Alabama is in search of an identity for this season. One that's different from 2010, different from '11.
Though a team doesn't really start to show its true colors until about mid-season, the Crimson Tide could be morphing into a squad known for forcing turnovers.
Last year Alabama forced just 20 turnovers. Only seven were fumbles. In 2010, the team forced 26 with only four fumbles. Two weeks into the season, the Tide has already had seven takeaways (only Mississippi State has more so far this year with eight), three of which have been fumbles.
So what's the key to the strips?
"Eleven hands to the ball," said linebacker Adrian Hubbard, who had one against Western Kentucky.
Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson, Alabama's most dangerous pass rushers, have been crucial pieces to the turnover puzzle.
"It helps with me and him pass rushing from both sides because it's kind of hard for [other teams] to double team the way they want to," Hubbard said.
Added head coach Nick Saban: "If you have good edge rushers and you have good push in the pocket in the middle, the combination of those two things can be very beneficial to affecting the quarterback."
The Tide hasn't really struggled with interceptions in the past, but fumbles were another story. Last year the Tide ranked 95th in the nation with seven fumbles and in 2010, 117th with four. Hubbard said now that they've racked some up these first two weeks, the pressure has eased up a bit.
"We knew we could do it, but it never happened like we thought it would," he said. "We pride ourselves on it now."
Linebacker C.J. Mosley, who had an interception for a touchdown against Michigan, said that the coaches have put a much bigger emphasis on forcing turnovers this year. He said it started in camp with the team practicing stripping the ball every day. He also said that the coaches constantly remind them about the lack of takeaways they had last season.
"Especially coach [Kirby] Smart," he said. "He kept telling us we're one of the lowest teams, as far as ranking in fumbles. So, to get three in one game, which hasn't happened since I've been here I'm pretty sure…well, he may applaud us on it."
Saban said that during the off-season, the coaching staff studied other teams who were having a higher success rate in turnovers.
"Whether they were NFL or college, we wanted to see some of the things they were doing to emphasize getting turnovers," he said. "We've been doing that for over a year now. Last year we didn't get them. This year, we've gotten a few."
Safety Robert Lester believes that forcing turnovers can indeed be a part of Alabama's identity.
"I would say so," he said. "Any defense wants to force turnovers. It can affect the outcome of the game. The more turnovers you force, the more opportunities for the offense to score points."
Indeed it does as Alabama saw last weekend when three of its five touchdowns against the Hilltoppers were set up by the defense forcing turnovers. The Tide will be hungry for more of the same Saturday against the Razorbacks.
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