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November 4, 2010

Column: Alabama needs more of an attitude

TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama junior defensive end Marcell Dareus called his teammate Trent Richardson a worm this week, and meant it.

He also described the sophomore running back as a stump ... as a compliment.

"Powerful. It's like trying to tackle a stump," Dareus said. "He hits the holes so hard and you grab him and he finds a way to wiggle it off. He's so thick and he can still wiggle. You get a good grasp on him, that's the only way you're going to stop him. It's pretty tough, but there are ways of getting him down."

Here's the problem with the Crimson Tide's season so far, at least offensively, there haven't been more quotes like that.

Think back to a year ago and some of the things being said about the running game in general and Mark Ingram. The Crimson Tide was punishing opponents with its ground attack and churning out 217.6 yards per game, with Ingram leading the conference at 125.5 (6.6 average).

Saturday, Alabama will again face LSU while ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense, but averaging 186.9 yards. Granted, 30 yards may not seem like a lot, especially if it's being gained in other ways, but there just isn't the same level of confidence.

This isn't to necessarily explain why, although Ingram's preseason knee injury, the more balanced attack and nearly every opponent having an extra week to prepare for the reigning national champions are certainly factors.

Alabama went into its open week banged up and tired and the line hasn't had the same level of push since Florida last month, when the Tide successfully asserted its will in taking a big lead.

But when was the last time anyone saw the yards after contact statistic that was updated like clockwork in 2009? There just hasn't been reason to do so this season.

"They both seem pretty talented to me," LSU coach Les Miles said about Ingram and Richardson. "They are both fast, and they are both physical backs. They both don't mind contact, and they are both physically similar. They're not necessarily tall, but they are very explosive and very talented. I think both guys are very good, and I don't think they lose much when either one of them goes into the game."

In terms of opposing-coach praise, that's pretty bland and not really sounding like someone concerned about his defense giving up 440 rushing yards two weeks ago against Auburn. However, during its preparation Alabama pretty much threw those plays out because the majority stemmed from quarterback Cam Newton taking off for 217.

"That's not something that we would look at and say, 'Wow, they'll have difficulty defending those plays against us,' because we don't really have those plays," Coach Nick Saban said. "We don't have that kind of quarterback. We don't have that kind of offense."

Here's what the Tide has to deal with:

LSU is the only team in the SEC that can probably match Alabama's talent level across the board (or is the closest), and not just with players like cornerback Patrick Peterson. For example, during last year's game defensive lineman Drake Nevis had seven tackles, a sack and a hurry against the Crimson Tide while mostly playing opposite All-American guard Mike Johnson. So far his season he has five sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss.

"Great player," sophomore guard Barrett Jones said. "He plays the game like way you want to see guys play it. He plays extremely hard and plays to the whistle. We have a tremendous amount of respect for a guy like that. We have to be assignment perfect and technique perfect against a guy like that."

Even after getting run over by Auburn (and somehow only losing 24-17), the Tigers still lead the conference in total defense and are second in scoring defense, allowing just 15.6 points per game. Additionally, 11 players have either forced a fumble or come up with a turnover.

"We know what type of defense LSU has," Ingram said. "The past two years I've played them they've been great athletes, running to the ball. They're a big challenge for us."

Actually, right now the Tigers are THE challenge for the Tide, which has struggled to find its identity on both sides of the ball and, as Saban puts it, still has its best game out there.

This would be a good time to take a major step toward it.

"The Alabama-LSU game is always an extremely physical game," Jones said. "We're going to go out there and not just point at each other."

The Tide needs to see things like Ingram running for 144 yards as he did in last year's game, three LSU players on the ground at the end of a play, and play more like the way Richardson does - relentless.

It needs that kind of attitude.

"The way he runs the ball, he tries to hit (defenders) before they hit him," Dareus said. "When Mark told that to me I was amazed. That's crazy."


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