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November 26, 2011

Alabama defense regains its swagger

AUBURN | A week after the word struggle was a charitable way to describe the University of Alabama's defensive performance against the run, the word that best described it in the 2011 Iron Bowl was, well, uncharitable.

In a 42-14 win over rival Auburn that likely placed the Crimson Tide in its second BCS National Championship Game in three years, Alabama's defense was more than ready to shake off whatever mojo Georgia Southern used on Nov. 19 to post over 300 ground yards.

The result was a long day for Auburn's running backs.

"That's something we really had to do, work on (Michael) Dyer and (Onterio) McCalebb," said Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower. "We knew what kind of runs those guys were going to get. Dyer is more of a heavy back inside, and McCalebb was going to get the ball outside. Those two guys have amazing talent, so it was hard getting a game plan down to stop those guys. But all in all, we did a really good job."

Dyer, a 1,000-yard rusher, gained only 48 yards on 13 carries, much of it on a fourth-quarter drive that came after the game's outcome was decided.

Dyer never made a true impact for an AU offense that failed to find any real rhythm throughout the game. His biggest contribution was a 6-yard run on fourth-and-2 that kept a third-quarter Auburn drive alive, but the series eventually resulted in a punt.

McCalebb fared even worse, carrying five times for 6 net yards and being thrown for 17 yards in losses. For the game, Auburn ran for only 78 yards on 35 carries.

"I just think they were tough to block up front, whether it was run-blocking or pass-blocking," said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. "They are just a really good defense. You don't become the No. 1 defense in the country in about every category by accident. They are what they are. They are extremely talented."

McCalebb made his only noise on special teams with an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half.

Defensive end Damion Square said unfamiliarity was a primary reason UA's defense struggled last week stopping the run against Georgia Southern's old but rarely seen triple-option style, and Auburn's offense brought familiarity back.

"You see things you're used to seeing now," Square said. "They run things we're used to seeing, so it was a little easier to game-plan than last week. At the end of the day, whoever you play, the game on defense is about assignments."

Hightower led Alabama in tackles with nine, including a tackle for a loss on a fourth-down run. Square added four stops, including a sack of Clint Moseley in the first quarter, while linebacker Courtney Upshaw added five stops, including two for loss.

Alabama's run defense entered the game ranked No. 1 in the NCAA at 74.6 yards per game, with an NCAA-low three rushing touchdowns allowed all season.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.


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