Sept. 5, 2011
THE GAME: Alabama will travel to State College, Pa., to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday, September 10, at Beaver Stadium. It will mark the 15th meeting between the two traditional rivals and the 14th time that legendary coach Joe Paterno will have faced the Crimson Tide as head coach. The game will be televised on ABC with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. CT. Brad Nessler will serve as the play-by-play announcer, with Todd Blackledge at his side as the color analyst. The two will be joined by sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Eli Gold and Phil Savage will handle the radio call on the Crimson Tide Sports Network, with Chris Stewart serving as sideline reporter.
HEAD COACH Nick Saban: Alabama head coach Nick Saban (Kent State, 1973) is in his fifth season with the Crimson Tide. Named the school’s 27th head coach on Jan. 3, 2007, Saban has compiled a 39-11 record (44-11 before five vacated wins in 2007) at Alabama while leading the Tide to two SEC Western Division championships, one conference title and one national championship. Saban holds a career record of 130-53-1 (135-53-1) as a collegiate head coach, while also serving at Toledo, Michigan State and LSU. Saban won his first national championship as head coach of the LSU Tigers in 2003, guiding the Tigers to a 13-1 record that season. Overall, Saban has coached four conference championship teams (1990 Mid-American, 2001 SEC, 2003 SEC and 2009 SEC) and 11 of his 14 teams have played in postseason bowl games with the Tide appearing in a bowl game each year under Saban’s direction. Saban is also the only active coach to win two BCS National Championships and the first to accomplish the feat at two different schools.
RANKINGS: Alabama opened the 2011 season ranked second in the Associated Press and USA TODAY Coaches’ preseason polls, while Penn State is receiving votes in the Associated Press poll and is 25th in the USA TODAY Coaches’ poll.
PENN STATE SERIES: Alabama and Penn State continue one of the great rivalries in college football on Saturday as the traditional powers face off in Beaver Stadium. It will be the 15th renewal of the series, and second in as many years. The Crimson Tide leads the series 9-5, including a slight 3-2 edge over the Nittany Lions in State College. This will be the Tide’s first appearance in Beaver Stadium since the 1989 season, when Alabama earned a 17-16 victory. Penn State head coach Joe Paterno has been on the sidelines for all 14 meetings between the two schools, the first coming in the 1959 Liberty Bowl while Paterno was still a Nittany Lion assistant coach. The Tide captured the 1978 national championship with a victory over the Nittany Lions in the Sugar Bowl.
NEXT GAME: Alabama returns home to face the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday, September 17, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This will be the fourth time the teams have met, all of them having occured in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide leads the series 3-0 and last faced off against the Mean Green in 2009, earning a 53-7 victory. Kickoff for the game is set for 6:30 p.m. CT on the Fox Sports Network.
COACHING STAFF PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: The Alabama coaching staff recognized players of the week each regular-season game in 2011. Below is a game-by-game look at the Tide’s players of the week winners.
UA PLAYERS OF THE WEEK (recognized by coaches)
Offense: Barrett Jones, Eddie Lacy
Defense: Courtney Upshaw, DeQuan Menzie
Specialists: Marquis Maze, Will Lowery, Trey Depriest, Vinnie Sunseri
FIRST-TIME STARTERS: Three Alabama players made their first starts for the Crimson Tide in its season opener against Kent State including quarterback AJ McCarron, wide receiver DeAndrew White and defensive end Jesse Williams.
NEWCOMER PRESENCE IN SEASON OPENER: The Crimson Tide saw 18 of its newcomers – nine redshirt freshmen, seven true freshmen and two junior college transfers – make an appearance in its 2011 season opener against Kent State. Among the nine redshirt freshmen were TE Harrison Jones, LB Adrian Hubbard, DL Brandon Ivory, OL Chad Lindsay, OL Austin Shepherd, QB Phillip Sims, RB Blake Sims, TE Brian Vogler and WR DeAndrew White. Alabama’s seven true freshmen included S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, LB Trey Depriest, LB Xzavier Dickson, WR Christion Jones, OL Cyrus Kouandjio, DL Jeoffrey Pagan and DB Vinnie Sunseri. DL Quinton Dial and DL Jesse Williams, who are both junior college transfers, also made an appearance in the season opener.
PRESEASON ALL-AMERICANS: The Crimson Tide has had eight players earn preseason All-America accolades from various publications leading up to the start of the 2011 campaign. The list includes Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Barrett Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Robert Lester, Trent Richardson, Courtney Upshaw and William Vlachos. Barron was a first-team selection by Phil Steele, Athlon Sports, Lindy’s, Sporting News and Playboy, while Hightower earned first-team honors from Lindy’s, second-team recognition from Phil Steele and third-team distinction from Athlon Sports. Jones was a first-team choice from Phil Steele, Athlon Sports, Lindy’s and Sporting News. Kirkpatrick joined Hightower on the Athlon Sports Third-Team, while Lester made his way to the second team of Phil Steele and Lindy’s. Richardson was a first-team pick on Phil Steele and Playboy and a second-team choice by Athlon Sports, Lindy’s and Sporting News. Upshaw was named to Phil Steele’s Third-Team list as was Vlachos, who also earned third-team recognition from Athlon Sports.
TIDE PLAYERS EARN EARLY ACCOLADES: Twelve Alabama players have been named to 14 different preseason awards watch lists heading into the 2011 season. The players have been recognized before the start of the 2011 season as potentially the top players at their position nationally. Trent Richardson leads the way for the Tide appearing on five of the 14 lists, while Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw were named to four of the lists. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Robert Lester, Marquis Maze and William Vlachos appeared on three difference lists, and Darius Hanks and Barrett Jones on two. Rounding out the preseason watch nods were Nico Johnson and Michael Williams, making one list apiece. Barron, Hightower, Kirkpatrick and Upshaw are all on the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player) and are joined by Lester on the Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year) list. Richardson has been named to many of the overall player and running back award watch list that have been announced, including the Doak Walker Award (best running back), the Maxwell Award (most outstanding player) and the Walter Camp Award (player of the year). Lester also appears on the Walter Camp Award list with Richardson.
TWO TIDE PLAYERS NAMED PLAYBOY ALL-AMERICANS: Alabama landed two players on the 2011 Playboy Magazine annual preseason College Football All-America Team. Mark Barron was selected at safety and Trent Richardson at running back. Alabama has had eight Playboy All-Americans in the last four years after Andre Smith was chosen in 2008, Rolando McClain and Javier Arenas were selected in 2009 and Julio Jones and Mark Ingram in 2010.
ALABAMA HAS RECORD NUMBER OF PRESEASON ALL-SEC SELECTIONS: The Tide placed a total of 16 players on the Preseason All-SEC team, which is the most in any year in the league. In addition, Alabama’s nine first-team selections is the highest for any team in a single season beating out the previous high of eight that was set by Alabama in 2010 and Florida in 2009.
11TH ANNUAL HERBIE AWARDS: ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit unveiled his annual “Herbie Awards” prior to the start of the 2011 season. Alabama was well represented, garnering six different accolades. Junior Trent Richardson was named as one of the best running backs while the Tide linebackers were mentioned as one of the best position units in college football. Sophomore linebacker C.J. Mosley was mentioned as a “Name You’ll Know by October” while head coach Nick Saban was named as one of the best defensive minds in the sport. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart made the list of “See You Next Year: College Head Coaches in 2012”. Senior safety Mark Barron was named to the All-Uni Team. Herbstreit also predicted that Alabama will defeat South Carolina to earn the SEC Championship.
NFL DRAFT: The Crimson Tide saw five UA players selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, including first-round picks Marcell Dareus (third overall to the Buffalo Bills), Julio Jones (sixth overall to the Atlanta Falcons), James Carpenter (25th overall to the Seattle Seahawks) and Mark Ingram (28th overall to the New Orleans Saints). Greg McElroy rounded out the Alabama draft picks by being selected in the seventh round (208th overall) by the New York Jets.
TOUGH SLATE: Alabama boasts one of the most difficult schedules in the nation with six games against teams ranked in the USA TODAY Coaches’ Poll top 25. The Tide will face No. 25 Penn State on Sept. 10 and host No. 14 Arkansas on Sept. 24. Alabama is also slated to take on No. 23 Florida (Oct. 1), No. 4 LSU (Nov. 5), No. 20 Mississippi State (Nov. 12) and No. 19 Auburn (Nov. 26).
BEATING THE BEST: Alabama is 14-5 against the Associated Press Top 25 over the past three seasons and 9-3 against AP top 10 teams. UA had reeled off nine straight wins against top 25 teams until the loss at South Carolina. The Crimson Tide’s 31-6 win over No. 7 Florida on October 2, was the Tide’s second straight win over a top 10 team and third top 25 victory in a four-week span. Alabama went 5-3 against the AP Top 25 last season.
ALABAMA HAS SECOND MOST WINS SINCE 2008: Alabama has won 37 games dating back to the start of the 2008 season, which is tied for the second most in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Crimson Tide won 12 games in 2008, followed that with a perfect 14-0 record in 2009 and a 10-3 mark in 2010. Alabama is two wins back of Boise State, with 39 wins. The Crimson Tide has the most victories of any team that plays in a BCS conference.
32 NATIONAL TV GAMES IN LAST 42 GAMES: With the Capital One Bowl being broadcast on ESPN, it marked the 32nd nationally televised game since the start of the 2008 season for the Crimson Tide. In 2010, Alabama had five games on CBS, three games on ESPN, two games on ESPN2, one on ABC and one on ESPNU. In 2009, UA played two games on ABC, including the BCS National Championship Game, and six games on CBS while ESPN broadcast two more Crimson Tide games. In 2008, Alabama had 10 of its 14 games broadcast nationally, including five games on CBS, three games on ESPN, one on ABC and one on FOX.
TIDE 39-3 UNDER SABAN WHEN LEADING AT THE HALF: The Crimson Tide is 39-3 when leading at halftime under head coach Nick Saban. Alabama had a 28-game winning streak snapped in 2010 against LSU. The first two losses came against LSU with the last loss to Auburn in 2010. In 2007, UA held a 20-17 halftime lead before losing, 41-34, on Nov. 3, 2007, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. In 2010, UA led 10-3 at the half before the Tigers rallied for a 24-20 win at Tiger Stadium. The Tide lost 28-27 to Auburn to close out the 2010 season after leading 24-7 at the half. The Crimson Tide is 3-5 under Saban when trailing at halftime and 2-2 when tied at halftime. The three wins when trailing at the half came in a 34-24 win over No. 7 Virginia Tech on Sept. 5, 2009, in Atlanta; a 24-15 victory over No. 9 LSU on Nov. 7, 2009; and a 24-20 win at Arkansas on Sept. 25, 2010 . Alabama’s two wins when tied at halftime came at LSU on Nov. 8, 2008, (a 27-21 victory) and at Auburn with a 26-21 win on Nov. 27, 2009.
ALABAMA DEGREES: Alabama’s success on the field over the past three seasons under the direction of head coach Nick Saban has also coincided with the Crimson Tide’s success in the classroom. The 2011 Crimson Tide begins the season with 11 players that already have degrees in hand, including Hardie Buck (Aug. 2011), Josh Chapman (May 2011), Nick Gentry (Dec. 2010), Brandon Gibson (Dec. 2010), Barrett Jones (Aug. 2011), Phelon Jones (May 2011), Alfred McCullough (May 2011), Morgan Ogilvie (Aug. 2011), Chris Underwood (May 2011), William Vlachos (May 2011) and Alex Watkins (Dec. 2010). Over the past four seasons (2008-11) the Crimson Tide has seen 42 players compete for the Crimson Tide after having already graduated.
FRESHMAN ACADEMICS: Alabama’s 2010 freshman class did more than just excel on the football field, the Crimson Tide placed 11 rookies on the 2011 SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll, by far the highest total in the SEC - more than double the second-place team. Mississippi State was second with five, while Auburn, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee each had four. Florida and Georgia placed three representatives on the list apiece, and Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt all had two members of the honor roll, respectively. Mississippi rounded out the list with one. Alabama freshmen that made the list include: Cade Foster, Jalston Fowler, Corey Grant, Adrian Hubbard, Harrison Jones, Arie Kouandjio, C.J. Mosley, Nick Perry, Brian Vogler, DeAndrew White and Jay Williams. The 2009 freshman class was equally impressive placing 12 on the list, which again was more than double the next-highest SEC institution.
RETURNING SUCCESS: Alabama returns 19 starters and 51 lettermen from its 2010 squad that went 10-3, finishing the season ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll and 11th in the USA TODAY Coaches’ poll. Much of last year’s preseason talk was about the Tide’s offense, whereas this year it has been much about the defense. Highlighting the list of returnees in the defensive backfield is senior All-American Mark Barron and junior All-American Robert Lester. Barron was the team’s leader in total tackles with 75, while Lester led Alabama in interceptions with eight. Among the Tide’s returnees up front is senior Courtney Upshaw and junior Dont’a Hightower, who combined for 121 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, seven sacks and five pass breakups. Upshaw was first on the team in tackles for loss with 14.5 and ranked fifth in the SEC with his seven sacks. As a unit, Alabama’s defense finished the 2010 season ranked third nationally in scoring defense (13.54 ppg), fifth in total defense (286.38) and sixth in pass efficiency defense (103.54).
SABAN AMONG THE BEST: Head coach Nick Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa led to the Crimson Tide’s rapid rise up the national rankings. That success in such a short period of time impacted the Tide’s record book. Saban produced the largest win increase from year one to year two in school history as Alabama went from seven wins in 2007 to 12 wins in 2008. He is one of two coaches (with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops) in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to have coached 10 years and never suffered through a losing season. Saban achieved more firsts in 2009 with back-to-back 10-win seasons and his first undefeated campaign. He followed that up with another 10-win season in 2011. Saban ranks sixth in winning percentage (70.8 percent) among active coaches who have coached at least 10 years of FBS football. He is also the only active coach, and one of only two coaches (with former Florida head coach Urban Meyer) to win two BCS National Championships and the first to accomplish the feat at two different schools.
NEW HIRES: The Alabama football staff features three new assistants in 2011 with the addition of Mike Groh (wide receivers and recruiting coordinator), Chris Rumph (defensive line) and Jeff Stoutland (offensive line). Groh, a former quarterback at Virginia, joins the Crimson Tide after most recently serving as quarterbacks coach at Louisville. Rumph, a four-year letterman at South Carolina, spent the last five seasons as the defensive ends coach at Clemson, while Stoutland served as Miami’s offensive line coach from 2007-10.
TOP AIDES: Alabama’s coaching staff was ranked No. 1 in the Yahoo! Sports/Rivals.com Top 10 Football Coaching Staffs list. Following the Tide was Oklahoma, TCU, Virginia Tech, Oregon, Iowa, South Carolina, Penn State, Boise State and Wisconsin. Alabama’s leadership on the sidelines and in the booth has a wealth of knowledge across all levels of football. The nine-man staff features a former head coach at the Bowl Subdivision level in Bobby Williams (Michigan State). The staff also has five coaches that have spent time as assistant coaches in the NFL in Mike Groh (Jets), Jim McElwain (Raiders), Kirby Smart (Dolphins), Sal Sunseri (Panthers) and Bobby Williams (Lions and Dolphins).
SUNSERI FAMILY OF FOOTBALL: Alabama assistant head coach Sal Sunseri is joined this season by his youngest son Vinnie, who was named one of the Specialists of the Week on Sept. 5, for his six total tackles, four on special teams, against Kent State. The Sunseri family tree now spans to two major college football programs as his eldest son, Tino, enters his junior season at Pittsburgh. Tino will once again take the reins of the Panther offense as he enters his second season as the starting quarterback and was recently named the team captain. Last week against Buffalo, he was 16-for-28 for 179 yards, with no interceptions and one touch down. Sal left his mark on the field as well, earning consensus All-American honors as a senior team captain at Pittsburgh in 1981. In addition, he anchored a Panther defense that led the NCAA in total defense in 1980 and 1981.
CRIMSON TIDE PLAYERS ON NFL ROSTERS: The Alabama football program is well represented in the NFL as it starts the 2011 season with former players and coaches dotting league rosters. The Tide has 46 former players and coaches working in the NFL this season. Charlie Peprah is the only Alabama player on the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. The Crimson Tide has 33 current NFL players. There are 13 former UA players and/or coaches serving as assistant coaches in the NFL this season.
ALABAMA’S TV RECORD: Alabama has compiled a 181-125-4 (.588) all-time record in 310 televised games. This does not include pay-per-view, tape-delayed or closed circuit telecasts.
OVERTIME RECORD: Alabama is 4-7 (.364) all-time in overtime games. In its last overtime game, the Crimson Tide defeated LSU 27-21 at Tiger Stadium on Nov. 8, 2008. Alabama has lost six of its last nine overtime games. The Crimson Tide is 4-6 (.400) in overtime games against SEC teams. Alabama is 2-4 (.333) in overtime home games. The Crimson Tide is 3-4 (.429) in single-overtime games.
SEASON OPENERS: Alabama has compiled a 93-21-3 (.815) all-time record in season openers, and is in the midst of a 10-game winning streak. Dating back to the 1977 season, Alabama is 31-4 in its last 35 season openers and the Tide has posted a 19-2 opening day record since 1991. The 2011 season marks the 13th consecutive year the Tide has opened the season with a non-conference opponent.
COACH SABAN IN SEASON OPENERS: Coach Saban is 13-3 in his collegiate career in season openers, including a 5-0 mark at Alabama. He led Alabama to a 52-6 win over Western Carolina on Sept. 1, 2007, in his inaugural game with the Crimson Tide, a 34-10 win over Clemson in 2008 and a 34-24 victory over Virginia Tech in 2009 with both the 2008 and 2009 games being played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. In 2010, Saban guided Alabama to a 48-3 win over San Jose State in the newly-expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium. This season, he led the Tide to a 48-7 victory against his alma mater, Kent State. Saban won his very first collegiate game on Sept. 8, 1990, as he led Toledo to a 20-14 win over Miami (Ohio). He was 3-2 in season openers at Michigan State and 4-1 in season openers at LSU.
TIDE TO WEAR TWO HELMET DECALS: The Alabama football team will sport more than just crimson on its helmets in 2011. The Crimson Tide will wear a houndstooth pattern decal and a number 77 decal on all of its helmets this season. The houndstooth decal represents the memory of the devastatoin created by the tornado that hit the Tuscaloosa community on April 27 and the 77 decal is in memory of the late Aaron Douglas.
NICK’S KIDS: At Michigan State, head coach Nick Saban and his wife, Terry, started the Nick’s Kids Foundation, which the Sabans have continued in Tuscaloosa. Since their arrival at the University of Alabama, the Sabans have helped raise more than $2 million for “Nick’s Kids” that has been distributed to more than 150 charities and organizations throughout the state of Alabama.
DEFENSE MAKES A STATEMENT: Alabama’s defense entered the season as one of the impressive units on paper in the country and Kirby Smart’s bunch quickly proved they know how to make it translate to the field. The Crimson Tide held Kent State to minus-9 yards rushing and just 90 yards of total offense. The Tide held the Golden Flashes to just six first down (only one rushing first down) and a 63.01 passer efficiency rating that ranks sixth nationally after the first weekend of play. Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense at minus-9 yards per game and is second in total defense (90 yards per game). UA also ranks 13th in pass defense (99 yards per game) and tied for 14th in scoring defense at 7.0 points per game.
DePRIEST MAKES HIS PRESENCE FELT EARLY: True freshman linebacker Trey Depriest started on special teams and saw reserve action at linebacker in his first game in the Crimson and White of the Tide. He led the team in tackles while making his presence felt literally throughout the stadium with multiple bone-jarring hits. He was named the co-SEC Freshman of the Week for his efforts.
THREE AND OUT: Alabama led the nation in defensive three-and-outs in 2009 with 5.61 per game in 2009 and then ranked 10th nationally last season with 4.08 per game. The 2011 season got off to a great start last Saturday as the Crimson Tide forced Kent State to three-and-out on it first six possessions eight of its nine first-half possessions. Overall, the Golden Flashes’ offense was forced into three-and-outs on 11 of its 17 possessions in the game. UA did not surrender a first down until midway through the second quarter and only six for the game, including four on the final two KSU drives of the game with the Tide’s third stringers in the game.
NOWHERE TO RUN: For the second straight game, dating back to the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Michigan State, Alabama held its opponent to negative yards rushing. The Tide limited the Spartans to minus-48 yards in last season’s finale and then held Kent State to minus-9 yards in the 2011 opener. In the last two games, Alabama’s defense has accounted for minus-57 yards rushing on 51 attempts for an -1.11 yards per carry average and no rushing touchdowns. On the other side of that, the Crimson Tide offense has churned out 458 yards on the ground and 11 rushing touchdowns. In Saban’s 55-game tenure at Alabama, the Crimson Tide has limited the opposition to less than 100 rushing yards 33 times, or 60.0 percent of the time.
FIRST DOWN STICK HARD TO FIND: Alabama’s defense also proved very stingy when it came to first downs in the season opener against Kent State, allowing the Golden Flashes to compile just six total first downs and convert just 4-of-20 (20 percent) third downs and 1-of-4 fourth-down conversions (25 percent). The Tide allowed just one rushing first down and a single first down to KSU in the entire first half. In fact, four of the six Kent State first downs came on the Golden Flashes final two drives of the fourth quarter. The six first downs allowed are the second fewest in the Nick Saban era (2007-present) – UA gave up just five to Chattanooga in 2009. The Crimson Tide has held opponents to nine first down or less eight times dating back to the start of the 2008 season.
YARDS HARD TO COME BY: For the 14th time during Nick Saban’s last 42-games at the Capstone, the Crimson Tide defense held the opposing offense to less than 200 yards of total offense. The 90 yards against Kent State also marked the second time a Saban defense has limited its opponent to less than 100 yards of total offense. Alabama’s best came in 2009 when they held Chattanooga to just 84 yards of total offense. The Tide held opponents under 200 yards three times in 2010, four times in 2009 and six times in 2008. In Saban’s entire 55-game tenure at Alabama, the Crimson Tide has limited the opposition to less than 300 yards of total offense 30 times, or 54.5 percent of the time.
GROUND DEFENSE: Keeping the opposing running back under 100 yards is nothing new for the Crimson Tide. Alabama has surrendered just nine individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season (74 games), a mark that ranks second nationally behind Boston College (8). Since head coach Nick Saban arrived in 2007 (54 games), Alabama has allowed four players to rush for 100 yards in a game: Tennessee’s Tauren Poole (117 yards), Mississippi’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis (131 yards), Houston’s Anthony Alridge (100 yards) and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden (195 yards).
Fewest 100-yard Rushers Allowed (FBS teams since 2005)
1. Boston College - 8
2. ALABAMA - 9
3. Ohio State - 10
4. Boise State - 12
5. Penn State - 17
TOUGH SLEDDING ON THE GROUND: Alabama has surrendered the second-fewest rushing touchdowns in the nation since the start of the 2005 season, giving up only 47. Ohio State leads the nation allowing 46 during that time span. Since head coach Nick Saban arrived in 2007, the Crimson Tide has given up 29 rushing touchdowns while OSU has allowed 26. In 2010, Alabama surrendered just six rushing touchdowns in 13 games and has yet to give one up in 2011.
RETURNING CAPTAINS: Senior safety Mark Barron and junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower are the third set of captains to return to the position for a second season since Alabama first began naming multiple team captains in 1956. In 2002, both Jarret Johnson and Tyler Watts were second-year leaders, while Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Johnson repeated in 2008.
HIGHTOWER RETURNS: Junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower returns for his fourth season at the Capstone as the man in the middle of Alabama’s complex defensive scheme. Hightower received a medical redshirt for the 2009 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth game of the season against Arkansas. An amazingly quick recovery returned him to the practice field with full contact during spring drills. Hightower split time between the Mike and Will linebacker spots in 2010 while also seeing time with his hand in the dirt on passing downs to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills. The Lewisburg, Tenn., native has 149 career tackles with 10.0 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries. Hightower finished second on the team in 2010 with 69 tackles, three pass breakups and nine quarterback hurries in 2010.
BARRON RETURNS: Senior safety Mark Barron is one of the most prominent safeties in the nation. The Mobile, Ala., native is a two-time first-team All-SEC player while garnering third-team All-America honors in 2009 and first-team All-America recognition in 2010. He has 169 career tackles and has ranked second and first, respectively, among Crimson Tide players in total stops the past two seasons. Barron has 24 pass breakups over the past two seasons and 10 interceptions. In 2010, Barron was the leader of the Tide secondary. He finished as the Tide’s top tackler 75 stops while missing the bowl game with a torn pectoral muscle. He also recorded three interceptions, two sacks (-15), 3.0 tackles for loss (-19), one forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and six pass breakups.
MAZE MAKES A STATEMENT: Senior wide receiver/return specialist Marquis Maze is one of the key components in replacing All-America wide receiver Julio Jones. And Maze showed exactly what he is capable of in the 2011 season opener against Kent State. The senior enjoyed a big day against the Golden Flashes, setting personal single-game bests in receiving and returns. His 27-yard return of a punt set up the Crimson Tide at the KSU 36-yard line from where the Tide marched to its first touchdown of the season. Maze scored Alabama’s second touchdown to conclude the Tide’s second offensive possession, grabbing a pass from AJ McCarron for a 24-yard touchdown catch for a 14-0 lead. For the game, Maze returned eight punts for 96 yards (12-yard average), returned a kickoff for 39 yards, and caught eight passes for 118 yards for a total of 253 all-purpose yards. The receiving totals are single-game highs for Maze at Alabama, exceeding his prior high of six catches against LSU in 2009 and 96 yards against Florida in 2009.
Barrett Jones DOES IT ALL ON CRIMSON TIDE OFFENSIVE LINE: Junior All-American Barrett Jones has started at right guard the past two seasons, but added a few responsibilities to his résumé this spring and fall. He started his first career game at left tackle against Kent State while also seeing snaps at left guard and center. A candidate for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, Jones has now started 26 games at the Capstone.
O-LINE EXPERIENCE A KEY: Alabama enters Saturday’s game with one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation. The Crimson Tide return four starters from last year’s unit and a combined 81 careers starts. Center William Vlachos leads the line with 28 career starts, making every start dating back to the 2009 season opener. Tackle/guard Barrett Jones is close behind with 26 starts, missing only two games late last season (Georgia State & Auburn) with a sprained ankle. Chance Warmack has started the last 14 games at left guard and D.J. Fluker started nine games last season and the opener in 2011 at right tackle. Anthony Steen is the newcomer to the group with just three starts, including the 2011 opener against Kent State and two games last season in place of an injured Jones.
NEW QUARTERBACKS MAKING STARTS IN THE FBS: Alabama is one of 27 FBS schools that had a quarterback making his first start during the 2011 season. In addition to Alabama, two other SEC programs will placed a newcomer at the QB position including Auburn and Mississippi.
100-YARD RUSHERS AND RECEIVERS: Twenty-six times in 25 different games Alabama has had rushers exceed 100 yards and the Tide has had 14 100-yard receivers in 14 games since head coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. Former running back Mark Ingram recorded 12 100-yard rushing games during his career, while junior Trent Richardson has four 100-yard rushing efforts and sophomore Eddie Lacy has produced one. Under Saban, Alabama has gone 25-1 in those 26 games that produced a 100-yard rusher. Trent Richardson (1) is the only current player with a 100-yard receiving game. The Tennessee game on Oct. 23, 2010, marked the sixth time under Saban that Alabama has had a 100-yard rusher and receiver in the same game.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
MAZE SETS PUNT RETURN RECORD: Senior wide receiver and return specialist Marquis Maze totaled a career-best 253 all-purpose yards vs. Kent State while also leading all receivers with 118 yards on a career-best eight catches. But he etched his name in the Alabama record book with a game-high tying eight punt returns for 96 yards. The 96 yards was also the seventh-most in a single game in UA history. Maze also added one kickoff return for 39 yards.
THE ALABAMA/PENN STATE SERIES: The Alabama/Penn State rivalry has a storied history in the annuals of college football. On Saturday the rivalry is renewed in State College for the first time since 1989 and just the second time since 1990. Alabama beat Penn State 24-3 last season in Tuscaloosa. It will be the 15th renewal of a series the Crimson Tide lead 9-5. UA boasts a 3-2 edge in the series in State College, collecting wins in 1981 (31-6), 1987 (24-13 and 1989 (17-16). PSU head coach Joe Paterno has been on the sidelines for all 14 meetings between the two schools, the first coming in the 1959 Liberty Bowl while Paterno was still a Nittany Lion assistant coach. Paterno, who took over as the Nittany Lions head coach in 1966, is 4-9 as the Penn State head coach against Alabama. Crimson Tide legendary head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant faced the Nittany Lions five times during his tenure in Tuscaloosa, posting a 4-1 record. The biggest of those wins for Bryant earned his 1978 team a national championship with a 14-7 victory over PSU in the 1979 Sugar Bowl.
ALABAMA VS. THE BIG TEN: The Crimson Tide have a brief, but storied history against the current Big Ten field, with its most popular matchup being against the Nittany Lions. Alabama owns a 15-9 (.625) record against the programs that currently make up the Big Ten Conference. The Tide has only played seven games against the Big Ten in the past 20 years, with five of those match ups coming in bowl games and two last season. Alabama defeated Penn State in the regular season and then dismantled co-Big 10 Champion Michigan State 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl. Minnesota defeated Alabama 20-16 in the 2004 Music City Bowl, which was the last meeting of a Big 10 opponent before last season. Before last season’s Penn State matchup, the Crimson Tide’s last regular season game against the Big Ten came on Oct. 27, 1990, when Penn State beat Alabama 9-0 in Tuscaloosa.
SABAN VS. THE BIG TEN: While Alabama has a surprising brief history against the Big Ten, head coach Nick Saban knows the conference quite well having played 44 games against Big Ten opponents, nearly all of those coming during his five year tenure at Michigan State. Saban has compiled a 26-17-1 (.602) record against Big Ten opponents. Since leaving Michigan State Saban has only faced a Big Ten opponent twice (both at LSU), defeating Illinois 47-34 in the 2002 Sugar Bowl and losing to Iowa 30-25 in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, Saban’s last game with the Tigers. Saban’s last regular season game against a Big Ten team came in his last game at Michigan State in 1999, a 35-28 win over Penn State.
SABAN VS. PENN STATE: While at Michigan State, Saban compiled a 2-3 (.400) record against the Nittany Lions of Penn State, an impressive mark considering Michigan State has only beaten Penn State a total of four times program history. Saban then evened his career record (3-3) against PSU last season with a 24-3 victory in Tuscaloosa. Saban’s first two losses against Penn State were by a combined seven points, against a team ranked 14th in 1995 and seventh in 1996. One of the first wins that put Saban on the proverbial coaching map was his Spartans’ 49-14 slashing of then-No. 4 ranked Penn State on Nov. 29, 1997. Saban would go on to claim the Land Grant Trophy one final time, beating Penn State 35-28 on Nov. 20, 1999, his last game as head coach at Michigan State.
A LOOK AT THE SERIES: Here’s a quick look from Bamaonline.com’s Chris Walsh (for the Alabama/Penn State game program) at each game from the Alabama/Penn State series:
December 19, 1959 - Penn State 7, Alabama 0: The Liberty Bowl was the start of Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s epic bowl streak, but Coach Rip Engle’s fake field goal resulted in a touchdown as time expired in the first half for the only points. “We weren’t a real strong team, but that team would hit you,” Bryant later said. “We had the makings of something good a couple of years later and it was important for them to get started in the bowl business.” Two years later, Bryant won his first national title.
December 31, 1975 - Alabama 13, Penn State 6: The first meeting between Paterno and Bryant occurred in the Sugar Bowl, where quarterback Richard Todd completed 10 of 12 passes for 210 yards to be named the game’s most valuable player despite slicing open his middle finger on Christmas Day. “I don’t throw a spiral when I have a good hand,” Todd said afterward. “It didn’t hurt any.”
January 1, 1979 - Alabama 14, Penn State 7: Alabama pulled out the one win that has counted the most in the series with the national championship on the line in the 1979 Sugar Bowl. The most famous goal-line stand in Alabama football history was the deciding factor in this game. Penn State took advantage of a misdirected pitchout to setup a third-and-goal at the Alabama 1 in the fourth quarter. Defensive back Don McNeal made the first stop roughly a foot away from the end zone and when Nittany Lions quarterback Chuck Fusina walked up to see how far the ball was from the goal line defensive tackle Marty Lyons supposedly warned him: “You’d better pass.” Instead, Joe Paterno called Mike Guman’s name for a run up the middle, where injured David Hannah, Byron Braggs and Lyons held him up to set up Krauss’ bone-jarring collision that’s still being talked about in Tuscaloosa.
November 14, 1981 - Alabama 31, Penn State 16: Another goal-line stand highlighted Alabama’s first trip to Happy Valley, where the No. 5 Nittany Lions had their national title hopes dashed. Bryant enjoyed career victory No. 314, which tied him with Amos Alonzo Stagg atop the all-time Division I-A coaching list, and he set the new mark two weeks later against Auburn.
October 9, 1982, Alabama 42, Penn State 21: Jeremiah Castille’s interception of a Todd Blackledge pass sparked the Tide to 18 fourth-quarter points. “I never thought we’d go unbeaten with the schedule we have,” Paterno was quoted as saying. “I figured some place down the line, someone would beat us — if not here, it might have been later … but this team still has a lot of time to prove itself.” He was right as the Nittany Lions didn’t lose again and beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to capture their first national championship.
October 8, 1983 - Penn State 34, Alabama 28: For most of three quarters the game wasn’t close, with Alabama making key mistakes to fall behind 34-7. But Walter Lewis, who finished 25-of-35 for 336 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, keyed a furious rally by completing 15 of his 18 final pass attempts. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, one of the those incompletions was a controversial throw to Gothard, who despite being wide open in the end zone was ruled out-of-bounds, nullifying what could have the game-winning score. Instead, on the subsequent snap tailback Kerry Goode ran a sweep from the 2 as time expired only to be stopped short.
October 13, 1984 - Alabama 6, Penn State 0: The unranked Crimson Tide started 13 sophomores and freshmen, but in contrast to Perkins’ inaugural game in the series this one came down to the kickers with Vann Tiffin making a school-record 53-yard field goal (he topped a year later against Texas A&M, 57). Penn State’s Nick Gancitano missed from 51 and 42 yards in the first half and the Nittany Lions never got past the Alabama 45 again.
October 12, 1985 - Penn State 19, Alabama 17: After four field goals by Massimo Manca, No. 8 Penn State finally reached the end zone after a 29-yard reveres by Michael Timpson set up Matt Knizner’s 11-yard pass to tight end Brian Siverling. Quarterback Mike Shula countered with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Thornton Chandler with 14 seconds left, but No. 10 Alabama couldn’t recover the on-sides kick. “It was the kind of game you go somewhere like Penn State or Alabama to play,” said Paterno, who celebrated his 20th year coaching but lost the national title game to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
October 25, 1986 - Penn State 23, Alabama 3: The victory over the No. 2 Crimson Tide launched Penn State to its second national championship. Alabama was limited to 44 rushing yards after averaging 266, Shula was sacked five times and the Nittany Lions took advantage of two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
September 12, 1987 - Alabama 24, Penn State 13: It was the first big win for Bill Curry, on the road against the reigning national champions. Aided by a 73-yard touchdown run Bobby Humphrey tallied 220 rushing yards and also threw his first pass for a 57-yard gain.
October 22, 1988 - Alabama 8, Penn State 3: Remembered as one of the greatest games played at Legion Field, linebacker Derrick Thomas was credited with eight tackles, three sacks and a safety and forced Tony Sacca to throw his final attempt early, which Lee Ozmint intercepted. Announcer Brent Musburger said of Thomas, it “was the most dominating performance I have ever seen by a college player.”
October 28, 1989 - Alabama 17, Penn State 16: A high snap gave defensive lineman Thomas Rayam a chance to block Ray Tarasi’s last-second 17-yard field-goal attempt to preserve Alabama’s victory. Despite having four passes intercepted, the Tide’s winning touchdown was on a 12-yard run by Siran Stacy.
October 27, 1990 - Penn State 9, Alabama 0: The Crimson Tide had averaged 204.3 rushing yards per game but finished with just six against the Nittany Lions. Penn State had five interceptions and one fumble recovery as the 10-year series was discontinued. Gene Stallings lost only one more game that season, to Louisville in the Fiesta Bowl, and one game the two subsequent seasons combined en route to the 1992 national title.
September 11, 2010 - Alabama 24, Penn State 3: Alabama controlled this contest from the onset en route to a comfortable 24-3 win in front of 101,821 fans at Bryant Denny Stadium. Trent Richardson started for in injured Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and totaled 144 yards rushing with a touchdown while compiling 207 all-purpose yards. Quarterback Greg McElroy as an efficient 16-of-24 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns as the Crimson Tide outgained Penn State 409 yards to 283.