How Will Tide Defend Hogs' QB?

The question of the week seems to be, "Which Alabama defensive back is the Arkansas quarterback going to pick on?" The answer is "Any one he wants to if everyone doesn't do his job."



Pass defense is more than secondary play. Alabama has turned in only one pass interception this year, which puts the Crimson Tide last in the Southeastern Conference in that category. But Bama is fourth in the SEC in pass defense, even though Alabama's No. 1 ranking in rushing defense means opponents are going to be going up top.

Alabama didn't have a sack against North Texas last week (and Bama Coach Nick Saban has pointed out on several occasions that there are more ways to affect the quarterback than with a sack). But in three games Alabama has 10 sacks, tied for first in the SEC. And even though there are other ways to affect a quarterback, the sack is a good way.

Saban's point, of course, is that putting pressure on the quarterback, making him throw before he's ready,, tipping balls, and the like affect the passing game. Cornerback Javier Arenas said that if the front can put pressure on the quarterback, it makes the job of coverage immensely easier. Alabama doesn't want to force him out of the pocket where he can buy extra time.

If Alabama doesn't put pressure on Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett Saturday, it will be a long afternoon for Bama cornerbacks and safeties.

Ideally, Alabama pressure will come from the front four. But under Saban, another rusher or two or three can come from anywhere.

All-Amnerica middle linebacker Rolando McClain said, "We have a good front seven. Coach Saban does a great job of disguising things and blitzing people at the right time. That's what makes it special. We work hard and we buy into his system and I think that's why we're having success.

"Everyone's involved. The front four. Those who are blitzing. Everyone who is in coverage. Everyone has to do a good job.

"If we can get a good rush with the front four, without a blitrz, so much the better. If we can't get a good rush and he has time to sit in the pocket, he will make plays. He has a very strong arm. He's tall, so he can see the whole field. We have to do a good job of containing and of putting pressure on him so he doesn't get those good looks."

McClain, a 6-4, 258-pound junior, said that his role will be the same against Arkansas as it is against any other team. "My role doesn't really change," he said. "I'm not just a run-stopper. I'm involved in coverage a lot. We do a lot of things where I blitz."

McClain is one of many Alabama players who didn't watch Mallett's performance in a losing effort against Georgia Saturday night. Mallett, a sophomore who transferred from Michigan, completed 21 of 39 passes for a school record 405 yards and school record five touchdowns in a 52-41 loss.

"I saw some of the highlights on (ESPN) Sports Center," McClain said. "And of course I heard about it. That's a lot of points. They have a very good offense and they score a lot of points, but they haven't played us. We do a good job of stopping people from scoring. That's what a defense does. We're not overwhelmed by the points they scored on Georgia.

"We're focused on us and trying to do what we do. Yes, they have a good offense, a very good quarterback with good skill players around him. But we're a pretty good defense with a pretty good coach. So we're going to do what we have to do to stop them and limit their big plays and try to stop them from scoring."

McClain said one area where Alabama needs to improve is in getting takeaways. "That's something Coach Saban has been harping on," McClain said. "We've been working hard and I think if we keep working hard that takeaways will come, but so far we haven't been getting them. There really isn't any secret to it. You've got to attack the ball, attack the ball carrier."

McClain is not an emotional player, ordinarily. "I just play football," he said. "I'm not excited. I'm not angry. I'm not anything. I love playing football and trying to make plays.

"I treat every game the same, like it's the national championship game. That's how I'm going to treat this game."

Alabama, 3-0 and ranked third in the nation, hosts Arksansas, 1-1, in Bryant-Denny stadium at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday. CBS will televise the game.

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