Topping Tide takes special showing

Topping Tide takes special showing

September 11th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

After celebrating a sack during a 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky last Saturday, the Alabama football team begins SEC play this week. The Crimson Tide have won 28 of their last 32 regular-season league matchups.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

FOWLER OUT

Alabama coach Nick Saban announced Monday that junior tailback Jalston Fowler likely suffered a season-ending knee injury late in Saturday's win over Western Kentucky and will undergo surgery. Fowler rushed for 385 yards and four touchdowns on 56 carries last season (6.9 yards a carry), and he had 85 yards on 11 carries (7.7) this year.

"Jalston has been a great player in the program, and he's been a really good special-teams guy," Saban said. "He's been a great backup player for us and is a really good-attitude guy. I know he feels badly, and we feel badly, too."

Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow did it. Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton did it. Former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson did it twice, and even former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia did it.

Beating Alabama is not impossible for the rest of the Southeastern Conference, but it has become a relatively rare feat. The Crimson Tide have dropped just four SEC regular-season games since the start of the 2008 season, and they suffered a fifth league setback in the '08 SEC championship when Tebow rallied the Gators to a 31-20 victory.

"You've got to play well, and your offense needs to stay on the field a little bit," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose Gamecocks stunned the top-ranked Tide 35-21 in 2010. "We played maybe one of the best games we've ever played. We had basically eight possessions and had five touchdown drives and didn't kick any field goals.

"When you're playing an opponent that is probably physically better than you, you've just got to play close to a near-perfect game."

Alabama is 50-6 overall since the start of the '08 season, winning national titles in '09 and again last year, and there are only three current SEC coaches who have shaken hands as the victor against Nick Saban during this stretch. Spurrier and Auburn's Gene Chizik defeated the Tide two years ago, and LSU's Les Miles won in 2010 and again last season before losing the rematch 21-0 in the BCS title game.

Miles believes playing turnover-free and winning the special teams are significant keys. LSU made no turnovers two years ago in Baton Rouge in pulling out a 24-21 victory, and the Tigers dominated the special teams during last November's 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa, when punter Brad Wing launched a 73-yarder and the Tide missed four field-goal attempts.

When Alabama triumphed in New Orleans, however, the Tide played turnover-free and took off following Marquis Maze's 49-yard punt return midway through the first quarter.

"They had a nice punt return that everybody seems to have forgotten about, but certainly not us," Miles said. "That was maybe the biggest play at the beginning of the game. They are very prepared and very talented, and you have got to be ready to play."

The challenge of defeating Alabama this week falls on Arkansas, which lost 38-14 in Tuscaloosa last season with Bobby Petrino as the coach and Tyler Wilson as the quarterback. Petrino was fired this spring after misleading university officials about an extramarital affair, and Wilson had to leave last Saturday's shocking overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe late in the first half with a head injury.

South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier has a rare SEC win against Alabama since Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide, and Spurrier says it requires not only talent but near perfection to pull off such a victory.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Wilson cannot practice with the Razorbacks until he is cleared by doctors, so interim coach John L. Smith started planning for the nation's No. 1 team with Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell at quarterback.

"Nobody here should feel warm and cozy about the other team's circumstance or situation," Saban said. "We need to be thinking about what we need to do to be successful. They have a lot of good players who are capable of making plays and having success."

Said Smith: "We have to do a great job of preparation this week. It has to be a positive week for us."

Tebow defeated Alabama before guiding the Gators to the national championship, and Newton downed the Tide before winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Auburn to a national title. So it has taken a quarterback of that caliber or one who has a career performance.

"Gosh, our quarterback was 17-out-of-20," Spurrier said of Garcia. "That was by far his best game he ever had here."

Newton threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns in rallying Auburn to a 28-27 win two years ago in Tuscaloosa, but his absence was felt last season in a 42-14 loss. The Tigers managed just 44 yards during the first three quarters of last year's Iron Bowl.

"You've got to be able to stay toe-to-toe with those guys," Chizik said. "That's the first thing, and then you've got to be mistake-free for the most part, because they are going to have very few mistakes. That's been apparent over the last few years."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.