Hightower Has Arkansas On Mind
In 2009, Alabama was headed to the national championship. In the first Southeastern Conference game of the season, the Crimson Tide hosted Arkansas. Dont'a Hightower was a freshman linebacker who had been in on a couple of tackles when he went down with a knee injury. He had been the victim of a (legal) cut block, and would not play again in 2009 and would be at less than full strength in 2010. In 2011 Hightower is giving no thought to that injury.
There is plenty to worry about without that memory as the Razorbacks come to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Both teams are 3-0, Alabama ranked second in the nation, Arkansas ranked 12th. It is the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. CBS will televise the game with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CDT.
It has been well documented that Arkansas brings the nation's eighth-ranked passing offense, behind junior quarterback Tyler Wilson, who ranks 20th in the nation in passing efficiency and 23rd in total offense.
Hightower is one of the leaders of the Alabama defense this year, having been in on 16 tackles in the Tide's first three games. When he was in on a sack at Penn State, it was the first he had since before his injury in 2009. "It felt good," he said. "It goes back to rehab and how I was able to move without the knee brace. I got my weight down, I understand the defense and the game plan. It helped me get back there and put pressure on him and finally get back there and actually hit the quarterback."
Alabama Coach Nick Saban insists that sacks have nothing to do with success. It is a matter of affecting the quarterback, regardless of whether there is a sack.
Hightower said pass rush will be important against Arkansas. "Arkansas puts some really good receivers out there," he said. "They are very talented. They have a very good quarterback. Those are things they are going to try to use. They have big offensive weapons in the passing game and will try to use them, so our pass rush is going to have to be pinpoint this week."
Hightower said Bama pass rush against Kent State was very good in the opener, not quite as good against Penn State, and that it was the best it has been last week in a 41-0 win over North Texas. "We put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, even if we didn't hit him," Hightower said. "We were in his face and made him uncomfortable in the pocket."
Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino, asked about Bama having only four sacks in three games, said, "Alabama is very good rushing the passer. They have a couple of guys who can come from the edge. They have a lot of blitz packages. Some teams you can't get to for a sack, but it's how you affect the passing game."
Hightower said that Alabama's defense has matured, making it a strength of this year's team. After three games the Tide is allowing only 170 yards of total offense and 6 points per game.
The defense will be tested by an Arkansas offense that includes "so much talent, so much depth," Hightower said. "There are a lot of teams with one or two good wide receivers that are legit, but Arkansas has three. They have a quarterback who is able to get them the ball. The running game is going to help them out. And they have a great coach.
"So we're going to have to work real hard this week."
Hightower said it looks like a case of the best wide receivers taking on the best secondary in the SEC. The middle linebacker likes the Bama defensive backs. "We have the utmost confidence in them," he said. "Since they are more mature (all starters return from last year), we're able to call up some blitzes, call up some coverages, that will help us get more pressure on the quarterback. Our guys have been doing a real good job. You can see that in third down efficiency."
Much has been made of Arkansas having a true freshman as starting left tackle. Hightower said he can understand why people might think that's an area for Bama to exploit, "but in the SEC you never really know."
He did say he would hope that he and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw would be able to beat the Arkansas tackle. And, he said, they would "try to get in his head."
"Not necessarily talking trash," Hightower said. "That's what you're thinking. But it's being more physical with him than any pass rusher he's seen. Not being finesse. More speed and power. Try to put him on his heels and throw him a couple of different looks early in the game."
Asked about what his young players could expect, Petrino said, "It will be fastest-paced and hardest-hitting game any of the new guys have played."
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