Seniors Step Up As Alabama Wins
Two Alabama seniors who stepped up on Senior Day more than usual were H-back Brad Smelley of Tuscaloosa and wide receiver Brandon Gibson of Mobile. Smelley grabbed four passes for 58 yards and two scores, while Gibson hauled in four catches for 49 yards. Both men had big grins on their faces after the game.
"That's never happened before," Smelley said of scoring twice in one game. "I had hoped it would, but it wasn't something I could have anticipated."
Asked about he and Gibson stepping up in the absence of injured Darius Hanks and suspended DeAndrew White, Smelley said, "We've got a capable group of guys (at receiver). We're confident in all the people that catch the ball, that they can make plays. I was pleased for ‘Gibby' (Gibson) and Marquis Maze (who added 44 yards on three catches and 103 all-purpose yards in his final home game)."
Smelley made a one-handed grab of a pass from quarterback A.J. McCarron and then dove over for a 4-yard score with 44 seconds remaining.
"That was special," said the former American Christian Academy quarterback. "To get (a touchdown) late in the game like that, that was just a bonus. It's pretty exciting for me. I thought coach might call (that play), because they were blitzing hard from both corners. I thought it was a great call from ‘Coach Mac' (Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain).
"It takes everybody to execute, and I felt like we executed really well tonight."
Smelley's first touchdown also required a dive at then end, capping a 34-yard aerial from McCarron.
"I was just running a clear-out route," Smelley noted, "but I saw AJ (McCarron) scrambling, so I came back and he found me." Gibson said, "Playing my last home game here (at Bryant-Denny) meant a lot to me. I just went out and played hard. I'm thankful to have been able to play here."
Gibson said he and his offensive teammates felt they owed their defensive counterparts a favor, and came through on a day when the Tide stop troops struggled against an option team.
"The defense has always had our backs," Gibson said. "We took the initiative as an offense to go out and score some points (Saturday), and we did that."
They scored 38 of the team's 45 points, and did not have to punt against the Eagles, a first for the 2011 season.
Both Gibson and Smelley were asked about the "Never Again" posters on walls all around the Alabama football complex, reminding players the pain of blowing a 24-point lead in last year's Iron Bowl.
"We see those (posters) everywhere we go," Smelley said. "Just thinking about last year's (Auburn) game, that's tragic.
"Both teams are always going to have an incentive, Alabama and Auburn. We've just got to focus on this (next) game, and play better."
"We've got to come out and play hard, and be ready for four quarters," Gibson said, sounding a lot like the coach he's played for for five seasons. "We've still got a lot to play for. Anything can happen."
Senior safety Mark Barron, who made a team-leading eight tackles, knows next week will be a challenge. "Preparing for that (Auburn) team is always tough," Barron said. "They have a lot of things going on with that offense, so we have to make sure we come in and have a good week of preparation next week."
Added linebacker Dont'a Hightower: "We are looking forward to Auburn. It is something that we have had on our minds since the season started. We are really ready for these guys, and we know they will be ready for us."
Hightower had six tackles Saturday.
It seems as though Saban's pre-game talk about not worrying about other teams and being the best player and team they can be is sinking in.
"We've got to turn off ESPN. We can't let that stuff get to us," Gibson said. Asked if that were really possible for a college football player, Gibson said with a straight face, "Yes, I think it is."
While that remains to be seen, Alabama's win could and should be enough to move the Tide to No. 2 in Sunday night's BCS rankings. Next up for Alabama is at Auburn, with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. at Jordan-Haire Stadium. CBS will televise the contest.
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