News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Arkansas RBs focus of Tide defenders
McFadden, Jones are next challenges

By Josh Cooper 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — The word came effortlessly out of Alabama coach Nick Saban's mouth following a season-opening win over Western Carolina:


He used it to describe the Crimson Tide's defense.

Fast forward to a week later. Alabama has beaten the Vanderbilt 24-10, and the Crimson Tide's opponent gingerly walks off the field after getting physically beaten by Saban's defense.

Vandy's quarterback Chris Nickson moves slowly, his hamstring still hurt after a hit on the second snap of the game. Their star wide receiver, Earl Bennett, limps with his ankle taped up.

So, is this the work of a "soft" defense?

How in one week was Alabama able to go from being "soft" against a team from the Southern Conference to pounding an SEC opponent?

According to Saban, he and his staff didn't preach anything different. Instead, he credited his system and the natural improvements that come with players learning his philosophies.

"I think when you continue to harp on things, they eventually get what you emphasize," Saban said.

Saban's criticism might've played a role in that, too.

Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry has said often that he doesn't sulk when his coach criticizes him and his teammates on defense. Instead, he looks at it as an opportunity to show the coaching staff what he can do.

During the week leading up to the Vanderbilt game, Tide players said that they adjusted their mindsets.

The coaching staff said they needed to hit harder, so they worked on their aggressive attitudes in practice.

There were no extra tackling drills.

There was nothing done specifically to increase the players' explosiveness when hitting. Instead, they simply executed what the coaches preached.

"He said we weren't that physical, so we took it upon ourselves to be more physical, and that's the same thing we do every week," Gilberry said. "We didn't do anything different at all."

Along with the physical play, Tide players say Saban and his staff emphasize "ball-hawking" in practice. The coaches want to create more turnovers, so they always make sure that when an offensive player is being tackled, a second defensive player comes in to try to take away the ball

That mentality led to three forced fumbles against Vandy.

"(Turnovers) are the key to a defense," said Tide cornerback Eric Gray, a West Morgan High graduate.

"It helps the offense out and the momentum could shift. Coach Saban and the coaching staff talk about going for the ball and stripping the ball."

On Saturday, Alabama (2-0) will face No. 16 Arkansas (1-0), which has produced a solid running game, especially the past two years with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield.

In 2006, the Razorbacks averaged 114 more rushing yards a game than their opponents.

"They've got a 1-2 punch, and their 1-2 punch is pretty powerful," Tide linebacker Darren Mustin said. "Both of them are fast. Both of them are strong. Both of them are quick. We've got to contain them, and if we get a chance, we've got to hit them."

Gilberry isn't looking at just hitting McFadden.

"I'm trying to destroy him," Gilberry said. "Not trying to be brutal, but that is my mind set."

Arkansas at Alabama

5:45 p.m.

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