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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2007
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After beating Arkansas 41-38, NickSaban’s Alabama CrimsonTide moved into The Associated Press rankings at No. 16.
AP photo by Butch Dill
After beating Arkansas 41-38, NickSaban’s Alabama CrimsonTide moved into The Associated Press rankings at No. 16.

Coming through when it counts
After allowing 38 points, Tide defense answers Saban’s call

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — One of the biggest moments in Alabama’s 41-38 win Saturday over Arkansas came minutes before the eventual game-winning touchdown drive.

With about 4:30 to play, and the Crimson Tide facing fourth-and-six from the Razorbacks’ 25 and a 38-31 deficit, head coach Nick Saban had a question for his defensive players:

“I asked the players on the sideline on defense, ‘Look guys, if we kick a field goal here, we have to stop them. Can you stop them? You know we’re going to put them all up there to stop them and just dare them to throw it, but can you stop them?’ ” Saban said. “They said they’d do it.”

Placing faith in the same defense he publicly doubted in the preseason, Saban decided to kick the field goal, and Leigh Tiffin made a 42-yarder, slicing the Arkansas lead to four points with 4:20 to play. Saban’s defense responded by holding the Razorbacks and forcing them to punt from their own 35. Alabama got the ball at its 27 with 2:13 to play and promptly drove for a touchdown.

That defensive stop helped lift Alabama to its first fourth-quarter comeback win since 2001, a 3-0 start to the season and a spot in the top 25. The Associated Press put Alabama at No. 16, replacing Arkansas, while the USA Today coaches’ poll has the Crimson Tide at No. 20.

The confidence Saban showed in his defense late in Saturday’s win served as a bold statement by the Tide coach, one of many he has made about the players on that side of the ball.

Saban has used the “soft” and “thin” adjectives to describe that core since he became Alabama’s coach. But he didn’t need to open his mouth Saturday to show his players that he had enough faith in them at the most crucial point of the season so far.

“It means a lot for the big guy to turn around to ask our opinion,” Tide defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. “I think that really turned the defense up to another level, knowing the big guy has confidence in you.”

Up to that point, the Arkansas offense had battered Alabama’s defense. Linebacker Darren Mustin was out with a bad shoulder, and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden had bulled his way to 195 rushing yards on 33 carries.

But McFadden was out of the game with a slight concussion, putting the ball in the hands of less proven Arkansas players.

“We always practice get-the-ball-back situations,” Tide cornerback Simeon Castille said. “For us to win, the defense has to get the ball back.”

Arkansas’ drive lasted six plays and traveled 8 yards in the span of 2:07.

Without McFadden, the Razorbacks turned to Felix Jones and Michael Smith running the ball.

That tandem picked up one first down, but both were hit for 1-yard losses on consecutive plays after Arkansas made a first down at the Tide 37. On the sixth play of the possession, Casey Dick dropped back to pass on third-and-12 and was almost picked off by Tide linebacker Ezekial Knight, the ball slipping through his fingers near the Alabama sideline.

Arkansas had to punt, and the defense had done its job and set the stage for the game-winning touchdown drive.

“It was huge,” Castille said. “It definitely showed that they had confidence in us that we could go out and get the job done.

Alabama Monday playback

Three points that Alabama should remember from its 41-38 win over Arkansas.

You gave up 38 points: And 450 yards to Arkansas. Those numbers are going to have to improve, especially as you get into the grind of the SEC season.

Stop turning it over: Of those 38 points that Arkansas scored, 14 of them came from two John Parker Wilson turnovers in the second half. If not for that sequence, there wouldn’t have been any need for late-game heroics.

You’re relevant again: With Auburn losing, you are the top dog in the state. During 2005 when you were 10-2, it never felt that way. But with the Tigers scratching their heads, you seem to have all the answers.

Josh Cooper

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