This Tide team resembling '09 version


Cutline: Alabama running back Trent Richardson pushes Arkansas safety Elton Ford away as he runs for a first down in the second half Saturday in Tuscaloosa. (AP Photo)

Published: Monday, September 26, 2011 at 9:38 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 26, 2011 at 9:38 a.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's getting harder and harder to tell this Alabama team apart from the 2009 version.

The formula is the same: Dominant run-crushing, ball-hawking defense; hard-to-stop tailback duo and heady quarterback making few mistakes.

The No. 3 Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) certainly resembled the national championship team from two years ago while throttling Arkansas 38-14 on Saturday. Even coach Nick Saban isn't discouraging praise of his defense while cautioning that there are plenty of big challenges ahead, starting with a visit this Saturday to No. 12 Florida.




“I think we've had some pretty good defenses through the years and certainly had a great one here in 2009,” Saban said after the game. “We've got a lot of experience. The guys have to keep challenging themselves to improve. We've got a lot of good people.

“I'm pleased with their performance but I'm sure that there's people that are going to see what we do and take advantage of it in the future. Every time we play, that's a challenge. We've got to play our best all the time.”

They were definitely impressive against an offense that came in leading the SEC in scoring, total yards and passing. The next challenge is a Gators team that now tops the league in scoring, total and rushing offense.

The Tide defensive front was strong enough to stymie Ronnie Wingo Jr.'s running and consistently pressure quarterback Tyler Wilson even though Saban said the Tide only really blitzed one time in the game. That one was botched and Wilson turned it into a 19-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton in the third quarter while taking a huge hit from linebacker Adrian Hubbard the instant after he released.

Alabama's defense made few other mistakes. Receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Hamilton couldn't get open downfield against a veteran secondary; they combined for just 99 yards on 13 catches

Wilson was only sacked once but as coach Bobby Petrino said, “He got hit a lot.”

“He stood in there and executed well,” Petrino said. “He made some good plays but we didn't give him a lot of help with protection.

“We didn't give him help in getting open and making plays.”

The Arkansas running game also managed just 17 yards on 19 carries. Now, the Razorbacks get another chance to prove themselves if they can rebound against No. 14 Texas A&M in Arlington.

“It depends on the maturity of the football team and the leadership within the team,” Wilson said. “Preparing this next week to go after Texas A&M and to get a win there will be crucial.”

The win gave the Tide an edge over one of its top SEC West rivals. Now comes a matchup with one of the East front-runners and another offense full of speedy playmakers in Gainesville.

It would be hard to find a better comparison to the '09 Alabama team than the Arkansas game, though. That team routed the Razorbacks 35-7.

Then, Ryan Mallett was 12-of-35 passing for 160 yards; this time Wilson completed 22 of his 35 attempts for 185 yards. Neither starter finished the game, with Wilson relieving Mallett two years ago.

Offensively, Alabama tailbacks Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy combined for 187 yards rushing and Richardson scored on a 61-yard screen pass from quarterback AJ McCarron.

“Me and AJ, we've been clicking since our freshman year,” said Richardson, who scored on a 52-yard run in the '09 meeting as Mark Ingram's backup. “I tell him all the time, 'If you're in trouble, I'm always there.' He does a really good job as quarterback. I'm always trying to get open for him.”

McCarron, much like Greg McElroy the past two seasons, passed for an efficient 200 yards. He still hasn't thrown an interception since getting picked off twice in the opener against Kent State.

Wide receiver Marquis Maze scored on an 83-yard punt return in this one and an 80-yard reception in the '09 game.

The defense was especially impressive both times and seems to lack only the girth of noseguard Terrence Cody. The Tide allowed 226 yards — 281 below Arkansas' season average coming in — compared to 254 two years ago.

It's hardly proof that Alabama can navigate the tough SEC — including a game with No. 1 LSU — and go 14-0 again. It did make a strong statement for the defense.

“It shows you that if you get stopped on the offense you've got a defense that always has our back,” Richardson said.

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