Harris Anticipates Tough Battle

The Alabama defense of 3-4, meaning three defensive linemen and four linebackers, appears to be more a basic philosophy than a base defense. Last year the Crimson Tide appeared to be in that 3-4 no more than perhaps 20 per cent of the time.



The 3-4 may be more in vogue this week. Alabama hosts Penn State at 6 p.m. CDT in Bryant Denny Stadium Saturday. A capacity crowd of 101,821 will be on hand for the battle of No. 1 Bama under Nick Saban against the Nittany Lions of Joe Paterno, ranked 14th in the Coaches Poll and 18th by the Associated Press. ESPN will televise the game and ESPN Gameday will be on site.

More often than not, Alabama's defense adjusts to the opposing offense, and in recent years that has meant usually being in either a nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs, or five defensive backs and a linebacker in pass coverage), with a lineman and/or linebacker dropped out of the alignment.

But several things indicate the need for the 3-4 for the Crimson Tide this week.

Penn State has a strong, physical football team, a team which traditionally wants to flex its muscle and challenge the opponent head up. The Lions also have a true freshman at quarterback and an All-America candidate at tailback, two factors which might make Penn State favor the running game.

Jerrell Harris, a 6-3, 231-pound weakside linebacker from Gadsden, got the first start of his career last week in Bama's 48-3 win over San Jose State. The junior was in on four tackles. He's looking forward to playing Penn State.

"It's going to be a tough football game," he said. "That's what you come here for. Smash mouth football.

"They don't do anything fancy," Harris said. "They are the kind of team that is going to show you what they do, and do what they show. They are going to come right at you to see if you can stop them. If you can't stop them, they're going to run it down your throat."

Harris is impressed with Penn State tailback Evan Royster, a 6-1, 218-pound senior. Royster, a Doak Walker candidate, has a dozen 100-yard rushing games in his career. (Alabama has not given up a 100-yard gain to an opposing running back in the past 35 games, which leads the nation.) Royster is on track to break the all-time Penn State rushing record of Curt Warner.

Harris described Royster as "a pretty good back; athletic," and added that Royster has a different technique than Tide backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, "maybe a little shiftier than Mark and Trent."

Although Penn State quarterback Robert Bolden is a true freshman, preparing to make his second career start this year, Harris thinks Bolden "looks a little more athletic" than what was seen in the Lions' season opening win against Youngstown State. "We're working on different things in case he gives us different looks," Harris added.

Although Alabama coaches have not stressed the tradition of Penn State or the rivalry with Alabama (which is being resumed after a 20-year hiatus), Harris said, "It's a big game. You're going to remember this for the rest of your life. You're always going to remember when you played Penn State."

He said he knows it was a big game for Alabama when the teams met on a more regular basis.

He said when he hears "Penn State" he thinks "Linebacker U."

"They are known for having good linebackers," Harris said, "so this will be a good challenge to play against them."

It was suggested that Alabama has had good linebackers, too.

"Yeah," Harris said. "We're trying to make this the next ‘Linebacker U.'"

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