Bama Defense Must Throw Curves

Where is Casey Dick when you need him? The former Arkansas quarterback would have been perfect for a discussion of Alabama pass defense, as described by Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban Monday. How easy it would be to write about the need to get a high, hard one past Mighty Casey Dick.

Alabama has a quarterback of a different stripe to worry about when Arkansas visits Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. The television network talking heads don't have enough love in them to give all they do to Florida's Tim Tebow and then have enough left over for the likes of the Razorbacks' Ryan Mallett. But everyone took notice of Mallett's performance against Georgia Saturday night.

Mallett completed 21 of 39 pass attempts for 408 yards and five touchdowns. And lost. It's no surprise that Alabama Coach Nick Saban talked mostly about the Razorbacks' offense in his Monday press briefing. Sportswriters weren't interested in an Arkansas defense that gave up 52 points to Georgia. The Hogs' 41 points weren't near enough.

Mallett, though, is unquestionably a very fine quarterback. And no one doubts the offensive brilliance of Arkansas Head Coach Bobby Petrino.

When Arkansas is on defense, most will think of the 6-7, 238-pound Mallett as the thrower. Saban said that Alabama's defense will need to be "a lot like being a (baseball) pitcher. If you're a one-pitch guy, they are probably eventually going to hit you. If you've got good blitzes and you blitz all the time, eventually you're going to live by the sword and die by the sword.

"But if you've got a good changeup and you throw a slider on the outside.... I saw this guy the other day, they were talking about all he does is throw a fastball up in the strike zone and changeup down in the strike zone and the guy is winning lots of games.

"In playing defense, especially when you're playing against a real good quarterback, it is a lot like that. If he knows what you're doing all the time before he gets the ball in his hands, he's going to be able to make a good decision and take advantage of it. So, you've got to be able to pitch a little bit."

The pitching and catching and running and kicking and blocking and tackling and coaching begin at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday. CBS will televise the game.

Alabama is 3-0 and ranked third in the nation. Arkansas is 1-1. This is the Southeastern Conference opener for Bama.

Mallett has completed 38 of 61 passes (62.3 per cent) for 717 yards and six touchdowns in two games. He is the only quarterback in the SEC and one of only 13 in the nation who has not thrown an interception this year.

Mallett sat out last season after transferring from Michigan. His last start prior to this year was in the Michigan-Ohio State game to end the 2007 season as a Michigan freshman. He completed 61 of 141 passes (43.3 per cent) with five interceptions and seven touchdowns for 892 yards in 11 games for the Wolverines.

Saban said, "You need to affect him with disguise, with different coverages, with different ways to pressure. Obviously, it's most critical to be able to rush three and four guys and get some pressure."

Saban's analogy of the defense to a pitcher came from a question about the importance of the front seven against Mallett. The question noted Saban's repeated stance against putting too much emphasis on the sack.

The coach said the line and linebackers is "a big key. I don't think you can commit people to extra rushers all the time to try and get pressure on the quarterback to try and effect the quarterback because you are going to be thinner in the back end, in terms of your coverage. So to be able to get pressure with four guys rushing is really important. I didn't think we did a very good job of that last year in the game we played against them. I think it's going to be really important that we can do that in this particular game. I think having good pressure is also important, and I think having coverages and doing multiples of things that change it up a little bit is important."

Saban said, "Arkansas to me is one of the best offensive teams in the country. Bobby Petrino has always been one of the best offensive coaches, wherever he has been or whatever level. They have a great passing game, a very good system. Now with quarterback Ryan Mallett, who leads the nation in passing efficiency, he is obviously a guy who can execute and do it very well, but he also has some very good players around him. They have a couple of running backs, Michael Smith and Dennis Johnson, who are very good players. They have three receivers who are in the top-10 in the SEC in terms of receptions. They have a good tight end. Their offensive line plays extremely well in their system."

Saban said Arkansas's pro-style offense has very good play action and "they run the ball enough to be an effective running team.... They take what you give them. They have a well-conceived, pro-style offensive scheme. They run for 100 yards a game, which would be the goal of most pro teams, but they have really lit it up throwing it. They are very, very dangerous when it comes to making big plays in the passing game."

"Defensively, they have nine starters back, 10 of the top tacklers from a year ago, and all four guys up front. I think they are a much better defensive team and will continue to be a much better defensive team.

"They have team speed. Their special teams show it. They are one of the top teams in the country in kickoff returns.

"So, this is a really good football team, especially an outstanding offensive team, but a really good team overall and it's going to be very challenging for us.. It's a little different than what we have played against to this point, so there are a lot of challenges here and we'll see how we respond to it."

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