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September 18, 2011

Special teams hit and miss

TUSCALOOSA | To win a national championship, a team must be sound in all three facets of the game: offense, defense and special teams.

On Saturday, the University of Alabama's offense made some spectacular plays on the ground. The defense proved to be dominant once again. The special teams, on the other hand, didn't earn high praise from head coach Nick Saban.

In a tune-up game for next week's test against Arkansas, all the special teams got some extra work in, but Saban wasn't happy with how many times he had to run the field-goal unit out onto the field, or how that unit performed.

"I was very, very disappointed in not being able to finish," Saban said. "We had three opportunities in the first half in the red zone and made two field goals and missed one, so we didn't finish drives like we needed to, which would've made a huge difference in the game."

Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley had his first two missed field goals of the season. After pushing a 36-yard kick to the right in the first half, he overcompensated on his next attempt, hitting it wide left early in the fourth quarter.

Shelley did knock two kicks through the uprights early in the game and is now 6-for-8 on the season.

The special-teams play of the night came when North Texas lined up for a 42-yard field goal midway through the third quarter. After a high snap, Alabama safety Robert Lester squeezed through the line and got a hand on the kick, preserving the shutout.
It was the Crimson Tide's first blocked field goal in Bryant-Denny Stadium since Terrence Cody blocked two kicks against Tennessee, including a game-winning attempt on the final play, in 2009.

Coming into the game, one of Alabama's biggest challenges was slowing down North Texas return man Brelan Chancellor, who was averaging 28.4 yards per return and set a school record for return yards last week with 286 against Houston.

The dynamic sophomore was held to just 73 yards on six kick returns and failed to bring one out past the 30-yard line.

"It's a big deal because that's an advantage for our defense to start off behind their own 30," UA linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "It gives us an opportunity to execute our game plan instead of us playing into theirs.

"The same thing they do on kickoff (coverage) is the same thing they do on our defense. They were the main ones in there on that goal-line stand. That's the kind of intensity they bring on special teams and defense."

A number of true freshmen, led by Vinnie Sunseri and Trey DePriest, have made their presence felt on the kick coverage this season. Sunseri, who also played sparingly on defense Saturday, finished third on the team with six tackles.

"(The freshmen) are coming along well," junior defensive end Damion Square said. "They've got some pretty hard hitters with Sunseri and DePriest. It seems like every year, they come in more experienced and ready versus the previous year."

Alabama punter Cody Mandell only had one punt all game, but he made the most of it by booting a sky-high 35-yard punt deep into Mean Green territory that was downed inside the 5-yard line.

Marquis Maze served as the lone returner for the Crimson Tide. Aside from a 28-yard punt return, the senior was held in check.

Reach Greg Ostendorf at greg.ostendorf@tuscaloosanews.com

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