TUSCALOOSA — Alabama beat the Tennessee Volunteers 52-24 for the 15th straight time, but a healthy amount of Crimson Tide fans probably wish Pete Golding would volunteer to quit.
Golding is the Crimson Tide's defensive coordinator. This is his third season on the job, although he was co-defensive coordinator for a year before that.
If anything goes wrong for Alabama — anything at all — Golding is the social media whipping boy.
On Saturday, we learned that:
—Golding shouldn't be coaching a pee wee team.
—Golding is the dumbest person on campus.
—Fire Golding to the sun.
—Fire Golding to the moon.
—Fire Golding into the ocean.
—Golding is still the worst college football coach of all time.
—Alabama's kryptonite is Golding.
One fan slyly suggested the next defensive coordinator should be Gov. Kay Ivey, who was at the game because it was Alabama's homecoming. Call me a skeptic, but Meemaw would be even worse at coordinating a defense than she is at coordinating a gas tax.
Is the Alabama defense perfect?
Of course not.
Is it national championship level?
Should Nick Saban have spent halftime firing Golding into the sun?
No, of course not.
This was a winning effort. Alabama still got to smoke cigars after beating Tennessee, per tradition, and the defense deserves its share of credit for that. (After this one ended, cigar smoke permeated Bryant-Denny Stadium so thoroughly we could smell it in the press box.)
The days of planning a game around your defense are gone. Offensive players are coming into college football with greater and more versatile skills. Freshmen quarterbacks are arriving with more knowledge than NFL veterans had 25 years ago.
Defenses have to account for so much more than they ever had, as teams put more and more resources into building their offenses. What the defense did Saturday wouldn't have been a winning effort in 1991, but it was without a doubt in 2021.
Alabama's defensive coaches reacted to what Tennessee did, which is why the Tide looked more effective as the game went along. The Tide anticipated Tennessee would run more, and when Alabama made the switch, the Vols found less success moving the ball.
If you want to make a case against Golding, it's there, certainly. The safeties are struggling. At times they look lost, and that's a surprise considering Alabama had a good bit of experience returning. The defensive backs as a whole struggled.
Tennessee got a trio of cheap, deep plays Saturday, covering 39, 57 and 70 yards. Two went for touchdowns, while another set up a touchdown.
All three were breakdowns. In addition, the 57-yarder never would've happened if a bonehead Alabama special teams player hadn't run into the UT punter on fourth-and-23. On the 70-yarder, the Tide was looking to the sideline for the defensive call, and the Vols went fast, getting a quick touchdown.
Otherwise, Alabama's defense held up amazingly well. Those three big plays combined for 166 yards. Combined for the rest of the game, the Vols otherwise had 180 yards.
They faced third down 13 times and converted only twice. As Saban said afterward, Tennessee never sustained a drive.
At one point after Twitter had booted Golding off the continent, Alabama limited UT to three-and-out on five straight possessions.
When the Vols blocked a punt (is that Golding's fault, too?), UT got the ball 15 yards from the end zone. Alabama didn't allow a first down, and the Vols managed only a field goal.
The safeties are a concern, certainly, but if you cheer for Alabama, the big question isn't about Golding but whether this team can win a national title.
Even eight games into the season, it's too soon to say.
In the last half of 2017, Alabama didn't look much like a national championship team but won one anyway. In 2018, Alabama looked so dominant that the playoffs seemed nothing more than a formality. Clemson respectfully disagreed.
Alabama will be in the hunt, and Golding doesn't deserve an all-expense paid trip to the sun, moon or ocean.