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Wednesday Notebook: Defense and Special Teams



Oct. 7, 2009

ALABAMA NOTEBOOK:  The latest installment of the Alabama Football Notebook takes at look at the Crimson Tide defense and special teams heading into Saturday’s game at Mississippi.  Junior linebacker Rolando McClain was named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after his 12-tackle performance at Kentucky last weekend. McClain also had a hand in three of the Tide’s four takeaways, which resulted in 17 points.

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 against Arkansas, Arenas is just 152 punt return yards away from breaking Lee Nalley’s long-standing SEC record of 1,695 (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

PASS RUSH IMPORTANT FOR BAMA DEFENSE: The Alabama defense will be looking to get pressure on Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead in an effort to slow down a dangerous Rebel passing attack. The Crimson Tide defense exploded for five sacks in each of their first two games of the 2009 season and have 15 on the season after only recording 26 during the entire 2008 season. UA is tied for 11th nationally in sacks with 3.00 per game. The Rebel offensive line has surrendered an average of 2.0 sacks per game coming in (69th nationally). Defensive end Marcell Dareus has led the way for the Tide with 3.5 sacks (-25) to rank tied for 54th in the NCAA and sixth 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 eighth in the league. MLB Rolando McClain is next with two sacks (-19). The Tide is also 19th nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 7.40 per game. That mark ranks second in the Southeastern Conference and accounts for 180 lost yards by UA opponents. Eryk Anders, McClain and Dareus lead the Tide in that category.

STIFLING DEFENSE PUTTING UP IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS: Alabama’s defense over the past 19 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 19 games as only LSU and Florida in 2008  and Kentucky in 2009 were able to crack the 100-yard barrier as a team. In 2009, only Kentucky has managed more that 64 yards rushing on the Tide. UA has surrendered just 1,360 yards on the ground in the last 19 games, an average of 71.6 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 24 games.  The Alabama defense has also held opponents under 200 yards of total offense in eight of the last 19 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 in 2009, ranking seventh nationally and allowing just a 27.14 conversion rate (19 for 70). UA held 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) and then held Kentucky to 4 of 13 (30.8 percnet). That continues a trend for the Crimson Tide after finishing third nationally in third down conversion defense in 2008, holding opponents to a 28.14 percent (56 of 199) conversion rate.

FORCING TURNOVERS: Alabama produced its most turnovers of the 2009 season at Kentucky, forcing one fumble and intercepting three passes. The Crimson Tide has forced 57 turnovers in the first 32 games under head coach Nick Saban, an average of 1.78 per game. The Crimson Tide has forced eight turnovers in the first five games this season. Alabama forced 24 turnovers in 2007 for a plus-4 turnover ratio and then recorded 25 turnovers and ended the season with a plus-6 turnover margin in 2008. The Tide ranks 17th nationally in turnover margin (+1.00 per game) in 2009. Alabama has recorded at least one turnover in 27 of the 32 games under Saban. The Crimson Tide is 21-6 under Saban when they have at least one turnover. Alabama is 3-2 in games without a turnover over the last three seasons.

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 222.2 yards per game in the first five outings of 2009 to rank second nationally. Alabama followed up an impressive debut against Virginia Tech with a 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 held the Hogs to 2 for 14 on third down. In 2008, Alabama finished second nationally in rushing defense, surrendering 74.14 yards per game. Alabama ranks fourth through five games this season, allowing 64.40 yards per game.