Thursday, January 1, 2009

Saban stresses discipline in light of Smith situation

NEW ORLEANS — There was nothing new out of Alabama regarding suspended left tackle Andre Smith for alleged improper contact with an agent. On Wednesday, Tide coach Nick Saban said Smith’s situation was an institutional matter and not an NCAA matter. On Thursday Saban was asked whether the Smith situation had tarnished the season for him.
“I think it’s disappointing any time you have a circumstance like this,” Saban said. “It’s unfortunate that we have circumstances like this. But it goes right back to the same thing. You know, everybody has a responsibility to do what’s right. Any time anybody violates their Code of Conduct, their principles and values of what is right — and that supersedes nobody, including me — there can be consequences for that.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has people talk to his players about the dangers of agents both before and after the season.
“I think every coach in the country does that,” Whittingham said. “I don’t think there’s anybody at the Division I level that doesn’t have some conversation with their guys about that. I don’t think we’re unique or ahead of the curve in that respect. But we certainly do address it.”
• WITTINGHAM TALKS FUTURE: Whittingham made some interesting comments when asked whether he wanted to stay at Utah for the same length that Lavelle Edwards coached at Brigham Young University. Edwards coached at BYU from 1972-2000.
“I mean, he was there 30-some odd years,” Whittingham said. “I’m not sure that’s me. I’m not sure that’s my master plan. I love Utah. I’m just not sure I want — you talk about I’ve been doing it four years, 26 more years would put me 70-something. No, I can tell you right now, I’m not going to go that far.”
Just imagine if Saban said that about Alabama.
• PEEK OUT FOR SUGAR BOWL: Tight end Colin Peek’s injury in his foot will prevent him from playing in today’s Sugar Bowl.
The redshirt junior tight end, who transferred from Georgia Tech and was held out this year per NCAA transfer rules, was permitted to play in the game, but will not because of the injury.
• SABAN PROVIDES BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL: Coaches hate it when their players give an opponent bulletin board material, but Alabama coach Nick Saban didn’t do his players any favors with a statement following the Tide’s loss to Florida in the SEC Championship.
Saban’s statement was geared toward emphasizing his team’s regular-season accomplishments after Alabama suffered its first loss of the season.
“First of all, I’m very proud of what our football team was able to accomplish this year,” Saban said to open his postgame news conference. “The only team that plays in a real BCS conference that went 12-0 — which is very difficult to do — and I’m very proud of the way our players played, with consistency all year, the way they competed.”
Alabama’s bowl match-up had not been announced, though it was anticipated that the Tide would play Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. That match-up was announced the following day, meaning the Tide would play a 12-0 team from a non-BCS conference.
Utah has won a BCS bowl, which Alabama has not since the BCS started in 1998.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, asked Thursday to react to Saban’s quote, shrugged it off … sort of.
“You know, our guys are excited about this game regardless of external circumstances,” he said. “But they’re not oblivious to things. They hear things. They read things.
“You can’t worry about that, but I think that they’re very motivated to go out and play well.”
• BOWL GAMES GIVE IT ALL AWAY: Getting paid to play is a big no-no with NCAA. However, playing a bowl is an exception.
The NCAA allows bowls to give 125 players per team gifts that cannot exceed $500.
Some bowls have begun to follow today’s gift-giving society and just hand out gift cards, but the Sugar Bowl still buys for its athletes.
This year, players got a Sony MP3 Walkman, Sony Blu-Ray player, Timely Watch Co. watch and a New Era cap.
Not surprisingly, the bigger the bowl the better the gift. For Mobile’s GMAC bowl, players from Ball State and Tulsa got a Timely Watch Co. watch, a Jostens ring and a hat.
Guess we know where that bailout money didn’t go.
• THIS T-SHIRT IS PRETTY WAC: Just as at any at bowl, merchants take advantage of the opportunity to make a buck when football fans pour into town with hats, shirts and various other things adorned with the bowl and team’s logos.
One thing in New Orleans, however, might be a tough sell.
One street vendor was selling t-shirts with the Alabama and Utah helmets on them. Above each helmet, the team’s conference was written.
Or at least the conference the shirt maker thought the schools belonged to — above Utah was WAC instead of Mountain West.
— Josh Cooper, Joe Medley and Bran Strickland

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Practice closed; no word on Smith's replacement

NEW ORLEANS — Alabama is currently practicing at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Media is not allowed to watch this practice, so we can't report on what is going on. It's still unclear as to who will replace suspended left tackle Andre Smith in Friday's Sugar Bowl.

Coach Nick Saban is expected to speak with reporters following the practice session. It will be his first comments since Smith was suspended for an alleged improper contact with an agent. Keep in mind that Alabama has not used the word "agent" when describing Smith's situation as of yet.

This should probably be one of the more fun Saban news conferences to say the least.

Josh Cooper, The Anniston Star

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Memories of 1980 Mississippi State loss still hurt

TUSCALOOSA — The memories are not pleasant for former Alabama quarterback Don Jacobs. When Jacobs, the football coach at Elkmont High, talks with his Alabama teammates about their years playing together, the 1980 game against Mississippi State never comes up.
“We talk about the good times,” Jacobs said. “We don’t talk about the bad times.”
On Nov. 1 of that year, the then-No. 1 Tide came to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss., undefeated and riding a 28-game winning streak. It eyed its third consecutive national championship and an 8-0 record. But the Bulldogs stuffed the Tide, allowing 180 total yards in a 6-3 win.
“It was as tough a loss as any I had ever been around,” Jacobs said. “We had won a bunch of games, we had not gone through a loss and having to feel those emotions.”
Before this year, that day was the most recent time Alabama was ranked No. 1 in the regular season.
If Alabama wins this year’s game, it will not bring any kind of retribution or closure for members of the 1980 team. That loss has its own place in their personal histories.
“It’s a new day. You are talking about different coaches, players, offenses and defenses,” former Tide running back Major Ogilvie said. “That game is what it is. Going back 28 years, that’s a long time, and a lot has changed since then.”
If there is one constant between the two games, it’s the fact that Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom will be a part of each one as a coach. In 1980, he was Alabama’s inside linebackers coach.
“It was disappointing to lose that game because I think that was definitely a national championship-caliber team,” Croom said. “Mississippi State ended that.”
• DAVIS NO LONGER IGNORED: Right tackle Drew Davis is kind of the forgotten man on Alabama’s offensive line. He did not start before this season, and most of his playing time before 2007 came in mop-up duty.
But last Saturday Davis was a key contributor in preventing LSU from sacking quarterback John Parker Wilson. The coaching staff named Davis one of the offensive players of the week for his play.
“I've always been confident. Coming through the spring, I just felt comfortable,” Davis said. “I think we've stepped up. I think we've continuously gotten better, and I think we'll continue to get better.”
• GRANT WILL GET TOUCHES: With running back Roy Upchurch still nursing a neck injury, Tide coach Nick Saban reiterated that running back Terry Grant could see more action Saturday against the Bulldogs.
Last year, Grant led the Tide with 891 yards rushing, but has seen himself fall behind Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Upchurch at running back.
“You have to be ready to take advantage of the opportunity when you get it,” Saban said. “He has worked hard and done a good job the last few weeks, and will probably have a good chance to have an opportunity some in this game.”
• CODY CANNONBALLS HURT: Imagine how much this would hurt: 6-foot-5, 365-pound nose tackle Terrence Cody diving on a pile of players. Of course, it would hurt the most if you are at the bottom of the pile.
“He loves to play football, he loves to hit, he loves to fly around. As big as he is, he runs to the ball, dives on piles and everything,” defensive end Brandon Deaderick said. “He dove on me once or twice last week.”
— Josh Cooper

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saban stays mum on Presidential election

TUSCALOOSA — Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had a stake in last Tuesday’s elections. While Saban did not say whether he voted for Barack Obama or John McCain for President, his good friend, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, won reelection. Manchin defeated Russ Weeks.
“All I know is, there are a whole bunch of people who voted for the guy who won and a whole bunch of people who voted for the guy that lost,” Saban said. “So why would I talk about either one of them? Seems to me like I’d be making a mistake with a whole bunch of people.”
On Tuesday night, players crammed in front of their televisions to watch the eventual outcome.
“That was a big time for our country, and a lot of guys paid attention to it,” left guard Mike Johnson said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Come to my house to watch the election.’ Like it was a football game or something.”
• SABAN SHINES LIGHT ON MILES: Saban tried to put to rest the talk of LSU coach Les Miles living in his shadow.
“I like Les Miles. He’s won more games there than I’d have won if I had stayed,” Saban said. “I don’t know why anybody is upset that I left, because they’ve done better since I left than when I was there.”
In this three-plus years at LSU, Miles has a 40-8 record. In four years at LSU, Saban finished with a 48-16 record.
“Les might not like me, but I have no personal problems with any of this stuff,” Saban said.
• SMITH ALMOST WENT TO LSU: Left tackle Andre Smith said he came close to choosing LSU over Alabama. In 2006, when Smith made his choice to play with the Tide, the Tigers were his second selection.
“(Alabama) was close to home, and I was able to go to church on Sundays back home, and my family would’ve had to drive five hours if I was at LSU,” Smith said, adding with a smile, “Nothing is like my church.”
• DAVIS READY FOR RETURN: Alabama defensive end Luther Davis has good reason to be nervous for his family, for himself and for his football future.
In 2007, Davis, a native of West Monroe, La., publicly committed to LSU, took back his commitment and went with Alabama after visiting Tuscaloosa. Tigers fans called him a traitor, and Davis says his father, who worked for LSU fans, almost lost his job.
“It was pretty emotional, just for my family experiencing things every day,” Davis said. “Just having the whole city and state turn their back on you, treating you all kinds of ways, calling you names, just because you didn’t do what was best for them, but best for yourself.”
Davis said that when he informed LSU coach Les Miles of his decision, Miles referred to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban as the devil. Miles refuted the claim and said that Davis has reached out to LSU in the past year, though he did not specify the reasoning. Davis was suspended for spring practice for an undisclosed reason.
“I know (Davis) has tried to communicate with this program several times since he’s been at Alabama,” Miles said. “Emails, texts. We have not communicated with him. We just wish him the very best.”
Davis said he is not nervous about his return. In fact, he has received ticket requests from as far west as Washington and California.
“I’ve been trying to get myself prepared for it for about a year now. I’m trying not to think about it, but at the same time, I know what’s going to happen is going to happen, so I’m just trying to bear with it the best I can.”
• LSU DEFENSE A PROBLEM FOR LSU: In its past three SEC games, the Tigers have allowed 120 points to Florida, South Carolina and Georgia combined. Does that sound like an LSU defense?
“You don’t expect that from an LSU defense at all,” quarterback John Parker Wilson said.
The Tigers might have lost first-round NFL pick Glenn Dorsey, but it still has several talented players in defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois, as well as linebacker Darry Beckwith. Despite the bad numbers, it still has the talent to be a top defensive unit.
“We’re going to go in there expecting that they’re the best team we play,” Wilson said. “They’re going to be the best defense we’ve played and we’ve got to go at them.”
• MOUNT CODY RETURNS?: Nose tackle Terrence Cody is expected back after missing the past two games with a strained right knee ligament.
Saban said the amount Cody plays depends on how much stamina he can build up as the Tide prepares to face the Tigers. But Cody’s return might not matter all that much. Without Cody, Alabama allowed 173 total yards to Tennessee and 158 total to Arkansas State. But LSU brings a better running attack than either of those teams. The Tigers average 186.13 yards of rushing offense per game.
— Josh Cooper

Sunday, November 2, 2008

LSU coach Miles happy he's not in Saban's position

TUSCALOOSA — LSU coach Les Miles said can’t imagine what it would be like to coach against a team he had an emotional bond with. He never has, but he almost did. In 2006, LSU could have played the Michigan Wolverines, Miles’ alma mater, in the Rose Bowl, had Florida not gone to the national championship game that year. Instead, LSU played Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
“When it fell through I can't tell you how happy I was,” Miles said. “I just was relieved. It would not have been something I would have enjoyed.”
• TIDE STRUGGLE THROUGH AIR: Within its dominating 35-0 victory, Alabama did have one trouble spot — it’s ability to pass the ball with consistency.
Quarterback John Parker Wilson completed 15 of 28 passes for 152 yards. He was also picked off in the end zone for his fourth interception this season.
“We didn’t throw the ball like we are used to,” Wilson said.
Added Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, “I think they played a little bit of a match-up coverage at times and that forced (John Parker) to hold the ball. And they played man-to-man a few times and our guys didn’t get away from them as well as we need to.”
• TIDE WON’T FORGET LOSS TO LA.-MONROE: Even with Alabama’s victory against the Red Wolves, the signs representing the Crimson Tide’s 2007 loss to Louisiana-Monroe will remain throughout Alabama’s football complex.
While the Tide might have dominated Arkansas State, Saban said he wants to continue sending a message to his team. But he understands that there are more players who follow his program than last year, and that has lent to Alabama’s undefeated record.
“We have more guys getting it,” Saban said. “We’re starting to develop that attitude of ‘Be as good as you can be,’ and ‘Don't play to your opponent.’”
• TIDE STILL HEALTHY: As it has most weeks this season, Alabama came out of Saturday’s game with Arkansas State in relatively good health.
Running back Glen Coffee bruised his bicep and fellow back Mark Ingram bruised his knee on his 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Saban said that both injuries were nothing major.
— Josh Cooper

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Notes from Saturday's game

Ingram returns to form: After Alabama’s victory against Tennessee, Saban said, freshman running back Mark Ingram did not look like himself. Against Arkansas State, Ingram looked every bit like the player who ranks second on the Tide in rushing yards. He led Alabama with 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
“He is a warrior,” running back Glen Coffee said. “He is a great football player and a great addition to the team.”

What offense?: Arkansas State entered Saturday ranked No. 22 in total offense, averaging 435.7 yards per game. It didn’t even achieve half of that against Alabama, as the Crimson Tide allowed 153 yards to the Red Wolves.
Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard had averaged 260.4 total yards per game, and finished Saturday with 48. The only bright spot for the Red Wolves offense was running back Reggie Arnold, who gained 72 yards on 15 carries.
“You can tell why they are No. 2 in the country,” Leonard said. “They don’t make many mistakes.”

McCall and McCall: After the win against Arkansas State, Alabama tight end Travis McCall had a little family business to attend to.
His cousin, Gregory McCall, plays on the Red Wolves defensive line and had a sack against the Tide. The two did not talk much during the week leading up to Saturday’s game, but Saturday night, Gregory stayed with Travis.
“It was fun. I didn’t get to block him that much,” Travis said. “I did have to block him once on a punt. That was pretty cool.”

Saban praises, retracts praise: Saban made a slight mistake Saturday during his post-game news conference: He referenced Alabama’s 9-0 record.
Saban often refuses to comment on his team’s record, or success, but when asked about next Saturday’s impending game with LSU, Saban acknowledged Alabama’s dominance.
“This team is 9-0 and has played extremely well all year long,” Saban said.
Later Saban corrected himself when it was brought to his attention that he had said Alabama’s record.
“Well, I shouldn’t have mentioned that,” Saban said.

Cody to practice: Saban said that nose tackle Terrence Cody should practice with the team, starting this week. Cody, who injured his right knee ligament against Ole Miss, did not play Saturday, and walked up and down the sidelines wearing his crimson Alabama warm-up pants and his crimson jersey.
“He is day-to-day and I don’t anticipate anything,” Saban said. “But we feel like he has progressed in his rehab enough that he should be able to do some practicing this week.”

Eva Longoria Parker in the house: Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria Parker watched Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa. Parker, who is married to San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker, is friends with country singer Sara Evans, wife of former Crimson Tide quarterback Jay Barker.
Evans and Parker were on the sidelines before the game wearing matching Alabama jerseys. The back of Evans’ said “Mrs. Barker” and the back of Parker’s said “Mrs. Parker.”

— Josh Cooper

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tide finds new fullback in Upchurch

TUSCALOOSA — Roy Upchurch doesn’t look like a fullback. At 6-foot, 201 pounds, he doesn’t exactly have the prototypical size for the position. But Saturday against Tennessee, he stood in the backfield with fellow running back Glen Coffee, blocking for quarterback John Parker Wilson and Coffee.
“It helps the offense. You can do more, open up more, and run a lot of trick plays,” Upchurch said. “I don't have a problem with it. This was my first time playing fullback, so I guess I need to eat my Wheaties.”
Not only did Upchurch block, he also ran for a career high 86 yards on 14 carries.
“I kind of bring a little more burst to the game,” Upchurch said. “Glen (Coffee) is going to hate me for that, Mark (Ingram) going to hate me for that, but I'm just being honest. I bring a little more burst to the game — a little more speed through the holes.”
• MONROE LOSS NOT FORGOTTEN: Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has put signs reminding Alabama of its 2007 loss to Louisiana-Monroe all throughout the football complex.
While players said they have tried to forget that game, it’s just a reminder of what could happen if Alabama doesn’t prepare for Saturday’s contest against Arkansas State.
“I think they're going to stay up,” cornerback Kareem Jackson said. “I think Coach Saban wants us to always remember that, so they'll be up there.”
• TIDE UNCONCERNED WITH HOMECOMING: Alabama will not pay attention to homecoming distractions this week. Not the parade nor the naming of the homecoming queen during the game against Arkansas State.
“We don't get to experience any of the campus activities like everybody else does,” linebacker Cory Reamer said.
Asked whether he would look at the homecoming queen celebration, kicker Leigh Tiffin smiled and said, “That is the last thing I’ll be worried about.”
• CODY GETTING BETTER: Nose tackle Terrence Cody took part in light jogging around the Alabama practice fields Tuesday. He had a long brace on his right leg. Cody strained his right knee ligament against Ole Miss on Oct. 18.
— Josh Cooper

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Upchurch carries the day

TUSCALOOSA — In the second half against Tennessee, Alabama needed a change of pace with its running game. With freshman Mark Ingram struggling, the Tide called on Roy Upchurch.
The junior from Tallahassee, Fla., led Alabama with a career-high 86 yards rushing on 14 carries, all of which came in the second half of Alabama’s 29-9 victory.
On the Tide’s final scoring drive, Upchurch carried the ball on four consecutive plays, including a 4-yard touchdown run that put them ahead 29-3 with 9:43 left.
“We all know what kind of talent Roy has,” left guard Mike Johnson said. “He's one of those backs who hasn't got a lot of carries this year, but he's been patiently waiting his turn. He came in and provided a little bit of a change for us and made some great cuts and made some people miss.”
• TENNESSEE’S BROWN GOES DOWN: With 5:26 remaining, Tennessee defensive end Wes Brown hit the ground of Neyland Stadium hard and grabbed his right knee. Brown then had to be helped to the Tennessee sideline. He’s battled an injury in the knee all season, and during his Sunday teleconference, Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said that the problem was an extension of the initial injury.
Fulmer said he expects Brown to play Saturday against South Carolina. Brown finished the game against Alabama with three tackles.
• CAN’T SMOKE’EM CAUSE YOU DON’T GOT’EM: There were no victory cigars after Alabama defeated Tennessee — NCAA rules have disallowed them the past two years — but the Tide still celebrated the fact that it had its first back-to-back victories against the Volunteers since 1991 and 1992. The Alabama senior class finished its four-year run with a 3-1 record against its rival.
"It makes us feel good,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “We've been around a lot of good players here. We did a good job of beating them in ‘05, then we came up here two years ago and played them close, but they beat us. Then last year, we did a good job of beating them without some key players.”
• TIDE FEELING HEALTHY: Alabama came out of the Tennessee game without any major injuries. Saban said that tight end Nick Walker bruised his arm and cornerback Marquis Johnson bruised his knee, but each was fine and returned to the game after the injury took place.
— Josh Cooper

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tide left tackle Smith not worried about NFL Draft

TUSCALOOSA — Junior left tackle Andre Smith says he doesn’t want to think about the NFL draft. Not right now, not when his team is ranked No. 2 in the country. But his family sometimes comes up to Smith and tells him what draft experts say about him, that he is a potential first round pick.
“I’m always like, ‘Don’t come to me and tell me that,’” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m worried about this game this week. All that will take care of itself. I’m really just focused on the team. And us.”
• MORENO GOES WITH MOHAWK: Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno sported a slight Mohawk for Saturday. Unfortunately for Moreno, the new ‘do didn’t help him, as he had 34 yards on nine carries.
Moreno came into the game as a Heisman trophy candidate, but did not receive any carries in the fourth quarter. Georgia’s inability to run the ball made it difficult for the Bulldogs to use one of its favorite weapons: the play-action pass.
“We could play seven-man fronts and stop their runs,” Saban said. “So that means the defensive line did an outstanding job.”
• TIFFIN NOT A TACKLER: Kicker Leigh Tiffin doesn’t want to hang around on kick offs. He would like to boot the ball, watch someone else make the tackle and get off the field. That has rarely happened this year for Tiffin.
He has often found himself as one of the last lines of defense on kick coverage. Against Tulane, Green Wave linebacker Travis Burks knocked Tiffin into a daze on a kick return. He left after the play, then returned in the second half.
It happened to Tiffin again Saturday against Georgia. Though he never left the game, he said he is starting to think that maybe he needs to work a little more on his tackling.
“Coach says you’ve got to beat them with speed and you’ve got to avoid (blockers) the right way,” Tiffin said. “That’s important — avoiding to the ball. You’ve got to be smart about it. It’s an effort play, you’ve got to run hard down there.”
Tiffin has tried to avoid tackling this year by kicking the ball farther on kick offs. Tiffin has averaged 62.7 yards per kick this year. Last year he averaged 60.0 yards per kick.
“You’re looking at hang time and location. Those are two big factors,” Tiffin said. “You don’t always try to just rip the ball. Things can go haywire when you try to just kill the ball.”
• TIDE ANNOUNCE PLAYERS OF WEEK: The Crimson Tide announced its players of the week Monday. On offense, quarterback John Parker Wilson, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Roy Upchurch were all recognized. On defense, linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Rashad Johnson were honored.
Kicker Leigh Tiffin, who kicked two field goals Saturday, was the Tide’s special teams player of the week.
• MCCOY HURTS HAMSTRING: Alabama might be without one of its starting wide receivers for Saturday’s game against Kentucky. Wideout Mike McCoy pulled his hamstring Saturday against Georgia and wore a non-contact jersey at practice. He was joined on the exercise bike by tight end Preston Dial who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week.
Freshman running back Mark Ingram bruised his knee against Georgia but was not limited in practice Monday.
— Josh Cooper

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cooper's take

Cody Effect
It’s tough to say who Alabama’s MVP is through the first four games, but right now it might be nose tackle Terrence Cody.
None of Alabama’s opponents have had an answer for the giant junior college transfer as he has stuffed up the middle and opened up lanes for the Tide’s defensive players.
Arkansas, with its All-America center Jonathan Luigs, still needed to double-team the 6-foot-5, 365-pound Cody. Going against a ground attack like Georgia’s with running back Knowshon Moreno will be a challenge.
Said Georgia coach Mark Richt, “I don't think we will knock him back."

Air Tide
Quarterback John Parker Wilson hasn’t been the most productive player on offense, but then again he hasn’t needed to be.
So far the Crimson Tide has out-rushed its opponent 947-220. Meanwhile, Alabama’s opponents have thrown for more yards, 753 to 603. In his first two years at Alabama, Wilson showed the ability to make plays throwing the ball, but this year Alabama coach Nick Saban has asked that his quarterback simply manage the game. The Bulldogs are ranked third in the country in rush defense, so if the run isn’t there, the Crimson Tide will ask Wilson to find receivers and beat Georgia that way.
“We're a good passing team,” Wilson said. “But when you're running the ball like you do, there's no need to throw the ball.”

— Josh Cooper

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saban pays attention to Auburn

TUSCALOOSA — So Nick Saban says that he doesn’t pay attention to what Auburn does? Well, think again. The Alabama coach chuckled when asked about the Tigers’ 3-2 victory against Mississippi State last weekend. The laughter did not come at the expense of Auburn’s offense, but mostly because of its stellar defensive performance.
Saban talked about the Tigers’ opponents’ third down conversion rate (3-for-46) and said that he has never seen a team with a conversion rate like that three games into the season.
“I’m sure they’ll get their thing straightened out, but when you play good defense, you’re always going to play to keep from losing the game, and that’s probably a good way to win a lot of them,” Saban said.
• WILDER WATCHES PRACTICE: Olympic boxing heavyweight bronze medalist Deontay Wilder watched the end of Alabama’s practice Tuesday. Saban introduced Wilder, a Tuscaloosa native, to the team following practice.
— Josh Cooper

Monday, September 15, 2008

3 things

Three things Alabama should remember after its 41-7 victory over Western Kentucky

The real game begins:
It's nice to be 3-0, but now it's time for the real part of the season to start. Clemson was a test, but wins at Arkansas and Georgia can validate whether you are for real.

Run the ball: It is pretty obvious that the strength of your offense is the running game. I know the offense strives for balance, but maybe you should consider tilting it a little more toward the rushing attack.

Stay consistent: Throughout the course of Nick Saban's tenure, Alabama has often backed up a good performance with a bad one. It can't fall into that trap with SEC play about to begin.

— Josh Cooper

Accolades for Julio

Alabama's star freshman nabbed an SEC honor, which was announced on Monday. Here is the snippet from the SEC offices.


Wide Receiver
6-4 • 210
Foley, Ala. (HS)

• Jones caught five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in Alabama’s 41-7 win against Western Kentucky.
• The score was the second of his career and was a 12-yarder in the third quarter, which gave the Crimson Tide its final victory margin, 41-7.
• Jones leads the Tide in receptions this season with 10 for 107 yards.
• He is one of two true freshmen to start the first three games and one of 15 to see playing time this season.

Here's how the other awards shook out ...


6-6 • 204 • Sophomore
Canton, Ohio (GlenOak HS)

• Hartline completed 28-of-47 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions’ in Kentucky’s 20-14 win over Middle Tennessee.
• Trailing 14-10 in the fourth quarter, Hartline led a 57-yard scoring drive, capped by a touchdown pass to Derrick Locke for the game winning score.
• On his next drive, Hartline led the Wildcats to a field goal to make the final margin, 20-14.
• Hartline has not thrown an interception this season and has a streak of 96 consecutive passes without throwing an interception dating back to last season.


5-11 • 220 • Sophomore
Snellville, Ga. (Brookwood HS)

• Curran had six tackles, a forced fumble, sack and two quarterback pressures in Georgia’s 14-7 win at South Carolina.
• He forced a fumble at the Georgia goal line while South Carolina was threatening to score the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
• The Bulldogs held South Carolina to just 18 yards rushing in the game.
• Curran leads the Bulldogs this season with 20 tackles, including a team-high three for losses.


Return Specialist
5-5 • 164 • Junior
Zachary, La. (Northeast HS)

• Holliday returned four punts for 163 and one touchdown in LSU’s 41-3 win over North Texas.
• His 92-yard punt return for a score in the second quarter is tied for the second longest in LSU history.
• Holliday’s 163 total punt return yards rank second in school history and the sixth-highest total in SEC history.
• The yardage total is the most in the SEC since 1983, when LSU’s Norman Jefferson had 169 punt return yards against Ole Miss.
• Holliday is now one of only four players in LSU history to score TDs on punt and kickoff returns in a career.


6-5 • 310 • Junior
Riverdale, Ga. (Lovejoy HS)

• Scott graded the best of a Vols offensive line in Tennessee’s 35-3 win against UAB.
• Tennessee finished the game with 548 total offensive yards, the best for the Vols in 24 games. In the game, UT had 282 passing yards and 266 rushing yards.
• The Vols now lead the SEC in total offense, averaging 457.0 yards per game.


Defensive Tackle
6-1 • 305 • Senior
Brookhaven, Miss. (HS/Copiah-Lincoln JC)

• Bowman posted a career-high eight total tackles with 3.5 for losses, in Mississippi State’s 3-2 loss to Auburn.
• Among his stops was a fourth-quarter forced fumble that the Bulldogs recovered.
• Bowman helped lead a Bulldog defense that kept Auburn out of the end zone.
• Bowman leads the SEC with four pass deflections and ranks tied for fourth in the SEC in tackles behind the line of scrimmage.


OL ANTOINE CALDWELL (Alabama) -- Helped clear the way for Alabama offense to gain 557 total yards and 30 first downs against Western Kentucky.

LB TRAY BLACKMON (Auburn) -- Led Auburn with six tackles and a tackle for loss against Mississippi State.

TB KNOWSHON MORENO (Georgia) -- Rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown and also had two catches for 13 yards and a 32 yard punt return against South Carolina.

P/K TIM MASTHAY (Kentucky) -- Averaged 52.7 yards on three punts and had two touchbacks on kickoffs against Middle Tennessee.

RB CHARLES SCOTT (LSU) -- Rushed for 102 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns against North Texas.

DL PERIA JERRY (Ole Miss) -- In his first start of the season, registered six tackles and two for losses against Samford.

P BLAKE McADAMS (Mississippi State) -- Averaged 38.1 yards on 10 punts and had three downed inside the 10-yard line against Auburn.

WR MOE BROWN (South Carolina) -- Had career-highs in receptions (7) and reception yards (130) and a touchdown against Georgia.

WR LUCAS TAYLOR (Tennessee) -- Caught nine passes for 132 yards against UAB.

PR/KR/DB D.J. MOORE (Vanderbilt) -- Accounted for 206 all-purpose yards against Rice (84 punt return, 54 kickoff return, 37 rushing and an interception for 31 yards).

Monday, September 8, 2008

SEC Players of the Week

Both Alabama and Auburn got one this week. Here's the list from the SEC offices.


5-11 • 207 • Sophomore
Belford, N.J. (Middletown South HS)

• Moreno rushed for 168 yards on 18 carries and a career-high tying three touchdowns in Georgia’s 56-17 win over Central Michigan.

• Moreno also had three catches for 30 yards.

• He scored three touchdowns for the second week in a row and leads the SEC and tied for second in the nation in scoring (36 points).

• He had a 52-yard TD run and also had a 29-yard run in which he hurdled an opposing player.

• Moreno was part of an offense that racked up 552 total offensive yards.

6-0 • 222 • Junior
Southlake, Texas (Carroll HS)

• A second-year starter, Benoist turned in a career-best performance in Vanderbilt’s 24-17 victory against #24 South Carolina.

• Benoist contributed 15 total tackles, including a six-yard quarterback sack, a two-yard tackle for loss and a pass deflection against the Gamecocks.

• His performance helped the Commodores limit South Carolina to a lone second half score and 325 total offensive yards.

Return Specialist/Cornerback
5-9 • 198 • Junior
Tampa, Fla. (Robinson HS)

• Arenas had five punt returns for a school-record 147 yards and a TD in Alabama’s 20-6 win against Tulane.

• His 87-yard return for a score was the fifth longest in school history.

• The punt return record had stood for 61 years, since Harry Gilmer had 122 yards against Georgia in 1947.

• Arenas now has four punt returns for TDs in his career, tying him with David Palmer for the school record.

• He finished with 212 all-purpose yards and 3 tackles.

6-4 • 273 • Senior
Huntsville, Ala. (Grissom HS)

• In 70 plays, Bosley graded out at a team-best 94 percent in Auburn’s 27-13 win against Southern Miss.

• Against the Golden Eagles, Bosley tallied five “rodeo” blocks and two “cockroach” blocks.

• Bosley has moved from center to right tackle, playing exclusively at that position for the first time in his Auburn career.

• Auburn tallied 380 total offensive yards for a 5.1 yard per play average in 75 plays.

Defensive End
6-3 • 250 • Junior
Stone Mountain, Ga. (Stephenson HS)

• Cunningham logged nine total tackles (five solos) with two for losses (-10 yards), including a sack (-8 yards) in Florida’s 23-3 win against Miami (Fla.).

• The Gator defense held Miami to three points, the fewest the Gators have allowed the Hurricanes since 1960 (UF, 18-0).

• The Gator defense held the Hurricanes to just 140 yards of total offense and forced nine punts.

Wide Receiver
6-0 • 175
Little Rock, Ark. (Central Arkansas Christian)

• Adams led Arkansas with seven catches for 89 yards in the Razorbacks’ 28-27 win over Louisiana-Monroe.

• Adams’ seven catches were the most by a Razorback in a single game since 2005 (7 by Peyton Hillis vs. Auburn).

• Two of his catches came to aid Arkansas’ fourth-quarter comeback, netting first downs on each catch.

• He also recorded a nine-yard rush against the Warhawks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

TIde learning to rely in Ingram

TUSCALOOSA — With 4:41 remaining in the third quarter, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban ditched his running back rotation and went with freshman Mark Ingram as the feature back.
The move proved fortuitous, as Ingram rushed for 39 yards on the drive, including a touchdown run where he swept to the left, found a hole and ran in for the 15-yard score.
“He certainly made some outstanding runs when there wasn't much there,” Saban said. “Mark has probably been our most consistent guy with the ball in his hands and hopefully he can continue to improve.”
For the second consecutive game, Alabama primarily used Ingram, who led the Tide with 63 yards on 11 carries, and Glen Coffee who had 55 yards on nine carries. Saban said that he tried to use running back Terry Grant more, but couldn’t after Alabama got out of its gameplan. Grant had one reception for nine yards.
• Offensive line gets makeover: Alabama played Saturday’s game against Tulane with three new offensive linemen. Well, that’s not really the case, but that was the way Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban saw it.
With starting left tackle Andre Smith injured, Alabama began the game with Mike Johnson at left tackle, David Ross at left guard, Antoine Caldwell at center, Marlon Davis at right guard and Drew Davis at right tackle.
Then when Marlon Davis went down in the first half with a hamstring injury, Saban moved Ross from left guard to right guard and inserted Brian Motley at left guard.
“We had Motley playing a different place, David Ross playing a different place and Mike Johnson playing a different place, so you actually had three different people playing from what we were last week,” Saban said. “We kind of lost our continuity on the offensive line.”
• Newcomers show their stuff: Those looking for a big game out of freshman wide receiver Julio Jones were disappointed. One week after his four catch, 28-yard performance against Clemson, Jones made one catch — a 13-yard grab — against Tulane.
Jones might be the most recognizable member of the freshman class — his introduction Saturday elicited the loudest cheers from the fans — but several other newcomers played roles in Alabama’s win against Tulane. Linebacker Don’ta Hightower finished with 10 tackles and Mark Barron filled in at Alabama’s extra defensive back slot after cornerback Javier Arenas went out with a head injury in the third quarter.
• Tide jump up two spots in AP poll: Alabama moved up two spots in the Associated Press poll and one in the USA Today Coaches Poll on Sunday.
Alabama went from No. 13 to No. 11 in the AP poll and from No. 17 to No. 16 in the coaches poll.
— Josh Cooper

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New rankings

The new polls are out, and there's good news and bad news.

Alabama moved up four spots to No. 17. That, for the Alabama fans, would be the good news. The bad news? Well, if you can call it that, is that for right now, the Tide will not get a shot at the No. 1 team in the country in a few weeks.

After Southern Cal's impressive win over Virginia, Georgia slipped to the No. 2 spot.

Here is the USA Today/ESPN poll

Alabama took the biggest move in the Associated Press poll, moving up 11 spots. Georgia fell in this one, too.

Read about it here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tide headed to Conway, S.C.

Alabama found out its baseball postseason destination on Monday. It's Conway, S.C., home of Coastal Carolina University.

The third-seeded Crimson Tide (34-26) will face East Carolina (40-17) in a first-round game of the double-elimination regional. Top-seeded Coastal Carolina (47-12) and Columbia (22-28) will face off in the other first-round game.

The schedule for the regionals will be released later today.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

And ... maybe not

The SEC baseball tournament and the deadlines of the print media world collided in catastrophic fashion Wednesday night, at least for me.

In a column I wrote for Thursday's paper, I predicted that this Alabama team was different than those of the last three years, which had made pitiful showings in Hoover. Since Alabama's first-round game with Kentucky didn't start until 10:50 p.m. (nearly three hours after the regularly-scheduled first pitch), I had to write something to fill the space in the paper.

Little did I know, Alabama would go out on the field and get embarrassed by a pitcher making his first career start. The Crimson Tide got three runs and five hits against Kentucky starter Aaron Lovett in its first trip through the order, but couldn't manage much after that in a 9-3 loss.

Alabama has now lost four consecutive SEC tournament openers, and will try to stay alive when it faces top-seeded Georgia at "1 p.m." today. (I put that time in parentheses because there is a game that starts at 10 a.m., meaning Alabama's game will surely not begin on time). Austin Hyatt is scheduled to pitch for the Crimson Tide.

Most of those in the know (I'm not including myself in that category) have speculated that Alabama is already in the NCAA tournament, even if it goes 2-and-out in Hoover for the second straight year. But another loss today might make up the selection committee's mind in a negative way.

Though it finished second in the SEC West and fifth in the overall SEC standings, Alabama is ninth in the league in the RPI rankings. It's possible the 6-8 seeds in Hoover and perhaps even 9th-place Arkansas, could jump the Tide in the tournament pecking order.

At least today --- and for as long as Alabama stays alive in Hoover --- we won't have to worry about a deadline crunch.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nick Saban, always one step ahead

It didn't take Alabama football coach Nick Saban long to find away around the new NCAA rule --- AKA the "Saban rule" --- that prohibits head coaches from recruiting off-campus during the spring recruiting period (April 15-May 31).

Saban has begun taking advantage of new technology, using video-conferencing over the Internet to get a chance to meet coaches and prospects that he would have previously been allowed to meet in person. Here's the explanation Saban offered during his Crimson Caravan stop at Talladega Superspeedway on Tuesday night :

"We had video conferencing in our office from a medical standpoint, for some of our guys to use to talk to sports psychiatrists and different things like that," Saban said. "It was just a part of our program; it's a part of our peer-intervention program. We have several people involved in that. So, we had it. Obviously, we've seen it used before and we've used it before and just thought it would be a much better opportunity, a personal opportunity, to visit with the high school coach, as well as the prospect, even though in most cases, they end up calling us."

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the NCAA to try and close this loophole as well, the way it did with text-messaging. But you have to give Saban credit for always trying to be one step ahead of the competition when it comes to recruiting, and just about everything else.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Couple of newsworthy items

Few things on a Friday afternoon:

* First, Alabama has set its 2008 homecoming football game. It will be the Nov. 1 game against Arkansas State.

That's a little later than ideal in terms of weather, but since schools generally like to face a non-conference (read: beatable) opponent for homecoming, it might have been the only option. The Tide's other non-conference home games are against Tulane on Sept. 6 and Western Kentucky on Sept. 13, dates considered too early for homecoming.

* Alabama's baseball team was picked to finish last in the SEC West by league coaches. That's no surprise, given the Crimson Tide returns virtually no experienced pitchers from a year ago.

But baseball teams have been been known to make significant one-year turnarounds, so I wouldn't count Alabama out of the race just yet. The Crimson Tide opens the season a week from today, at home against Cal Poly on Feb. 22.

* Speaking of baseball, one of the Crimson Tide's all-time greats announced his retirement from the game on Friday. Jeremy Brown, a catcher at Alabama from 1999-2002, hung up his spikes after six years in the Oakland Athletics' system.

Brown was a first-round pick by the Athletics in 2002 and a prominent figure in the best-selling Michael Lewis book "Moneyball." But due to injuries and perhaps just bad luck, he never stuck at the major-league level, getting 10 at-bats in his lone big-league call-up in 2006.

* Fourth, and not least, Alabama softball is off to a 6-0 start heading into today's Crimson Classic. The Crimson Tide, ranked No. 4 in the country and preseason SEC favorite, has already sold every tickets for its home schedule.