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Wednesday Notebook: Defense and Special Teams



Dec. 2, 2009

ARENAS NEARING NCAA PUNT RETURN YARDAGE RECORD: Senior return specialist Javier Arenas is one of the best punt returners in college football history. He has already broken all of the Crimson Tide punt return records and has the SEC record for career punt return yards (1,725) and career punt returns for touchdowns (7). He now has his sights set on the NCAA record, needing 37 yards to become the NCAA leader in career punt return yards and is one touchdown shy of the NCAA mark. Arenas broke Lee Nalley’s (Vanderbilt, 1947-49) long-standing SEC record of 1,695 yards (102 returns for a 14.4-yard average) with 67 yards on two punt returns vs. Auburn to give him 1,725 yards. Arenas set the SEC punt returns for touchdowns record (7) with a 66-yard return vs. Chattanooga. Nalley set that record 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. Arenas is the NCAA active leader in career punt returns (121), yards (1,725), touchdowns (7), returns per game and yards per game (14.26).

Rank         Name                            School                        Years                   Returns                     Yards
1.            Wes Welker           Texas Tech           2000-03               152                    1,761
2.            Javier Arenas          Alabama              2006-09               121                    1,725
3.            Lee Nalley              Vanderbilt            1947-49               109                    1,695
4.            Ryne Robinson       Miami (Ohio)        2003-06               121                    1,677
5.            David Allen             Kansas State       1997-2000            103                    1,646

McCLAIN HEART AND SOUL OF TIDE DEFENSE: Junior middle linebacker Rolando McClain has proven to be the heart and soul of the Tide’s defense.  The Butkus Award and Lott Trophy finalist not only leads the team in tackles with 96, but is virtually an on-the-field coach for Alabama. McClain is responsible for making all of the defensive calls and is especially proficient at checking the Crimson Tide into the correct alignment. The remainder of his stat line: 12.0 tackles for loss (-57 yards), 4.0 sacks (-36 yards), two interceptions (21 return yards), two pass breakups, 11 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. McClain’s play has garnered him extensive national recognition. He was the FWAA/Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against Kentucky. McClain has also been named a midseason All-American by Sporting News and selected as a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award as well as the Chuck Bednarik Award, which goes to the best defensive player in the nation.

BARRON NOTCHES 7TH INTERCEPTION: Alabama sophomore safety Mark Barron intercepted an Auburn pass in the third quarter last Friday, November 27, his seventh interception of the 2009 season. That total ranks tied for third on the Alabama single-season interceptions list.

Interceptions (Season)
10           Hootie Ingram (163 yards)           1952
8             Harry Gilmer (79 yards)                1946
7             Steve Higginbotham (108 yards)   1971
7             Jeremiah Castille (60 yards)         1982
7             Antonio Langham (67 yards)        1993
7             Kevin Jackson (44 yards)             1996
7             Mark Barron (125 yards)              2009

TIFFIN’S PRODUCTION AT ALL-TIME HIGH: Alabama senior place-kicker Leigh Tiffin is second nationally in field goals per game at 2.25. He has connected on 27-of-31 field goals this season (87.1 percent). His 27 field goals breaks his own school record (25 in 2007) and currently ranks as the second most by any SEC kicker in a single season in history (Georgia’s Billy Bennett, 31). Tiffin also broke his own single-season scoring record with 117 points, which ranks as the fifth-highest total in SEC history. He leads the SEC and ranks ninth nationally in scoring at 9.75 points per game. Tiffin has connected on 21 of his last 23 field goals and has made an impressive 18 field goals (out of 20) over the last seven games.

Kicking Points in a Season
Points   Player (FGs, PATs)                                       Year
117        Leigh Tiffin (27 FGs, 36 PATs)                     2009
111        Leigh Tiffin (25 FGs, 36 PATs)                     2007
106        Leigh Tiffin (20 FGs, 46 PATs)                     2008
100        Philip Doyle (22 FGs, 34 PATs)                   1989
97           Philip Doyle (24 FGs, 25 PATs)                   1990
97           Michael Proctor (22 FGs, 31 PATs)            1993

BAMA DEFENSE GETTING STRONGER: Alabama’s defense has strengthened down the stretch of the 2009 season, ranking in the top five in every major defensive category. The Crimson Tide ranks third nationally in total defense (233.92 yards per game) while leading the nation in pass efficiency defense (85.88), ranking second in rushing defense (77.08 ypg) and scoring defense (10.83 points per game). Alabama is fifth nationally in pass defense, allowing 156.83 ypg. The UA defense has surrendered only eight touchdowns in eight Southeastern Conferences games this season and has held five SEC teams to single-digit scoring. The Crimson Tide has won six of its eight SEC games by two or more scores.

DOMINANT ‘D’: Alabama returned eight starters from a 2008 defense that finished third nationally in total defense, allowing 263.5 yards per game. The 2009 unit has even better numbers, allowing a total of 233.92 yards per game in 12 games to rank third nationally. The Tide opened the season by holding Virginia Tech to 155 total yards (64 rushing, 91 passing). UA held FIU to 214 total yards, including only one yard rushing, while North Texas could manage only 187 yards of offense and 61 yards rushing. Arkansas managed 63 on the ground, while the Tide limited Mississippi to 197 yards and 57 rushing, including 19 yards of total offense in the first half. UA then held No. 22 South Carolina to 64 yards rushing and six points. LSU totaled 253 yards, but had only 95 on the ground. Mississippi State could only muster 99 yards through the air and 213 total yards.  Alabama held Chattanooga to 84 total yards, including 48 rushing and 36 passing.

AIR DEFENSE: Alabama’s defense has smothered almost every aspect of opposing offenses in 2009. While much attention is earned by the Tide’s suffocating rush defense, Alabama has also effectively thwarted passing attacks. The Tide boasts the nation’s top-ranked pass efficiency defense, with an 85.88 opponent passer rating. The Tide is also fifth in pass defense, allowing 156.83 yards per game while ranking seventh with 19 interceptions. Over the last four games, UA has limited LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn to a total of 474 passing yards (118.5 ypg).

GROUND DEFENSE: The Crimson Tide has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in an astonishing 32 games, dating back to Oct. 13, 2007, when Mississippi’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis went for 131 yards. That is the longest streak in the nation, 10 games more than second-place Ohio State (22 games). Alabama is one of five teams not to allow a 100-yard rusher in 2009 and is the only team not to surrender a 100-yard rusher in 2008 or 2009. As a team, the Crimson Tide has held 21 teams under 100 yards rushing over the past 26 games with only LSU and Florida in 2008 and Kentucky, Mississippi State and Auburn in 2009 were able to crack the 100-yard barrier as a team.

Teams That Have Not Allowed a 100-Yard Rusher in 2009
Team                   Streak                     Last time it happened (Opponent)
Alabama               32                          Oct. 13, 2007 (Mississippi)
Ohio State             22                          Sept. 13, 2008 (USC)
Penn State            15                          Nov. 8, 2008 (Iowa)
Oklahoma State     12                          Dec. 30, 2008 (Oregon)
Texas                   12                          Jan. 5, 2009 (Ohio State

DEFENSE TOUGH ON THIRD DOWN: The Crimson Tide defense has been strong on third down in 2009, ranking fifth nationally and allowing a 28.92 conversion rate (48 for 166). Alabama’s performance at Mississippi on October 10 was special. UA did not allow the Rebels a single third-down conversion as UM went 0 for 9. 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 convert at a 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 percent). LSU converted just 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) and Mississippi State managed just a 15.4 percent conversion rate (2 for 13). Chattanooga was 3 for 13 on third down (23.08) and Auburn was 4 of 12 (33.3 percent). The Crimson Tide finished third nationally in third down conversion defense in 2008, holding opponents to a 28.14 percent (56 of 199).

FORCING TURNOVERS: Alabama has produced 21 turnovers in the last eight games, forcing five turnovers at Mississippi, four at Kentucky, two against South Carolina, one vs. Tennessee, one vs. LSU, three at Mississippi State, three vs. Chattanooga and two at Auburn. The Tide has picked off 17 passes in those eight games and recovered four fumbles. The Crimson Tide ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin at plus-15 (1.25 per game). Alabama has forced 74 turnovers in 39 games under head coach Nick Saban (an average of 1.90 per game) forcing 25 turnovers in 12 games this season, while the UA offense has only turned the ball over 10 times (4 interceptions, 6 fumbles) in 2009. 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. Alabama has recorded at least one turnover in 34 of 39 games under Saban. UA is 28-6 under Saban when gaining at least one turnover. Alabama is 3-2 in games without a turnover over the last three seasons.

TIFFIN BECOMES UA’S CAREER SCORING LEADER: Leigh Tiffin became Alabama’s career scoring leader on Nov. 7 with 10 points vs. LSU, passing Philip Doyle (345). He now has 370 career points to rank third among kickers in SEC history. He is one point behind Tennessee’s Jeff Hall (271) for second place. Georgia’s Billy Bennett holds both the SEC and NCAA scoring record with 409 career points.

TIFFIN BREAKS UA’S CAREER FIELD GOALS MADE RECORD: Tiffin has broken the Alabama career field goals made record with 80 in his career at the Capstone. He converted 2-of-3 field goals at Auburn on Nov. 27 to pass Philip Doyle, who had 78 field goals from 1987-90. Tiffin has connected on multiple field goals in eight games this season. He has made 18-of-20 field goals during the last seven games and 12 of his last 13 attempts. He is also third on the SEC’s career field goals made list, just seven behind Georgia’s Billy Bennett (87), who is also the NCAA career leader.