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October 3, 2010

Notebook: Tide's defense starts to click in a big way

TUSCALOOSA _ If there was one thought that stood out about the way the University of Alabama defense played Saturday night it was this: The Crimson Tide sure didn't play like it had replaced nine starters and 13 players in the two-deep.

Showing an intensity that reminded many of last year's squad that helped lead Alabama to the national championship, the Tide accumulated nine hurries, eight tackles for a loss and four turnovers, including two at its own 1-yard line.

In many ways, the unit has clearly started to click.

"I do (believe that)," junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "We put in a lot of work this week. We emphasized on a lot of things that Florida did, and they came out and did them. I feel like we executed to perfection."

Although junior safety Mark Barron led the team with 11 tackles and also broke up two passes, it all started up front. Junior defensive end Marcell Dareus was as disruptive as ever and had three tackles, two hurries, a tackle for a loss and broke up a pass.

Junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw had seven tackles, including four for a loss, broke up two passes and also had the fumble recovery.

"We put him out on the edge and played a little more 3-4 and nickel than we usually do," Coach Nick Saban said. "We had some nice pressures, and he's finally healthy, probably for the first time this year. He had a productive night."

Overall, Florida went 1-for-4 in the red zone while Alabama scored all four times inside the 20, with three touchdowns and a field goal.

"One of our goals this year was to be one of the best red-zone teams in the country," Hightower said. "I think we've doing good job of that and had a lot of turnovers.
"Whenever you can rush three players and get that much pressure it's great."

Stallings honored

Gene Stallings was honored just before kickoff as part of the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Football Hall of Fame's on-campus salute for being in the Class of 2011 - a tradition that dates back to the inaugural class in 1951. A part of the buildup to next summer's enshrinement, a commemorative plaque is presented to the university.

Stallings joins Paul W. Bryant (inducted 1986), Frank Thomas (1951), and Wallace Wade (1955), in addition to 17 Alabama players.

"As a coach going into the hall of fame, that means you've had good coaches and good players," Stallings said of his upcoming induction as part of the Class of 2011. "You've had a record that's worthy enough to get into the hall. If you're a player you can be on a bad team and still get into the hall of fame, but a football coach sort of goes as his team goes. So the very bottom line is that everyone who played for me and worked for me I hope feels a little part of this because without their contribution this wouldn't have happened."

The newest hall of fame class includes Dennis Byrd (North Carolina State), Ronnie Caveness (Arkansas), Ray Childress (Texas A&M), Randy Cross (UCLA), Sam Cunningham (Southern California), Mark Herrmann (Purdue), Clarkston Hines (Duke), Desmond Howard (Michigan), Chet Moeller (Navy), Jerry Stovall (LSU), Pat Tillman (Arizona State), Alfred Williams (Colorado), and coach Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin).

Stallings had been previously honored by the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Texas A&M Hall of Fame, Gator Bowl Hall of Fame and Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

Injuries and starters

Dareus, who sustained a lower ankle sprain at Arkansas, started. Senior Chavis Williams was back in the starting lineup at strongside linebacker. Freshman C.J. Mosley came in on the second play and played in the dime package.

Dareus estimated he was only 85 percent.
Florida's top playmaker, running back Jeff Demps, was in a protective boot this week but started. Coming in he was third in SEC all-purpose yards, averaging 172 yards and second in kick returns with a 32.5 average. He had 47 rushing yards.

Junior kicker Caleb Sturgis was also sidelined by a back injury.

Hightower, who had six tackles and two hurries, took off one of his knee braces.

"It feels better, a lot more swift," he said. "I think I was a little bit faster, but hopefully I'll get to the point I won't have to wear any knee braces."

Ingram vs. Top 25 opponents

With only 63 rushing yards and 19 receiving, junior running back Mark Ingram had his worst statistical game against a ranked team over the past two seasons.

Last season he averaged 188.8 rushing and receiving yards against top 25 teams, and 31 carries of 10 yards or more against ranked opponents.

Here's the breakdown:

Rank, opponent, rushing, receiving, total, yards after contact (percent)
No. 7 vs. Virginia Tech, 150, 35, 185, 115 (62.2)
No. 20 at Ole Miss, 172, 16, 188, 95 (50.5)
No. 22 South Carolina, 246, 23, 269, 167 (62.1)
No. 9 LSU, 144, 30, 174, 107 (61.5)
No. 1 vs. Florida, 113, 76, 189, 94 (49.7)
No. 2 vs. Texas, 116, 12, 128, 73 (57.0)
No. 18 Penn State, 151, 0, 151, 67 (44.3)
No. 10 at Arkansas, 157, 27, 184, 72 (39.1)
No. 7 Florida, 47, 19, 66, TBD

Of course, Ingram also scored two touchdowns against the Gators.

"It's just more motivation, that a team would spend the majority of time trying to stop us," he said. "We know what we're capable of doing."

Tide-bits

Five of Alabama's last seven opponents (dating back to last season) were ranked in Associated Press poll's top 20. The Crimson Tide has played No. 18 Penn State, No. 10 Arkansas and No. 7 this season, and closed out last year with wins against No. 1 Florida (SEC Championship Game) and No. 2. Texas (BCS National Championship Game).

In the past 16 seasons, the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll is 28-0 at home against nationally ranked opponents with an average margin of victory of nearly 22 points.

Alabama has won 17 consecutive games at Bryant-Denny, dating back to the 2008 home opener against Tulane. It's the fourth-longest streak in school history.

CBS is expected to pick up next week's Alabama at South Carolina game at 2:30, and bump LSU at Florida to the 6:30 p.m. slot on either ESPN or ESPN2. The final decision will be announced Sunday.

Bowl officials on hand included the Fiesta, Sugar, Gator, Florida Citrus and Chick-fil-A. ... The softball team was presented with SEC Championship rings from last season at halftime. ... Team captains were Ingram, Barron and David Ross. Former quarterback Brodie Croyle and Cornelius Griffin served as honorary game captains. Shaun Alexander did a special video introduction and watched the game from the sideline. ... The flyover featured four F16s.


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