Norwood At Best In Biggest Games

Unintended consequences. We hear about them all the time in all facets of life. Years ago, Auburn agronomists recommended planting kudzu as a good way to control erosion. How did that work out? Now college football receivers have concerns about a well-intentioned emphasis on targeting penalties.

When the college football rule on the penalty for the various targeting violations – hits to the head, hits on a defenseless player, launching, leading with the helmet – was strengthened this year, there were no protests. After all, what could be more important than the health of the players?

Concussions have become a major concern in football, and college football elected to elevate the penalty for the various targeting violations. Not only would the penalty be a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul, the guilty player would be ejected and would also forfeit playing time in the following half – either the second half of the game in which the violation occurred if in the first half, or in the first half of the following game if the penalty was in the second half.

Early on it was obvious that college football officiating had a difficult time getting it right. The new rule did provide for an automatic replay review of ejection penalties, and the replay officials have been able to overturn a large number of those errors. A sticking point has been that the replay officials could not overturn the personal foul aspect of the call, even when clearly in error.

But there has been another consequence of the threat of ejection. Defensive players do not want to be out of action for a high hit. The natural inclination is to change the tackling technique. Alabama Coach Nick Saban said early on that if players would use the correct technique, there would be no problem.

Unfortunately, changing the technique hasn't necessarily meant changing to the correct technique.

It has been most notable in the secondary. Receivers have ranked among the most vulnerable recipients of big hits. Earlier this season there were examples of defensive backs being perhaps a bit tentative in their hits on receivers. Now there is another trend, as pointed out in last week's Crimson Tide win over Tennessee.

One of the highlight plays of the game was Bama wide receiver Kevin Norwood taking a short pass from A.J. McCarron on a crossing route, and then turning up the sideline. As he approached a Tennessee defender, Norwood launched himself on a high hurdle. He avoided the initial defender, but was taken down hard by a second Vols tackler.

There was a reason Norwood attempted the hurdle.

Earlier in the game he had noticed a Tennessee defender go for the knees of fellow Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper, That is not illegal, but for a football player it is frightening. Norwood said that he has "definitely" noticed defenders going low.

"That's scary for us receivers," he said. "Either way. If they go for the head, then we're out of the game, concussion or whatever, Go for the knees we're out for the game, ACLs and all that stuff. So either way it goes.

"I know they are trying to protect us, but either way it goes they're going to find a way to get us down, hurt us, whatever they've got to do."

Norwood said practice does not take into account on how to avoid being hurt. "You can't practice, it," he said. "You just have to be aware of it."

Norwood became aware of the situation as he was headed downfield in what would be a 45-10 win for top-ranked Alabama. "As I was running, I was open enough to see the DB was about to hit me in my knee. The main thing going through my mind was, ‘I need my knees.' So I just jumped.

"I regretted it afterwards because I landed on my back. My back hurt after."

It must not have hurt too much. Later in the first quarter, Norwood took a 22-yard scoring pass from McCarron. For the day he had six catches for 112 yards, including a highlight grab of a pass from McCarron on a scramble play in the third quarter.

McCarron had to move out of the pocket. As he moved to his left, he gave hand directions to Norwood, who broke to the sideline. McCarron's pass to Norwood's back shoulder required a stretch catch, which Norwood made for a 34-yard gain to the Vols' 6-yard line, leading to a touchdown.

Norwood said he doesn't rank his catches, but he practices them.

The real reason for success, though, he said is the chemistry he has with McCarron. "When he was pointing, I knew where to go," Norwood said. He said Bama practices what do do on a breakdown "every day, every day." He also said the back shoulder throw is also a practice staple, one that "could be a weapon for us."

Norwood, a 6-2, 195-pound senior, has been a big weapon in big games. In the national championship game at the end of the 2011 season, he was particularly effective against the LSU defense with four catches for 78 yards in the Tide's 21-0 win. Last year against LSU in Baton Rouge, the Tide trailed the Tigers by 17-14 with 1:34 to play and Alabama at its own 28.

McCarron again went to Norwood, consecutive completions of 18 yards, 15 yards, and 11 yards to the LSU 28. From there the winning play was to T.J. Yeldon, a screen pass and run for the 21-17 win.

Norwood had another big game in last season's BCS National Championship Game. In the 42-14 win over Notre Dame, he had three catches for 66 yards. In his two national championship game opportunities, Norwood has caught seven passes for 144 yards.

"I just make the most of my opportunity," Norwood said. "AJ seems to look my way during the big games. I don't mind it at all. I work hard for it just like anybody else and like I said, I just make the opportunity when I get it."

Alabama is in an open week, but will have another big game when the Tide returns to action on Saturday, Nov. 9. LSU will be at Bryant-Denny Stadium for a 7 p.m. CDT game that will be televised by CBS.

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