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November 1, 2011
Ball security key for Tide running backs
TUSCALOOSA | In a game the magnitude of Saturday's No. 1 versus No. 2 Alabama-LSU matchup, one in which every facet of the game will be placed under a microscope, ball security seems to matter all the more, with one turnover able to decide the outcome.
In that regard, specifically regarding Alabama's three top running backs - Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler - ball security has not been an issue this season.
Richardson hasn't fumbled since the first quarter of last season's LSU game, and Alabama recovered that one. Lacy last fumbled against Duke in 2010. Fowler's most recent fumble occurred in the waning moments of last season's Mississippi State game.
Richardson has carried the ball 174 times without fumbling, Lacy has gone 83 carries without a fumble and Fowler has an active streak of 50.
The three have combined for 295 carries since Fowler's fumble on Nov. 13, 2010.
Alabama coach Nick Saban will tell you there is no magic formula he casts over his running backs that prevents them from turning the ball over to the opposition. It's a by-product of focus, coaching and individual effort.
"I just try to hit them before they even try to get to me, or try to come up and strip the ball," Richardson said. "It doesn't matter what size (they) are. I'm strong. I'm pretty sure they're strong. But I don't feel like any man on a team will outman me stripping the ball.
"(Running backs coach Burton Burns is) real big on it. From a running back standpoint, you should be big on that yourself. Coach Burns is really big on it. Nowadays he doesn't have to remind us as much as he did last year, but that's one thing he does emphasize.
"We had a couple of fumbles last year. We work on a drill every day at practice, and that's one thing we emphasize - holding the ball tight. If you can't hold the ball, you're going to end up on the bench. And that's something none of us want to do."
Protecting the football is of utmost importance against LSU. The Tigers lead the conference and are second nationally in turnover margin at plus-15, including seven fumbles recovered. Alabama is second in the conference and 18th nationally in turnover margin (plus-6), having lost only three fumbles, none of which came from Richardson, Lacy or Fowler.
Even the nation's top-ranked defensive unit can't pry the ball out of the hands of Alabama's trio of backs.
"I don't think that we've gotten it off a running back once this year," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "Maybe once or twice at the end whenever they've got the ball after the play's way over and we just come up and pop the ball loose.
"Eddie and Trent do a real good job of holding onto the ball. They always keep it up high and tight. Coach Burns always does a great job with those guys, you can definitely tell. I don't think we've fumbled one time this year. Hopefully we'll have good ball security (on Saturday)."
Tommy Deas contributed to this report. Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.