision teams that have played so far this season, the Tide rank 65th in total defense.

Alabama, Florida and LSU each has a rich tradition on defense. On Saturday, Saban's Tide, Dan Mullen's Gators and Ed Orgeron's Tigers allowed a combined 1,776 yards and 134 points.

Before Alabama surrendered 647 yards to Kiffin's Rebels, Florida yielded 543 yards and 12-of-15 third-down conversions during a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M, while LSU gave up 586 yards in a 45-41 stunning setback at Missouri. The Gators have allowed 100 points through their first three games and rank 75th in third-down defense, while LSU's 96 points surrendered are a program record through three contests.

Think Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and LSU counterpart Bo Pelini aren't experiencing behind close doors what Golding endured Saturday?

"We couldn't stop anything," Orgeron said. "It was really a poor showing on defense. We couldn't stop the run. Receivers were wide open running downfield. It was embarrassing."

Said Mullen: "We're going to have to reevaluate a lot of things defensively."

Kiffin called Saturday's outcome "kind of a waste" given that his Rebels were brilliant offensively, including a 4-for-4 showing on fourth down. Ole Miss has the worst defense in the nation statistically, and Kiffin's explanation for this season's defensive woes hinted these numbers may become even more gruesome.

"Maybe it's COVID and missing spring ball and missing the tackling and the fundamentals, and that has something to do with it," Kiffin said, "but I would have never guessed this."


The Alabama-Ole Miss game was 42-42 early in the fourth quarter, and Kiffin was surprised when many Rebels fans gave his team a standing ovation afterward.

"I was very confused about that," Kiffin said. "We lost. Not that I don't appreciate the fans doing that, but we want to make sure the players know we came here to win. We didn't come here to play close or cover spreads or any of that crap."


Mississippi State's swooning aerial attack at Kentucky consisted of 45 completions in 70 attempts with six interceptions and no points during a 24-2 loss.

"We're going to have to kind of check some of our group and figure out who really wants to play here," Bulldogs first-year coach Mike Leach said. "Any malcontents - we're going to have to purge a couple of those."

While Alabama and Ole Miss averaged 13.0 and 13.1 yards per pass, respectively, Mississippi State and Kentucky averaged 3.9 and 3.5. Hideous.

photo Auburn photo by Todd Van Emst / Auburn freshman running back Tank Bigsby had 20 carries for 146 yards in Saturday's 30-28 topping of Arkansas.

Auburn's 30-28 escape of Arkansas certainly had its share of controversy at the end, but the Tigers finally awoke from a running-game slumber behind freshman Tank Bigsby. The 6-foot, 204-pounder from LaGrange, Georgia, rushed 20 times for 146 yards as the Tigers downed the Razorbacks for a fifth straight year.

"He broke tackles, and he ran extremely hard," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "There were some hard yards, too. He bounced a couple out and cut some back, and he just ran some guys over."

After praising his offensive linemen, Bigsby said, "They were getting tired of what everybody was saying."

Anders Carlson became the first Auburn kicker to beat a visiting SEC foe on a field goal in the final seconds since former Central High School standout Damon Duval drilled a 44-yarder to help the Tigers stun top-ranked Florida 23-20 in 2001.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.