For Second Week, Tide ‘Something Else'
The only thing "special" about Alabama seemed to be a small segment of special teams. The best thing that happened for the Tide against Tulane at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night was forcing the Green Wave to punt. Then good things did happen. Eventually, even that went bad for Bama as Arenas was injured on his first punt return of the second half.
It wasn't pretty, but it was a victory for Alabama. The Crimson Tide held off a determined Green Wave, 20-6.
Alabama improved to 2-0 on the year. The Crimson Tide came into the game ranked 13th in the nation and a heavy favorite to beat Tulane, which was playing its first game of the year. The Green Wave will return to its New Orleans campus after having been away for more than a week, evacuated from the threat of Hurricane Gustav in late August. Tulane's preparation had been done at Samford University in Birmingham.
Bama kick return star Javier Arenas gave a superb performance, starting with an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave Alabama the early lead against Tulane. There was at least one bad thing that happened immediately following the touchdown and Leigh Tiffin extra point. Alabama's first kickoff was a long return for the Green Wave, but Tulane had been off-sides. On the re-kick, Bama held the Wave deep, but Tiffin appeared to be injured on the play. He was taken to the dressing room in the first quarter.
Later in the first quarter Tulane was forced to punt from its 23-yard line. Tailback Roy Upchurch, a member of the punt rush team, did the job, getting in and blocking Darren deRochemont's punt. Chris Rogers picked up the ball at the 17 and took it in for a touchdown.
Tiffin's replacement, freshman Corey Smith, missed the extra point.
Arenas continued to do a nice job, but he was about the only Tider who could have been cited for standout play in the first half. Before intermission Arenas had a new Alabama record 141 yards in punt return yardage. In addition to his 87-yard TD runback, Arenas had returns of 33 yards to the Tulane 20 and 19 yards to the Tulane 39.
Alabama got nothing out of that good field position. On the first opportunity, Smith had a 37-yard field goal try hit the upright and fall no good. On the second chance, quarterback John Parker Wilson was sacked twice and the Tide was forced to punt.
Arenas' eventual 147 yards in punt returns bettered the mark of 122 yards by the legendary Harry Gilmer against Georgia in Athens in 1947. One difference for that 1947 Tide offense was that Gilmer went in at left halfback and made sure the offense didn't sputter. Bama defeated Georgia that day, 17-7.
After Alabama's 13-0 first quarter lead, the Green Wave fought back to make it a 13-3 game when Ross Thevenot was good on a 35-yard field goal. That drive capped a 12-play, 42-yard drive that got a nice start from Smith's out-of-bounds kickoff. Tulane got to start on its 40 after that kickoff transgression.
It appeared Tulane was be closer still when Green Wave quarterback Kevin Moore completed a 45-yard pass to Chris Dunn, to set the visitors up at the Alabama 20 in the waning moments of the second quarter. The Wave got to the Tide six, but on fourth down Thevenot missed a 23-yard field goal attempt and Bama had a 13-3 halftime lead.
Tulane had the first big break of the second half when Glen Coffee spoiled a nice run with a fumble, recovered by the Green Wave at the Alabama 31. A couple of nice defensive plays, one by Cory Reamer and one by Lorenzo Washington, forced another field goal try and the 40-yard attempt by Thevenot was no good.
Freshman tailback Mark Ingram, Scout Media's SEC Newcomer of the Week for his play against Clemson, gave Bama's offense its first spark. Although Ingram had a rush for minus one on the first play, on third and six he had extra effort on a short pass to get seven yards and a first down at the Bama 34. Back-to-back runs of four and 16 made it first down at the Tulane 46. Ingram got four more yards to the 42. And then Tulane didn't see this coming.
A big play in the march was a designed quarterback run by Wilson, picking up 11 yards to the Tulane 31. Wilson had a big completion, too, a 16-yarder to Marquis Maze to the 16. From there it was one Ingram run, at left end and through a potential tackler to the end zone. It came on the final play of the third quarter. Tiffin returned to the field and kicked the extra point to make it 20-3. It was an 11-play drive that covered 77 yards.
Alabama's defense went into immediate botch mode. On a Tulane third-and-long, Alabama was offsides, then gave up a pass completion for a first down. Bama had two big goofs on one play. One, as it turned out, didn't matter, Rashad Johnson failing to pull in an interception. That's because Josh Chapman was guilty of roughing the passer for a Tulane first down. A nice pass completion turned into a big play when Bama defenders bounced off the receiver, setting up a first and goal at Alabama's four. Three incomplete passes brought on Thevenot for a 21-yard field goal, which he made to make it 20-6 with 11:47 to play.
Although Tulane would threaten again, the scoring was over.
Although the defense did not seem to have a good game, much of the blame for that could be put on Alabama's offense failing to control the ball. Tulane finished with a 36:35-23:25 advantgage in time of possession and the Green Wave had 82 plays for 318 yards, Bama only 49 plays for 172 yards. Tulane had more passing plays (50) than the Tide had total plays (49).
The statistical highlights for Alabama beyond the big plays on Tulane's punts were defensive statistics of linebackers Rolando McClain (nine primary tackles and six assists, including two tackles for loss) and freshman Dont'a Hightower (five primary, five assists). Safety Rashad Johnson was in on nine tackles and outside linebacker Brandon Fanney on eight.
Ingram was the leading rusher for the second consecutive game. He had 11 carries for 63 yards and his 16-yard touchdown run was the longest rush of the game.
John Parker Wilson did not have a great night. He completed 11 of 23 passes for only 73 yards. he did not suffer an interception, but was sacked four times. Marquiz Maze was Alabama's leading receiver with four catches for 22 yards.
Alabama continues in non-Southeastern Conference play next week and again will be home at Bryant-Denny Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff. Bama will host Western Kentucky. The only television coverage of the sold out game will be on a pay-per-view basis.
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