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October 24, 2009

Notebook: Special teams the difference in 12-10 victory

TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama senior kicker Leigh Tiffin had a feeling that Tennessee's last-second field goal attempt was going to be blocked, but not necessarily by senior nose tackle Terrence Cody.

Even if junior kicker Daniel Lincoln had hit the kick square it would have had to clear sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones.

"If Julio Jones times that right, I don't know anyone who can get it over him," Tiffin said. "I'm serious."

Alabama was in what it calls its "max-block" package, which includes Cody and Marcell Dareus in the middle, and everyone from Rolando McClain to Nico Johnson.

"Most of the time in the field goal situation they have four or five eligible guys and there's a lot of different field-goal fakes that you see," Coach Nick Saban explained. "Throwing it back to the kicker over the shoulder, the shovel-pass that Ole Miss ran on us last year, we run a couple run fakes and options. Notre Dame scored on a 'ranger' play last week where a guy hides on the sidelines and they throw him the ball and don't put a lineman in there so that the formation looks the same to the defense.

"When you go max-block you're not really covering much of those things. You say, 'They're going to kick it, that's what they need, and we're going to send all 11 guys to go get it.' You 'beach it', you have three guys on two in the middle, which is what we call beach, and a guy jumping behind him, and the front guys get as much a surge as they can before the guy in the back goes vertical. He's not allowed to jump over the top of players, but that's what happens on max-block, and we had two of them today, right before the half and right at the end of the game."

Actually, Saban was concerned about who went and got the ball after the block, and still didn't know it was Jones and McClain until long after the game.

"I just knew we had to make a play," Cody said. "I had to make a play. We couldn't wait on anybody else to make a play. If they would have made the field goal, it would've been a tight game or they would've won it, so I dug down deep and told myself I was about to block it. The ball snapped, I got a good jump off the line, pushed the guy back and just stuck my arm up."

Tiffin moves up some more
Tiffin's 50-yard field goal was his longest of the season, with the 49-yarder later in the game obviously second.

He had his father Van (1983-86) have made 11 of the 21 field goals at least 50 yards in school history. Leigh Tiffin's four field goals gave him 337 career points to move him ahead of Michael Proctor (326 points from 1992-95) for second place on the Alabama career scoring list, 11 behind Phillip Doyle (1987-90).

"He's done a nice job in practice," Saban said. "I think he feels good. He did a good job kicking off for us today in terms of distance and direction. He did a fantastic job. He made four field goals today, two of them 50-yarders, and there was a little bit of wind out there, it's pretty much a cross-wind in our stadium, he negotiated both of those and did a great job of hitting them. It was the difference in the game guys, those two fields goals and the ones we blocked."

Injuries and starters
Senior tight end Colin Peek sustained a sprained MCL in his left knee when a teammate landed on him near the end of warm-ups. He wore a support and played the first snap, but was subsequently pulled because he couldn't push off enough. The injury is not expected to require surgery.

Redshirt freshman Michael Williams replaced him on kick returns and moved up in the rotation. He also made his first career reception in the second quarter.

Senior cornerback Javier Arenas (bruised ribs) played as expected, both in the secondary and on returns after missing last week's game against South Carolina.

"I helped me realize how much I love sports," said Arenas, who made 13 tackles with 3.5 for a loss and a sack.

The other players listed as day-to-day, sophomore nose tackle Josh Chapman (abdominal strain), freshman receiver Michael Bowman (patella tendon strain), and freshman cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (back spasms), all played, but freshman safety Rod Woodson (patella tendon) did not.

Sophomore Jerrell Harris made his season debut on kick coverage. Sophomore linebacker Courtney Upshaw played on the punt team, while junior linebacker Chavis Williams took snaps as a pass-rusher.

Red zone
Although his statistics may not have shown it, and Saban said he wants to be more aggressive with the passing game, junior quarterback Greg McElroy said he felt a lot more comfortable throwing compared to the last couple of games.

"Tough game," said McElroy, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 120 yards. "We knew it was going to be a close one."

However, one statistic he's going to hear a lot about is red-zone completions. McElroy was 0-for-2 Saturday and is now 8-for-31 for the season inside the 20.

"I thought Greg played better in the game today," Saban said. "We have to get back to believing in our players and throwing the ball downfield and making some big plays in the passing game. Certainly with his performance today, I thought he did a really good job of throwing to the right guy. We had some other opportunities to make plays that we could've made that we didn't. They played us all day to stop the run. They played us all day to stop Mark (Ingram) so we've got to throw the ball. That's just what we've got to do."

Tide-bits
Ingram's 99 rushing yards on 18 carries put him over the 1,000 mark for the season (1,004). It's the second fastest an Alabama player has reached the milestone in a season, and he's just the second sophomore to do so joining Kenneth Darby (1,062 yards in 2004).

Alabama leads the series with Tennessee 47-38-7. The Tide has a three-game winning streak against the Volunteers since the seven-game winning streak from 1986-92. It's also Alabama's first three-game home winning streak since 1987-91 at Legion Field.
Alabama has started consecutive seasons 8-0 for the first time since doing it four straight years from 1971-74.

Representatives of the Sugar, Music City, Capital One, Chick-fil-A and Outback bowls were on hand. … Captains were Baron Huber, Mike Johnson, Jones and McClain. Honorary captain was Ozzie Newsome. … Referee Matt Austin's crew worked the game.


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