Rivalry With Vols Means More To Maze

In 2006 the Mike Shula era at Alabama was coming to an end and a versatile football player in Birmingham had made his decision to sign with the University of Tennessee. Fortunately for Bama, a number of changes were in the offing.

Marquis Maze was a do-everything player at Tarrant High School in Birmingham. He had decided to cast his lot with Tennessee. This week, Maze will be one of the players Alabama counts on when the Crimson Tide goes to Knoxville to take on the Vols.

The game means a lot to the 5-10, 182-pound Maze, a wide receiver who added "punt return specialist" to his resume last week. He grew up watching Alabama vs. Tennessee every year. "And by being recruited by them, and committing to them, it means a lot," he said. He said changing his commitment was "tough, but I had to make the best decision for myself."

The reason he made that decision is that Nick Saban came on board as Alabama's head coach. Maze said Saban's "style, how he came and talked to me, what he stood for," swayed Maze to sign with Bama.

Alabama will be at Tennessee Saturday with kickoff at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. central time) with television coverage by ESPN. Alabama is 6-1 overall and 3-1 in SEC games, Tennessee 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the league.

Maze is pleased with the choice he made. "I feel pretty good about it," he said. "I won a national championship."

Maze admitted that Tennessee being a big Alabama rival is not as important as the fact that it is an SEC game "and you know you are going to have to bring your ‘A' game no matter what the records are."

The last time Maze was in Knoxville was for the 2008 game, Alabama taking a surprising 29-9 win. At the end of the game, the stands were mostly filled with crimson-clad fans. "You get that when you jump on a team," he said. "Fans start leaving. Even if it happened here, somebody jumped on us, I think fans would start leaving."

Alabama hasn't been jumping on anyone lately because the offense has struggled. "You just have to work this week and the following weeks to get better, work on the things we need to work on as a team," Maze said.

Maze said the defensive backs against Alabama's wide receivers have "been playing us press-bail, so they are pressing us at the beginning of the play and bail out before the play starts. We haven't really gotten any man coverage. Most teams are playing zone."

Which makes it difficult to have a vertical passing game.

"We can beat the cornerback, but there is a safety over the top, which makes it hard for the quarterback to throw it deep," Maze said.

Thus far Maze has 17 receptions for 241 yards and one touchdown. He has also run twice out of wildcat – though he calls it "bobcat, because a bobcat is faster than a wildcat" – for eight yards. And, oh yes, he has thrown one pass, a 19-yard touchdown out of "bobcat" to tight end Michael Williams for a touchdown.

Maze has added another dimension, that of punt return specialist. Julio Jones has been handling that job most of the year, but Jones suffered a broken hand against South Carolina. Maze had the job last week and returned six punts for 125 yards, third best yardage total for a game in Alabama history.

"I had some room returning punts," Maze said. "The guy out-kicked his gunners, so it gave me a lot of room to work. My protection gave me a lot of help and I just made the runs."

He said the secret to a successful punt return is "vision, speed, and mostly the guys who are blocking for you."

Maze had one negative punt play. First, he took a punt at the four-yard line, when he is under instructions not to try to return a punt from inside the 10. ("I lost my spot and didn't realize I had backed up that far," he said.) Then he ran it out to the 24, but was hit and fumbled.

"Coach got on me," Maze said.

Most Alabama players have been asked this week about Saban's line regarding toughness, and the coach's contention, "They don't make them like they used to."

Maze agreed to this extent: "Those guys were slower than we are."

Alabama will be ending a run of seven consecutive games and there has been talk about the upcoming bye week.

Maze said, "We're just looking forward to this week. I don't think we're looking forward to a bye week. We're just focused on this team getting better, trying to win this game."

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