TUSCALOOSA _ When he reviewed Saturday's game film University of Alabama coach Nick Saban pretty much saw what he expected. Granted, the No. 1 Crimson Tide made mistakes, especially early on, but it also showed a lot of character in coming back to win at Arkansas, 24-20.
"I think the biggest thing is what we're capable of when we do things correctly and what can happen when you don't," Saban said Monday. "I think the intensity of the game overwhelmed us a little bit early in the game. We kind of counterpunched our way back into it, but it's an unbelievable job of overcoming adversity."
After giving up passes of 31 yards and 43, not only on the opening possession but again in the second quarter, the defense clamped down and gave up only 44 passing yards in the fourth quarter compared to 250 in the first half.
It also made three key interceptions of quarterback Ryan Mallett, a career high for him, including two by sophomore Robert Lester. The safety credited the first, in the end zone, to preparation and the second to the defense checking out of a pressure.
"We need to calm down and be able to read our keys and just play football," Lester said. "They came out with things that we hadn't seen before and we were able to adjust to it. We just need to calm down ad play with poise."
Arkansas also went from averaging 16.7 yards per completion in the first half, to 10.7 in the second when it scored just three points and otherwise crossed midfield only once (where the Razorbacks were called for a false start at the Alabama 49).
"I feel like in a lot of ways a lot of guys grew up last week," junior safety Mark Barron said.
The Tide's offense also made mistakes, primarily with two interceptions, the first in the end zone and the second leading to Arkansas punching in a last-minute touchdown just before halftime.
"I know last year that two interceptions would have absolutely put me in the tank," senior quarterback Greg McElroy said.
"We understand that we didn't play our best game on Saturday, but we understand that you can learn from those mistakes. We're not as good as we're going to be and progress is made by the lessons you learn each and every Saturday."
So what's the biggest lesson the coach hopes his players learned?
"You better bring you're a-game every time you play in this league, regardless of where you're playing," Saban said.
Although junior defensive end Marcell Dareus (ankle) was at Monday's practice, he wasn't able to do much as the Crimson Tide worked out in shorts and shoulder pads.
"Marcell is making good progress," Saban said earlier, calling his "the only real significant injury. We've got some other guys with some bumps, but he is going to move around a little bit today and see if he can practice tomorrow. I think he'll be back Wednesday for sure."
Sophomore Damion Square worked in his place with senior Luther Davis (knee, ankle) at the other end. The second unit had Kerry Murphy behind Square, Nick Gentry and Undra Billingley.
Meanwhile, junior Jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw continues to receive treatment for his sprained ankle sustained against San Jose State and kept him from starting for two games.
"Ankle's fine, it's getting better every day," he said. "I'm able to push off and do a lot of the things I wasn't able to do when I got the injury."
McElroy had his left thigh wrapped at practice, but is otherwise trying to stay off the leg.
"I'll be fine," he said. "It's going to be a little ginger the first few days. It's going to be pretty painful, it is my plant foot, but hopefully it'll kind of work itself out a little bit."
For Florida, running back Jeff Demps (sprained foot) will miss some practice time but is expected to play Saturday. Receiver Chris Rainey agreed to a plea deal in his stalking case yet is still not on the roster and will not make the trip.
Lester was named the Southeastern Conference's defensive player of the week after notching two interceptions and seven tackles. He's now leads the SEC with four and is tied for second nationally.
"Robert had the big plays," Saban said.
Lester was also named co-defensive player of the week by the coaching staff along with Barron. The offensive winners were junior running back Mark Ingram, sophomore guard Barrett Jones and senior tight end Preston Dial.
"It means a lot, this is my second player of the week for the team," Lester said. "It means a lot to be able to go out and contribute for my team."
And the SEC award?
"That means even more.
Ingram was an honorable mention selection for SEC offensive player of the week, which instead when to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton (16-for-21, 158 passing yards, 176 rushing yards and five total touchdowns).
Kickoff time in limbo
CBS exercised its six-day option for next week's games, meaning kickoff for Alabama at South Carolina has yet to be determined.
The likely scenario is that should Alabama beat Florida on Saturday the South Carolina game will probably be shown on CBS at 2:30 p.m. On the flip side should the Tide lose it'll instead show LSU at Florida and bump Alabama to the 6:30 p.m. slot on either ESPN or ESPN2.
The final decision will be announced Sunday.
Did you know?
Alabama's 16-play drive against Arkansas for a field goal was not only the longest in SEC play this season in terms of time (8 minutes, 15 seconds), but tied for the most plays. South Carolina went 79 yards in 16 plays against Georgia and Auburn had a 73-yard drive in 16 plays against the Gamecocks.
The Tide also has the longest drive in terms of yards, 97, against Penn State.
Last year Alabama also had the longest drive in all three categories as well. The 99-yard touchdown drive against Arkansas was tied with three other drives by other teams, but the 19-play possession against Chattanooga ate up 10:14 of the clock. The strange thing about it was the drive only went 50 yards and ended with a missed field goal.
Barron, who led the SEC in interceptions with seven last season, isn't ready to concede his title to Lester. "It's not going to be that easy," he said.
Of Ingram's 335 total yards, 144 (43 percent) have been after contact. Richardson has accounted for 174 yards after contact of his 482 rushing and receiving yards while redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy has 82 yards after contact. "I want them to not want to tackle me," Ingram said of his running style. "I want them to say, 'I'm sick of tackling him.'" When asked by Florida media what's the key to playing against Ingram, Barron said, "You can't play scared."
The Tide has forced 40 turnovers over the past 18 games (2.22 per game). To put that in perspective, consider that Alabama finished 2009 ranked fourth nationally in turnover margin at plus-19 (1.36 per game).
After recording 227 all-purpose yards Richardson was one of eight players recognized for the most versatile performances of the week by Paul Hornung Award and the Louisville Sports Commission.