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Alabama Football Notebook: Defense and Special Teams



Sept. 23, 2009

ALABAMA NOTEBOOK:  The latest installment of the Alabama Football Notebook takes at look at the Crimson Tide’s defense and special teams heading into Saturday’s SEC opener with Arkansas. The UA defense and special teams are highlighted each Wednesday on

DOMINANT ‘D’: Alabama returned nine starters from a 2008 defense that finished third nationally in total defense, allowing just 263.5 yards per game. The 2009 unit is out to an outstanding start, as well, allowing a total of 185.3 yards per game in the first three outings of 2009 to rank third nationally. Alabama followed up an impressive debut against Virginia Tech with a stellar performance against Florida International and North Texas. Alabama held Tech to 155 total yards (64 rushing, 91 passing) and 11 first downs while limiting Tech to 2-of-12 on third down conversions and racking up five sacks. Against FIU, Alabama held the Panthers to 214 total yards, including only one yard rushing (1 rushing, 213 passing) and 13 first downs while North Texas could only manage 187 yards of offense and 61 yards rushing. In 2008, Alabama finished second nationally in rushing defense, surrendering 74.14 yards per game. Alabama ranks second through three games this season, allowing 42.0 yards per game.

STIFLING DEFENSE PUTTING UP IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS: Alabama’s defense over the past 17 games – or two seasons – has developed a reputation for its toughness and talent. That reputation has been verified by the stat sheet. The Crimson Tide has held 15 teams under 100 yards rushing over the past 17 games as only LSU and Florida in 2008 were able to crack the 100-yard barrier as a team. In 2009, no team has had more than 64 yards rushing. The Tide has surrendered just 1,164 yards on the ground in the last 17 games, an average of 68.5 yards per game. Also, no individual running back has cracked the 100-yard mark since Mississippi’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis went for 131 on Oct. 13, 2007, a span of 22 games. The Alabama defense has also held opponents under 200 yards of total offense in eight of the last 17 games, including a 155-yard effort by Virginia Tech and a 187-yard showing by North Texas in 2009. The sub-200-yard games in that span: Clemson (188), Western Kentucky (158), Tennessee (173), Arkansas State (158), Mississippi State (167), Auburn (170), Virginia Tech (155) and North Texas (187).

DEFENSE TOUGH ON THIRD DOWN: The Crimson Tide defense has been strong on third down through three games in 2009, holding Virginia Tech to just two conversions on 12 third down attempts (16.7 percent).  Florida International was just 7 for 17 (41.1%) on third down while North Texas could only muster a success rate of 28.5 percent (4 for 14). That continues a trend for the Crimson Tide after UA finished third nationally in third down conversion defense in 2008, holding opponents to a 28.14 percent (56 of 199) conversion rate.

GETTING INTO THE BACKFIELD: Pressure in the backfield was an area of emphasis for the Alabama defense in 2009 and the hard work in the off season has reaped results thus far with 10 sacks for 76 yards in losses through three games and 24 tackles for loss for 106 yards. The Crimson Tide has had five sacks in each of the first two games of the 2009 season, which is the most since also recording five against Middle Tennessee state on Sept. 3, 2005. Alabama’s has 10 sacks this season which ranks 11th nationally at 3.33 sacks per game. Sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus leads the Crimson Tide with 3.5 (-25) sacks to rank tied for 13th nationally and second in the SEC, while junior linebacker Rolando McClain has two sacks (-19). The Crimson Tide’s 24 tackles for loss is second in the SEC and ranks tied for 14th nationally. Dont’a Hightower leads the team and ranks fourth in the SEC with 1.33 tackles for loss per game (4.0 total).

FORCING TURNOVERS: Alabama has forced 52 turnovers in the first 30 games under head coach Nick Saban, an average of 1.73 per game. The Crimson Tide has forced three turnovers in the first three games this season, after forcing four turnovers at this time last year. Alabama forced 24 turnovers in 2007 for a plus-4 turnover ratio. Last year, Alabama recorded 25 turnovers and ended the season with a plus-6 turnover margin. Alabama has recorded at least one turnover in 25 of the 30 games under Saban. The Crimson Tide is 19-6 under Saban when they have at least one turnover. Alabama is 3-2 in games without a turnover over the last three seasons.

DAREUS MAKES A NAME FOR HIMSELF: Following an exceptional fall camp, sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus has started the 2009 season in dominant fashion. He had a breakout game in the season opener against Virginia Tech and then another excellent performance against Florida International. Against Tech, Dareus had two total tackles, including 1.5 sacks, as he harassed Tech signal-caller Tyrod Taylor into 9-of-20 passing for just 91 yards. He followed that up with a four-tackle outing against FIU during which he posted two sacks for 17 yards in losses. Dareus added one tackle in a blowout win over North Texas.

ARENAS AVERAGES 30 YARDS ON RETURNS: Special teams’ specialist, Javier Arenas posted 151 total return yards in the win over North Texas. He had a 61-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that was one yard shy of his career best and also accounted for 90 yards on four punt returns. All four of his punt returns led to UA touchdowns against UNT while his kickoff return resulted in a field goal. He currently ranks eighth nationally and leads the SEC in returning punts, averaging 20.55 yards per return. Arenas is also 26th nationally and fifth in the SEC in kickoff returns at 28.20.

ARENAS BREAKING SPECIAL TEAMS RECORDS: Javier Arenas is at or near the top of almost all of the Crimson Tide’s punt return records. He is a preseason Playboy All-American as a return specialist and a first-team All-SEC selection at cornerback. He is one of the most dangerous return men in the country and Alabama’s career leader in punt return yards in a game, season and career as well as touchdowns. He is the active NCAA leader in career punt returns for touchdowns and punt return yards in a game. Arenas’ 14.28 career yards per punt return also ranks first on the Alabama career chart, just ahead of Harry Gilmer. His six career punt returns for touchdowns also ties the SEC record.

TIFFIN MOVES PAST DAD ON UA’S CAREER FIELD GOALS LIST: Senior place-kicker Leigh Tiffin converted both field goal attempts (35, 20) against North Texas to give him 61 career field goals, third all-time at Alabama. He surpassed his father, Van Tiffin (59 from 1983-86), on the Alabama career field goals list with the 35-yard attempt to end the first half. He trails only Philip Doyle (78 from 1987-90) and Michael Proctor (65 from 1992-95).