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Wednesday Notebook: Defense and Special Teams



Sept. 30, 2009

UA HARASSES NATION’S TOP PASSER: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett entered Bryant-Denny Stadium last week as the nation’s top-rated passer with a 193.49 rating. He left with a loss, a 12-of-35 performance (34.3 percent) with one touchdown and one interception for a 76.40 passer rating. The Tide sacked him three times, broke up eight passes and notched eight more quarterback hurries. Arkansas was held 284 yards under their season average for total offense and 236.5 yards below their season average through the air.

PASS RUSH IMPORTANT FOR BAMA DEFENSE: The Alabama defense will be looking to get a lot of pressure on Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline in an effort to slow down a dangerous UK passing attack. The Crimson Tide defense exploded for five sacks in each of their first two games of the 2009 season and have 13 on the season after only recording 26 during the entire 2008 season. UA is tied for 11th nationally in sacks with 3.25 per game and is 10th in tackles for loss with 8.00 per contest. The Wildcats have allowed an average of one sack per game coming in. Defensive end Marcell Dareus has led the way for the Tide with 3.5 sacks (-25) to rank tied for 23rd in the NCAA and fourth in the SEC. Cornerback Javier Arenas is second on the team with 3.0 sacks for a loss of 31 yards to rank tied for fifth in the SEC. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain is next with two sacks for a loss of 19 yards.  The Tide is also 10th nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 8.0 per game. That mark also leads the Southeastern Conference and accounts for 160 lost yards by UA opponents. McClain, Eryk Anders and Dareus all have 4.5 TFL to lead Alabama.

DOMINANT ‘D’: Alabama returned eight 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 202.5 yards per game in the first four outings of 2009 to rank second nationally. Alabama followed up an impressive debut against Virginia Tech with stellar performances against FIU, North Texas and Arkansas. 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. Arkansas was able to gain 254 yards, but only managed 63 on the ground and UA held the Hogs to 2-of-14 on third down. In 2008, Alabama finished second nationally in rushing defense, surrendering 74.14 yards per game. Alabama ranks second through four games this season, allowing 47.25 yards per game.

STIFLING DEFENSE PUTTING UP IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS: Alabama’s defense over the past 18 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 16 teams under 100 yards rushing over the past 18 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 that 64 yards rushing. The Tide has surrendered just 1,227 yards on the ground in the last 18 games, an average of 68.2 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 23 games. The Alabama defense has also held opponents under 200 yards of total offense in eight of the last 18 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); North Texas (187).

DEFENSE TOUGH ON THIRD DOWN: The Crimson Tide defense has been strong on third down through four 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). The Tide opened SEC play by limiting Arkansas to 2 for 14 on third down (14.3 percent). 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. In 2009, the Crimson Tide is currently 10th nationally at 26.32 percent (15-for-57).

FORCING TURNOVERS: Alabama has forced 53 turnovers in the first 31 games under head coach Nick Saban, an average of 1.71 per game. The Crimson Tide has forced four turnovers in the first four games this season, after forcing eight 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 26 of the 31 games under Saban. The Crimson Tide is 20-6 under Saban when they have at least one turnover. Alabama is 3-2 in games without a turnover over the last three seasons.

ARENAS NEARING SEC & NCAA PUNT RETURN YARDAGE RECORD: Senior cornerback and return specialist Javier Arenas is quickly sneaking up on the all-time great punt returners in college football history. He has already broken all of the Crimson Tide punt return records, and now has his sights set on the SEC and NCAA records as well. He is the NCAA active leader in career punt returns, yards, touchdowns, returns per game and yards per game. After returning four punts for 59 yards last week against Arkansas, Arenas is just 165 punt return yards away from breaking Lee Nalley’s long-standing SEC record of 1,472 (102 returns for a 14.4 ypr average). Nalley set that record from 1947-1949 and it stood for 54 years as the NCAA record until Texas Tech’s Wes Welker broke it in 2003. Welker finished his Tech career with 1,761 punt return yards and Arenas needs 231 yard to break his record and become the NCAA’s all-time leader in punt return yards.

Year      No.         Yards       Avg.       TD            LP
2006      31           286        9.2          2             86
2007      21           323        15.4        1             69
2008      41           650        15.9        3             87
2009      15           285        19.0        0             46
TOTAL   108         1544        14.3        6             87

Punt Returns:     6 vs. Arkansas, 2007
Yards:               153 vs. Mississippi State, 2008
Touchdowns:      1 (6 Times) Last vs. Utah, 2008 (2009 Sugar Bowl)
Long Play:         87 vs. Tulane, 2008

ARENAS GETS 2 SACKS: Arenas produced two quarterback sacks for 21 yards in losses, both in the first half against Arkansas, marking his first multi-sack game at Alabama. Arenas’ first three tackles of the game each yielded losses for a total of 25 yards. He has three sacks on the season to rank tied for fifth in the SEC.