Alabama preview

DEKALB -- Opposing teams have yet to figure out how to get around Alabama's stingy run-defense. The Crimson Tide have been dominant three games into the 2003 season, especially on the run-stop. In last week's game against Kentucky, Bama limited the Wildcats to only 26 yards in its 27-17 victory.

The Tide yielded only 74 yards, the highest of the season, in their only loss of the season to Oklahoma. Bama gave up 51 yards to South Florida in the season opener. For the season, Alabama has given up 151 yards and two touchdowns on 71 carries. That stat alone worries coach Joe Novak.

"They have given up only eight rushing first downs in their first three games," said Novak, who's Huskies has 14 rushing first downs in the first two games. "They are really good on defense. Their front seven is an all-star team right there."

The Crimson Tide run defense is a concern to a team that loves to run the ball. In the season-opening victory over Maryland, NIU ran the ball 43 times for only 59 yards. NIU saw the running game improve against Tennessee Tech, gaining 160 yards on 40 carries.

Michael Turner, has gained 224 yards and two touchdowns on 57 carries in the first two games.

However, Novak knows with the Huskie running-game going to be the focal point of Alabama's game-plan, NIU might have to open things up through the air to get the running game started. Haldi has started the season throwing for 250 yards or more and threw 266 yards against Maryland. Haldi has connected with 10 different receivers and has 518 yards and five touchdown passes.

"We are going to have to open things up," Novak said. "We have to be creative. It is going to be difficult to get Michael his yards. We are going to have to take some chances.

"We can't ask the kids to do things they can't do. We have to try to put a game-plan together to give the kids a chance. Physically we are at a disadvantage."

If the Bama defense posed as a big problem, the Tide's running-game is equally as good. Led by SEC Player of the Week Shaud Williams, Bama has rolled out to a 2-1 record and is ranked No. 21 in this weeks Associated Press Top 25 poll. NIU is ranked No. 29 in the AP poll and is tied with Purdue for No. 32 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll. Williams is coming off a 174 yard, three touchdown day against the Wildcats. Both are Alabama-high's for Williams, who played for Texas Tech before transferring to Bama.

"Their tailback is a good player," Novak said. "He is not a big kid, but he's physical. They are a power-run team and we got to handle that."

NIU (2-0) is coming off a bye-week after its 42-17 victory over Tennessee Tech. The last time NIU went into a bye week and faced a rank-team the following week came last season. NIU defeated then No. 20 Bowling Green and went on to claim a share of the Mid-American Conference West Division title. NIU goes into the game injury-free. Haldi, who suffered a concussion in the Maryland game, was held out of practice last week and is ready to play. Dan Sheldon, who suffered a knee injury in the same game, is also healthy.

"The bye-week came at a good time for us," Novak said. "We came out of Maryland banged up. We had a great week of practice. Our kids are excited. Playing down there is a treat."

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