Saban wanting to get protection issues fixed with Vols looming

Texas A&M Athletics photo by Craig Bisacre / Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe has been sacked 11 times the past two weekends against Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Texas A&M Athletics photo by Craig Bisacre / Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe has been sacked 11 times the past two weekends against Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe didn't seem overly fazed during Monday's weekly news conference when asked about the protection aspect to Saturday's game against visiting Tennessee.

The No. 17 Volunteers have amassed 24 sacks in six games, with their average of 4.00 per contest ranking fourth nationally. The No. 11 Crimson Tide have allowed 31 sacks in their seven contests, and only South Florida, Old Dominion and Colorado have yielded more among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

"We're going to have a lot of fun," Milroe said with a smile. "We don't care about any of that. It's just another opportunity for us to have fun. We get to play in front of our fans this weekend, and we're excited for that. A lot of energy will be floating in the air with us playing a great opponent.

"It's going to be fun, and we're looking forward to the challenge."

Of course, Alabama 17th-year head coach Nick Saban had a very different response when the topic came up.

Saban was asked whether the Crimson Tide's 31 sacks allowed concerned him and whether the situation can be fixed at the midway point of a season. Alabama actually passed the midway mark with last Saturday's 24-21 topping of Arkansas to improve to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

"To the first part of your question, I would say, 'Hell, yeah,' and to the second part, I would say that we do have guys who are capable," Saban said. "I think it goes back to attention to detail, because there are little things in certain protections where, 'I know I have inside help, so why would I get beat outside?' These are not all capability issues. Some of them are things that we can fix.

"When we're sliding out to block three on three, and the guy doesn't slide out to block the third guy and he runs in and sacks the quarterback, that's a mental error. That's not a physical problem, so it's a combination of all those things that need to get cleaned up with better communication and better execution."

Alabama junior right tackle JC Latham did not allow any sacks, hits or hurries against the Razorbacks as Milroe threw for 238 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn't so smooth for the rest of the Crimson Tide up front. Milroe was sacked five times, which followed the six sacks he endured the previous week during the 26-20 topping of Texas A&M at College Station.

Milroe threw for 321 yards and three scores against the Aggies, so the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from the Houston suburb of Katy does seem to be doing a good job of bouncing back vertically after being horizontal so often.

"I think the biggest thing is the mindset of approaching it one play at a time and not losing focus," Milroe said. "I think that's very key. You can't get too high or too low. You have to be in the same position all throughout the game.

"The other thing is that mistakes happen. No matter who we are, we're not perfect. The one person in this world who was perfect is my Lord and Savior. Everyone has mistakes, but we can fix them."

Tennessee has two of the nation's top 25 players when it comes to racking up tackles for loss, with sophomore edge rusher James Pearce Jr. having collected nine for 1.5 per game. Pearce also has six sacks in six games, one of only nine players nationally to average at least a sack a contest.

Vols senior linebacker Aaron Beasley has 8.5 TFLs, or 1.42 per game.

"It's something we have to do a good job of planning wise, and we have to fundamentally play better," Saban said. "It's a combination, and both of those things are coaching and teaching. Guys need to set better. Their hand placement needs to be better. Their footwork has to be better, and we've got to make sure whatever scheme we're trying to use that players are capable of doing it without putting themselves in bad position.

"Maybe the more knowledge and experience we get, the more we'll be able to be more effective and consistent in those areas."

Tide tidbits

Alabama and Tennessee are playing each other for the 20th and potentially the final time on CBS. ... The Crimson Tide have lost only twice to the same opponent on consecutive occasions under Saban — LSU in 2010-11 and Ole Miss in 2014-15.

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