Alabama A&M travels to Tuscaloosa with a 2-1 record this season that includes wins over Talladega and Oakwood College and a loss at Tulane. The Bulldogs, under the direction of first-year head coach Willie Hayes, are averaging 79.3 points per game and shooting 45.8 percent from the field. "They’re a very quick and very deep team," UA head coach Anthony Grant said of Wednesday’s opponent. "They want to play an up-tempo. It’ll be a battle of who does the best job taking care of the basketball and imposing their defensive intensity and style of play. From what I’ve seen we have very similar styles of play."
A year ago, the University of Alabama men's basketball team came home from the Caribbean with a three-game losing streak and a lot of work to do. This year, after what forward JaMychal Green called "a more pleasant trip home" with three wins and a Puerto Rico Tip-Off title to its credit, the Crimson Tide comes home - and still has a lot of work to do, according to coach Anthony Grant. "It was good for our team," Grant said. "I think we faced good competition. But it was just one step for our team. "We need to improve in a lot of areas. We need to be better on offense, both in transition and in the halfcourt. We have young players who are still developing.
Teammates will count on Chapman to slow if not stop the Tigers' rushing offense. "I feel like Chapman might be one of the top defensive linemen in the country," Hightower said. "I definitely think he's one of the players on our defense that's overlooked a lot."
Without dissecting the definition of "trick play," Alabama coach Nick Saban said it’s the general nature of Malzahn’s offense to produce plays that create uncertainty within the defense. "First of all, Gus does a great job with their offense," Saban said. "They’ve been very, very productive. He does a very good job of using the players they have in roles they can be productive in. They have a lot of gadget plays, crazy plays, whatever you want to call it. The big thing is you’ve got to get your players on defense settled enough to change personnel. They’re going at a fast pace. They’re doing a lot of things that can disrupt defensive players. The most important thing is you get lined up where you can play and the players are confident in what they’re playing, not all running around, trying to get lined up and making adjustments that are going to put them in a bad position."
There was no national television broadcast to capture Gus Malzahn's tirade last week, but the Auburn offensive coordinator was visibly furious as he paced the sidelines after one of Auburn's three turnovers against Samford. Malzahn said turnovers are difficult for him to stomach. "The things I can't live with are the turnovers and the silly mistakes," he said. "Sometimes you get whipped; sometimes they're better than you are. My focus all year, and especially lately, protect the football, have a hat on hat, and execute properly."
AUBURN WILL WIN IF: they get some help from AJ McCarron. In our "Keys to the Game" prior to the Tigers' contest against Georgia, we noted that Auburn had been oustanding vs. teams with questionable quarterbacking and terrible vs. teams with anyone decent under center. Aaron Murray? He was far better than decent (14-of-18, 12.4 YPA, 4 TDs) and Auburn was naturally shelled to the tune of 45 points and 528 total yards. Can McCarron reprise anything like Murray's domination? Certain early-season performances suggest he can, but the redshirt sophomore has been noticeably less effcient on the road (three non-Ole Miss games have yielded a combined 5.8 YPA and just one touchdown pass), and his past three SEC games anywhere have yielded just a 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If McCarron is on his game, everything about the Tigers' season-to-date suggests they'll give up major yards and points. But that's a big if given the kind of environment McCarron will face and his erratic play of late.
Few outside the state have really noticed as the Tigers have fallen from the rankings and struggled offensively. He has earned the respect of Tide coach Nick Saban, though. "I think he is an outstanding running back," Saban said. "Probably as good as anybody that we've played against this year. I think he has played really well. Maybe his numbers aren't what they were a year ago or whatever ... but I just think the guy is a really good back."
It's certainly easy to respect the passion and zeal of fans who want to win an SEC title, even it means playing one more game, and will therefore pull for Arkansas. On the other hand, why take chances? After a week of watching the status quo rattled, perhaps the best bet for Alabama fans is to hope for a calm weekend, even if it is trimmed in purple and gold.
Barrett Jones resumed practicing at left tackle this week after sitting out the past two while recovering from what he described as nagging injuries. The latest was a high ankle sprain he suffered in a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU. Jones missed last year's Iron Bowl because of an injury, and said he feels good after two days of practice this week. "Every time I do see that game, it hurts a little bit more," he said. "I definitely tried to rehab hard to get back for this one." This week, Jones was named a finalist for the Outland Trophy, awarded annually to the nation's top interior lineman. "I think I've been really blessed to play with four really good offensive linemen, and also great running backs that make me look a lot better than I really am," he said.
Regular-season football games are always going to be important, no matter what postseason system you use, because there aren't that many of them. A loss under the current system affects your BCS ranking. A loss in a playoff system affects your chances for a postseason berth and optimal seeding. If there's any game that's unimportant in the big picture, it might be this year's SEC championship game. It is likely that if LSU beats Arkansas but loses to Georgia in Atlanta next week, the Tigers will still be among the top two in the BCS rankings and will play in the BCS title game anyway. It's happened before Oklahoma got drilled 35-7 by Kansas State in the 2003 Big 12 title game and still played LSU in the BCS championship game that same year.
"We really don't have any interest in anybody playing in the Pac-12 or Pac-10, or whatever it is, or the Big 12," Saban said. "Any of those games really don't matter. None of those games matter. Nothing matters except how we play in this game. That's all that matters." There was a pause. For other coaches, it might be considered a pause for comic timing. For Saban, it was a deadly serious afterthought/warning/light-bulb moment. "In fact," he continued, "I think I'm going to tell the team today that if they want to watch the LSU-Arkansas game, turn it off and go watch some Auburn film. That game means nothing to us either."
The University of Alabama won the 2011 Beat Auburn Beat Hunger Food Drive by collecting 237,079 pounds of food to top Auburn University’s collection of 134,102 pounds of food. UA’s collection is an 8.5 percent increase in food donations from last year. "I am so proud of the work that our students and the staff of the West Alabama Food Bank put into the drive this year," said Wahnee Sherman, director of the UA Community Service Center. "The food drive was truly another example of this community coming together to help others."
Hightower leads the team in tackles with 72, while Upshaw leads UA in tackles for loss (14) and sacks (6.5). Other Butkus Award finalists include Nebraska's Lavonte David, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Boston College's Luke Kuechly and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. Hightower the fact that he and a teammate were both named finalists speaks to the strength of UA's linebacking corps as a whole. "It shows everyone we're both competitors," Hightower added. "It means a lot when you have two guys on the same team up for the same award, regardless of what award it is. Me and Courtney have been close ever since we've gotten here. We're like brothers."
But numbers, UA center William Vlachos said, matter not in the Iron Bowl. "I've played against their defense the last couple of years, and it's the most physical game you're going to play in every year. Last year, I came off the field just bleeding out of my mouth, my hands were bleeding," Vlachos said. "It's just one of those games ?that ... I'm not that worried about statistics with this game because it really ain't gonna matter. Alabama-Auburn, it's a whole different deal."