News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Stopping big plays focus for Alabama

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama linebacker Darren Mustin says he and his teammates often hear the "99-percent analogy" from their coaches about giving up big plays.

"If 99 percent of ATMs worked in America," Mustin said, "a whole bunch of people are going to go without money."

Take a look at Alabama's 21-14 loss to Florida State on Saturday. Against the Seminoles, the Tide's defense played well for 67 of FSU's 70 plays — roughly 96 percent — but those other three went for major yards, and two of them changed the game.

Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee hit Greg Carr on a 28-yard reception that could have been stopped after the catch by cornerback Marquis Johnson.

But Carr rolled off Johnson, running for more yards.

Lee also hit Carr for a 58-yard pass play on FSU’s next drive, which ended on an interception by Tide linebacker Prince Hall. And lastly, Florida State’s backbreaking touchdown with 4:46 remaining was a Lee pass to De’Cody Fagg, who spun away from Johnson and outraced him 70 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.

“We gave up three big plays in the last game, and two of them were significant in helping them score,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And it also changes field position — even the one we intercepted. After one big play, we intercepted the ball but we get the ball on the 20-yard line.”

Stopping the big play takes on added importance this week as the Crimson Tide (3-2) prepares to face Houston (2-2) of Conference USA. Cornerback play and an ability to stop the deep pass will be at a premium as the Cougars have some fleet-footed receivers.

None is more potent than Donnie Avery, who averages 15 yards a catch.

Houston ranks 23rd in the nation with 281.5 passing yards a game and an average of 11.5 yards a completion. By comparison, the SEC’s passing yardage leader is Tennessee, which is 22nd nationally with 285.8 passing yards and 10.3 yards a completion.

“Houston is a really good football team, probably one of best offensive teams that we’ve played. They’re very diverse in terms of what they do on offense,” Saban said. “This is certainly not a game that we don’t need to be totally prepared for in terms of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to execute and the things that we need to do to try to get back on the right track here.”

Clearly, getting back on the right track includes shutting down the big play.

Giving up big plays is one of the toughest aspects of football for Alabama’s Simeon Castille.

“That’s tough when you have been playing your tail off the whole game. You have really been playing sound football, and then you have one or two breakdowns, and that really determines the game for you,” Castille said. “That’s why you need to play every play like it’s the last one because you never know when it’s going to make the difference in the game.”

As for the loss to FSU and the two big plays Johnson allowed, the most another defensive back can do afterward is tell him to shrug it off. After all, it happens to everybody in the secondary eventually.

“We are going to be like, ‘OK, you know we still have so much time left back in the game, come back out and do what you have to do,’ ” Tide safety Rashad Johnson said. “It’s a good thing to let them know that you are behind them, and it’s always a good thing to have your teammates supporting you no matter what.”

Houston at Alabama

2 p.m

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