Tide secondary up for the Gator challenge


Published: Friday, September 30, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 30, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
TUSCALOOSA - The University of Alabama secondary, which returned largely intact after leading the nation in pass defense in 2004, has heard its share of praise this season.
Now, the Tide can add Florida coach Urban Meyer to its list of fans.
Meyer told The Sun that he and UF wide receivers coach Billy Gonzalez share the opinion that the Alabama secondary will be their toughest test of the season.
"We agree," Meyer said Tuesday. "He said it's the best secondary we've faced across the board. Tennessee had some great players, but as far as consistency and athleticism, Billy Gonzales thinks it's the best back seven we've played."
For the Tide players, though, the praise means little - unless it comes after Saturday's nationally televised 3:30 p.m. game on CBS against the Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"We know we're going to be tested," said cornerback Simeon Castille. "We're going against one of the best quarterbacks in the nation (in Florida's Chris Leak.) We can't just go out there and rely on reputation. This is probably the biggest football game I've been a part of in my life, so we have to play our best."
The Tide secondary will be a key in stopping Florida's spread option offense, a formation that's not usually seen in the Southeastern Conference.
"It gives them a lot of tools in their toolbox," said Tide defensive coordinator Joe Kines. "They can do a lot of things with it, from run the ball to empty out the backfield and throw it with five wide receivers."
Castille, though, says the key to stopping the attack is the same as it is with any other offense: fundamentals.
"You stop option football by knowing your assignments and doing them correctly," Castille said. "If we take care of our assignments, we should be fine."
Florida is averaging 417.5 yards per game offensively, with nearly two-thirds of that production (268.5 yards per game) coming through the air. Leak has several speedy receivers to choose from, including former Hoover High School star Chad Jackson.
"It's a challenge, but we are always looking for a challenge," said Tide safety Roman Harper. "Chad Jackson makes plays for them. You can definitely tell he's their go-to guy."
Jackson currently ranks No. 5 nationally in receptions per game with 32 catches for 401 yards in Florida's first four contests.
"I'm looking forward to it," Castille said when asked about playing against Jackson. "I want to go against the best and Chad is definitely one of the best."
Anthony Madison, another of the Tide's cornerbacks, will also have important responsibilities on Saturday - if his sprained right ankle gets well.
"I played 35 or 40 snaps against Arkansas, but I wasn't 100 percent at all," Madison said. "I hurt it in the South Carolina game, and stayed off it all week, but it was still sore.
"I'm practicing this week. It feels a lot better. I'm not even considering anything other than being 100 percent for this game. I'm praying to the Lord every night to heal this ankle. That's all I can do right now."
Alabama's health status overall is positive, Tide head coach Mike Shula said after Wednesday's practice.
"We're about as healthy as we have ever been," Shula said.
Linebacker Terrance Jones, who has not played since suffering an ankle sprain in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State, was back at practice Wednesday.
"Hopefully, he'll be able to play on defense or on special teams," Shula said.
The only players who are definitely out for the game are tight end Trent Davidson, who has missed the entire season following foot surgery, and tight end Greg McLain, who is coming back from a shoulder injury.
"Greg's gotten better, but now it's a matter of getting himself into playing shape," Shula said. "And he might be able to go in Saturday if it's an emergency situation."
SHULA SAID that this week's practices had included a special emphasis on special teams.
"We haven't played the kind of football in the special teams that we are capable of," Shula said. "Jeremy (Schatz) has dome a good job of punting the football, but as far as our coverage and our returns, we've got to do better."

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