For a majority of Alabama's 10-0 regular season, specifically 26 of the 40 quarters, the Crimson Tide defense under Pete Golding's guidance was every bit as dominant as Steve Sarkisian's offense.
The 26-quarter stretch began with the Oct. 17 game against Georgia, when Alabama trailed 24-20 at halftime before outscoring the Bulldogs 21-0 the rest of the way. That second-half shutout was followed by thorough humblings of Tennessee (48-17), Mississippi State (41-0), Kentucky (63-3), Auburn (42-13), LSU (52-17) and Arkansas (52-3).
In those 26 quarters, Alabama allowed just 53 points, with the halftime strengthening against Georgia following the wacky 63-48 outlasting of Ole Miss on Oct. 10. The 26-quarter run ended Dec. 19, when Alabama won its second shootout of the season, slipping past Florida 52-46 in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"Obviously the big thing for us in that stretch is that we attacked the line of scrimmage up front," Golding said Monday afternoon. "And I think the biggest thing is that we tackled better. You look at that Ole Miss game, and they had 250 yards after contact. You can't play good football teams and not eliminate the yards after contact, and whether it was that game or against Florida, if you don't get off the field on third down and are giving them a new set of downs, it's going to be tough to stop those guys.
"They have too many weapons."
Alabama is hoping to reclaim its stout defensive ways Friday when the No. 1 Crimson Tide and No. 4 Notre Dame meet in the national semifinal Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide built a 35-0 lead midway through the third quarter in the BCS championship game of the 2012 season against the Irish, but that eventual 42-14 runaway seems like light years ago given the points that have been put up this season.
The Crimson Tide's defensive numbers in Oxford were downright grisly, as Ole Miss racked up 647 yards and 31 first downs and went 9-of-17 on third-down conversions.
"We're going to see different stuff in this game than we've prepared for," Golding said. "They are going to game plan us and find a weakness and try to exploit it. We've got to get that fixed, but when we know what's coming, we've got to be able to execute that.
"I think the game at Ole Miss was a good thing, but obviously looking back on it, you don't want it to take a game like that, because we could have very easily lost that game. For some kids, it takes that."
Alabama and Ole Miss were actually tied at 42-42 early in the fourth quarter before the Crimson Tide closed on a 21-6 run, but that result did serve as a rallying cry in the weeks that followed.
"I feel like the Ole Miss game really gave us a spark," redshirt junior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said. "We didn't play as well as we wanted to play, and we took that game as motivation to get us where we're at now."
Said junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II: "That humbled us a lot. We learned that everyone has to be on the same page."
The Ole Miss game was Alabama's worst defensive effort of the season, but Florida arrived in Atlanta with plenty of threatening offensive pieces, most notably quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts and the versatile Kadarius Toney. The Crimson Tide built a 35-17 halftime lead, but the Gators climbed back in the game with 29 second-half points.
Florida amassed 462 yards and was 8-of-11 on third-down conversions.
"Against Florida, when we had the opportunity to make a play, we didn't," Golding said. "When the ball was on the ground in those other games, we scooped and scored it. We had three opportunities in the Florida game, but we didn't get it. We had a third-and-17 and we're in an eight-drop zone, and they get it.
"When you keep allowing good teams to move the chains, you're going to kill yourself, and I think that's what happened in that game."
At one point in the SEC championship, CBS cameras caught Golding getting a tongue lashing from head coach Nick Saban. When asked about that Monday, Golding smiled.
"When you invest as much as Coach Saban invests into this program, when something doesn't get executed, you're frustrated," Golding said. "We all are. That's part of it, and that's any job with any boss.
"That is nothing new. That's my dad when I was growing up or my mom. When something doesn't go as it should, obviously there are consequences for it."
A special talent
When receiver Jaylen Waddle was lost to a season-ending injury on the opening play at Tennessee, who knew then that tight end Jahleel Billingsley would assume the role as primary returner for kickoffs? The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore from Chicago leads the Crimson Tide with 66 yards on three kickoff returns.
"I think that's probably the first time that has happened in my career," Saban said Monday. "I don't remember ever having seen it from another team, but Jahleel is kind of a special talent in terms of what he can do. He has the size of a tight end but has wide receiver athleticism."
Dickerson underwent successful surgery Monday for the season-ending knee injury against Florida. ... Saban on Sarkisian winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach: "He's certainly done a phenomenal job for us."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.