Alabama vs. FIU notes, etc.

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The Alabama Crimson Tide takes on Florida International Panthers Saturday. On Monday, Nick Saban met with the media and I’ll post some additional details later. The most important bit of news was that Mark Ingram’s knee should be fine, and Ingram is expected to practice today. Saban also said there were several “correctable” mistakes made on defense last week. He put emphasis on correctable. One other tidbit before the game notes sent out by UA, you might be wondering what Alabama calls the wildcat formation. The Crimson Tide’s coach calls the wildcat (defined as putting someone other than the quarterback into the role of taking the snap) as the…wildcat.

The University of Alabama released a ton of notes on this week’s game. I removed most of the items that looked at last week’s performance, but left a few in that seemed important like Alabama snagging its 800th win. Here are the notes courtesy of UA:
GAME 2: Alabama (1-0) vs. FIU (0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 12 • 6 p.m. • PPV
Bryant-Denny Stadium (91,238) • Tuscaloosa, Ala
Game information:
Opponent: Florida International Panthers
Site: Bryant-Denny Stadium (91,138)
Series: UA leads, 1-0
Tickets: Sold Out
TV: PPV (ESPN Game Plan)
Chris Stewart, Tyler Watts and Barry Krauss
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network
WFFN-FM (95.3) – Tuscaloosa
Eli Gold, Phil Savage & Barry Krauss
Satellite Radio: Channels: XM – 199; SIRIUS – 214
National Radio: None
Internet: www.RollTide.com
Up Next: North Texas (SEC Network)
Sept. 19 – 11:20 a.m. – Bryant-Denny Stadium (92,138)

RANKINGS: Alabama was ranked fifth in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ preseason polls. It is highest preseason ranking for the Tide since the 2000 season when they opened at No. 3, and just the third time UA has been ranked in the preseason poll since the 2000 season. Virginia Tech is ranked seventh in both the preseason AP Top 25 and the coaches’ poll.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL SERIES: Alabama defeated Florida International 38-3 in the only meeting between the two schools. The Crimson Tide’s win came on Oct. 28, 2006, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tide scored in all three phases of that game with Le’Ron McClain catching a touchdown pass from John Parker Wilson, Javier Arenas returning a punt 68-yards for a touchdown and Ramzee Robinson picking off a pass and returning it 34 yards for a score.

NEXT GAME: Alabama will play the second game of a three-game homestand against the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday, Sept. 19, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will kickoff at 11:20 a.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. It will be the third meeting between Alabama and North Texas and the first since the 2002 season when the Tide won 33-7 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

TIDE CAPTURES 800TH WIN: The storied Alabama football program captured the program’s 800th win last week in Atlanta with a 34-24 win over No. 7 Virginia Tech. Alabama is the seventh school in the Football Bowl Subdivision to reach the 800-win plateau. The Crimson Tide holds an 800-316-43 all-time record, which is a .709 winning percentage that ranks sixth in FBS history. The other six programs to record 800 wins is: Michigan (873); Texas (833); Notre Dame (832); Nebraska (818); Ohio State (808); Penn State (801).

BEATING THE BEST: Alabama is 4-2 against the Associated Press Top 25 over the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The Crimson Tide’s 34-24 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday was the Tide’s third win over a top-10 team during that 15 game span.

Alabama vs. Top 25 Opponents (last 15 games)
Date Team Rank Result
Aug. 30, 2008 vs. Clemson 9 W, 34-10
Sept. 27, 2008 at Georgia 3 W, 41-30
Nov. 8, 2008 at LSU 15 W, 27-21 (OT)
Dec. 6, 2008 vs. Florida 2 L, 31-20
Jan. 2, 2009 vs. Utah 7 L, 31-17
Sept. 5, 3009 vs. Virginia Tech 7 W, 34-24

STIFLING DEFENSE PUTTING UP IMPRESSIVE NUMBERS: Alabama’s defense over the past 15 games – or two seasons – has developed a reputation for its toughness and talent. That reputation is played out when you look at the stat sheet. The Crimson Tide has held 13 teams under 100 yards rushing over the pat 15 games, only LSU and Florida in 2008 were able to crack the 100-yard barrier as a team. The Tide has surrendered just 1,102 yards on the ground in the last 15 games, an average of 73.5 yards per game. Also, no individual running back has cracked the 100-yard mark since Mississippi’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis went for 131 on Oct. 13, 2007, a span of 21 games.

The Alabama defense has also held opponent’s total offense under 200 yards in seven of the last 15 games, including a 155-yard effort by Virginia Tech in the 2009 season opener. The complete sub-200-yard games in that span include: Clemson (188); Western Kentucky (158); Tennessee (173); Arkansas State (158); Mississippi State (167); Auburn (170); Virginia Tech (155).

MARCELL DAREUS HAS BREAKOUT GAME: Sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus had a great fall practice and a breakout game in the season opener against Virginia Tech. He got the start at defensive end after Brandon Deaderick was shot in an attempted robbery the Monday prior to the season opener against Tech. Dareus responded with two total tackles, including 1.5 sacks as he harassed Tech signal-caller Tyrod Taylor into 9-of-20 passing for just 91 yards.

TIME OF POSSESSION: An Alabama trademark over the past two seasons has been its ability to control the line of scrimmage offensively and, consequently, control the tempo of the game. This has played out with an impressive advantage in time of possession. A year ago the Crimson Tide finished 11th nationally with an average time of possession of 32:08. In 2009, the Crimson Tide is off to another great start in that category after holding the ball for 37:02 in the opener against Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide has won the time of possession battle in 10 of their last 15.

INGRAM OFF TO THE RACES: Sophomore running back Mark Ingram showed a national television audience why he was named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award after rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown against No. 7 Virginia Tech. He also hauled in three passes for 35 yards, which included an 18-yard touchdown grabs to seal the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide’s 34-24 win. Ingram earned Offensive Most Outstanding Player honors for the game and bested his previous single-game career-best rushing yardage, which was a 113-yard effort against Arkansas State in 2008. He also set a single-game high for rushing attempts with 26, eclipsing his previous high of 17 set against Clemson and Mississippi in 2008. Ingram also received “Helmet Stickers” from Mark May on ESPN’s GameDay Final and from ESPN SEC beat writer Chris Low.

BALL SECURITY: Mark Ingram has also developed another impressive reputation during his 15-game Alabama career. The Flint, Mich. native is an expert at holding onto the football. The sophomore has not lost a fumble in 169 career rushing attempts and only put the ball on the ground one time, coming at LSU in 2008, which was recovered by the Tide. He has 878 yards in those 15 games with 13 rushing touchdowns.

DOMINANT ‘D’: Alabama returned eight starters from a 2008 defense that finished third nationally in total defense, allowing just 263.5 yards per game. The 2009 unit had an excellent debut against Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies to 155 total yards (64 rushing, 91 passing) and 11 first downs. The Tide held Tech to 2-of-12 on third down conversions and racked up five sacks of Hokies’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor. In 2008, Alabama finished second nationally in rush defense, surrendering just 74.14 ypg and rank 26th after the opening weekend of 2009.

TIFFIN TIES SINGLE-GAME HIGH WITH 4 FIELD GOALS: Senior place-kicker Leigh Tiffin converted 4-of-5 field goal attempts against Virginia Tech, making good on attempts from 49, 34, 43 and 20 yards. That matched his single-game best at Alabama. (previously achieved vs. Tennessee, Oct. 20, 2007; Mississippi State on Nov. 10, 2007; Clemson on Aug. 30, 2008) and ranks second in Alabama history (6 by Philip Doyle vs. Southwestern Louisiana on Oct. 6, 1990). The four field goals give Tiffin 57 in his Alabama career, ranking him fourth all-time in Crimson Tide history behind Philip Doyle (78 from 1987-90), Michael Proctor (65 from 1992-95) and Tiffin’s father, Van Tiffin (59 from 1983-86).

DEADERICK SEES ACTION: Senior defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick completed a miraculous return to the playing field with an appearance in the Crimson Tide’s win over Virginia Tech, just 5 days after being shot by an unknown assailant on Monday night, August 31, in Tuscaloosa. Deaderick, who suffered non-life threatening injuries to his left forearm and hip in the incident, was cleared for action by team doctors. He saw his first action on special teams with 6:35 left to play in the first quarter on Virginia Tech’s point-after conversion following a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that tied the game at 6-6. Deaderick saw action on defense with 3:00 left in the first quarter. He finished with one solo tackle vs. the Hokies.

9 FIRST-TIME STARTERS FOR ALABAMA: Nine Alabama players (6 on offense, 3 on defense) made their first career starts for the Crimson Tide against Virginia Tech. On defense, senior linebacker Eryk Anders, sophomore defensive back Mark Barron and sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus were first-time starters. On offense, junior left tackle James Carpenter, sophomore center William Vlachos, sophomore right guard Barrett Jones, senior tight end Colin Peek, sophomore tight end/H-back Brad Smelley and junior quarterback Greg McElroy made their first starts.

11TH NATIONAL TV EXPOSURE IN ALABAMA’S LAST 15 GAMES: The Virginia Tech game was Alabama’s 11th national TV broadcast in its last 15 games. In 2008, Alabama had 10 of its 14 games broadcast nationally, including five games on CBS, three games on ESPN, one on ABC and one on FOX. The 10 nationally broadcast games last year were tied with Notre Dame for the most in the nation.

TOUGH SLATE: Alabama will once again have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation with three games against teams ranked in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll top 10. The Tide will face No. 7 Virginia Tech in the opener and then travel to No. 10 Mississippi on Oct. 10. The final preseason top-10 foe is LSU, who will visit Tuscaloosa on Nov 7.

UA COACHES PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: The Alabama coaching staff recognized five players of the week following the Crimson Tide’s 34-24 win over No. 7 Virginia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday. Mark Ingram and Greg McElroy shared offensive honors. Ingram rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes from McElroy for 35 yards and a score. McElroy threw for 230 yards on 15-of-30 passing with one touchdown and one pick. Rolando McClain was the defensive player of the week after recording two sacks (-19 yards) and five total tackles. P.J. Fitzgerald and Brian Selman shared the special teams award. Selman was again perfect on 13 snapping opportunities, recovered a fumble after hustling down on punt coverage and down another punt inside the Virginia Tech 5-yard line. Fitzgerald averaged 44.8 yards on five punts with a long of 53 yards while pinning the Hokies inside the 20-yard line three times.

BEST COACHING STARTS: Nick Saban has compiled a 20-7 (.741) record in his career with the Tide and the 20 wins rank as the fifth-most for any Crimson Tide head football coach after 28 games. Wallace Wade holds the record for most wins after 28 games, with 24 victories. Frank Thomas is third with 21 wins in 26 games with Gene Stallings fourth with 20. Below are the most wins by Alabama coaches after the first 26 games in their career.

Most Wins (After 28 Games)
Wallace Wade 24
Frank Thomas 23
Gene Stallings 22
Xen Scott 22
J.W.H. Pollard 21
Nick Saban 20

Most Wins (After 29 Games)
Wallace Wade 25
Frank Thomas 24
Gene Stallings 23
Xen Scott 22
J.W.H Pollard 20
Bill Curry 21

SABAN VS. FIU: Alabama head coach Nick Saban has never faced Florida International in his coaching career.

CRISTOBAL VS. ALABAMA: While Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal has never faced Alabama during his coaching career, he did encounter the Crimson Tide on two occasions while a starting offensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes from 1989-92. As a true freshman, Cristobal played on a Miami team that beat Alabama 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl and clinch the national championship. As a senior, he was a starting offensive lineman for a Miami squad that was beaten 34-13 by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as the Crimson Tide clinched its 12th national championship.

FIU VERSUS SEC: Florida International is 0-2 all-time against teams from the Southeastern Conference. In addition to its loss to Alabama in 2006, the Panthers also suffered a 58-10 loss to Arkansas on Oct. 27, 2007.

ALABAMA VERSUS SUN BELT: Alabama holds a 17-1 series lead against teams from the Sun Belt Conference. The Crimson Tide posted a 2-0 record against Sun Belt foes last season and will play two more teams in consecutive weeks this year with Florida International (Sept. 12) and North Texas (Sept. 19). Alabama’s only loss to a Sun Belt Conference team came on Nov. 17, 2007, when Louisiana- Monroe handed Alabama a 21-14 setback in Tuscaloosa. Here is a breakdown of Alabama’s record against the current Sun Belt Conference: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-0), Arkansas State (2-0), Middle Tennessee (2-0), North Texas (2-0), Florida International (1-0), Western Kentucky (1-0) and Louisiana-Monroe (1-1).

FIU UNDER CRISTOBAL: The turnaround from the 2007 season to the 2008 season was not only monumental; it was one of the top storylines of the 2008 college football season. Head coach Mario Cristobal rallied FIU to within one win of reaching bowl eligibility. This year, FIU brings a much improved and more experienced team to Tuscaloosa. The Panthers offense, which averaged 24.7 points per game, will return 30 starters from the 2008 season including All-Sun Belt Conference quarterback Paul McCall and Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year T.Y. Hilton at wide receiver and kick returner. Veterans Scott Bryant, Anthony Gaitor, Jeremiah Weatherspoon, and Armond Willis all have another year of experience and will lead a defensive unit ready to prove there is more than just offensive explosion on the Panthers roster.

FLORIDA NATIVES: Alabama has 11 Florida natives on its 2009 football roster, including Javier Arenas (Tampa), Terrence Cody (Ft. Myers), P.J. Fitzgerald (Coral Springs), Star Jackson (Lake Worth), Marquis Johnson (Sarasota), Mike Johnson (Pensacola), Colin Peek (Ponte Vedra Beach), Trent Richardson (Pensacola), Chris Rogers (Lakeland), Ed Stinson (Homestead) and Roy Upchurch (Tallahassee).

HOME OPENERS: Alabama has compiled a 94-15-3 all-time record in home openers, which includes all games in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery. The Crimson Tide enters the 2008 season having won its last seven home openers. The streak includes wins over Middle Tennessee (2002), South Florida (2003), Utah State (2004), Middle Tennessee (2005), Hawai’i (2006), Western Carolina (2007) and Tulane (2008). The last time UA lost its home opener was Sept. 1, 2001, when No. 17 UCLA opened the season with a 20-17 win over No. 25 Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama’s first ever home opener took place on Oct. 14, 1893, when Eli Abbott’s Crimson Tide team suffered a 4-0 loss to Birmingham Athletic Club. Alabama posted a 44-game unbeaten streak in home openers from 1904-48, which included a 43-0-1 record. The Tide had a 31-game winning streak from 1904-34 before a 7-7 tie with Howard in 1935. UA followed that up with another 12-game losing streak, before the streak ended with a 28-14 loss to Tulane on Sept. 24, 1949 at Ladd Stadium in Mobile. Since 1929, Alabama is 67-10-1 in Bryant-Denny Stadium openers, including a 20-0-1 record from 1929-50 and a 25-game winning streak from 1964-89. The 21-game unbeaten streak was snapped by a 41-18 loss to Villanova on Oct. 12, 1951. The Tide’s 25-game winning streak in home openers was snapped by a 17-13 loss to Florida on Sept. 15, 1990.

SABAN HOME OPENERS: Coach Nick Saban is 11-2 in his career in home openers, including a eight-game winning streak. The streak includes one win at Michigan State (1999), five at LSU (2000-04) and two at Alabama (2007-08). His last loss in a home opener was Aug. 29, 1998, when Michigan State fell to Colorado State, 23-16, at East Lansing.

ARENAS A COMMUNITY SERVICE LEADER: Senior cornerback and return specialist Javier Arenas is a nominee for the 2009 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes college football players who make outstanding contributions in the area of volunteerism and civic involvement. Arenas, a native of Tampa, Fla., is one of 52 Division I-A student-athletes across college football nominated for their efforts away from the gridiron. These athletes are being honored for their selfless efforts in the surrounding communities. Arenas has volunteered more than 50 hours of community service throughout the Tuscaloosa community. He has spent time in the local school systems, speaking to children about the dangers of bullying and the positive effects of team work. He has also attended birthday parties of physically challenged children and reached out with phone calls to children battling cancer.

ARENAS FINALIST FOR LOWE’S SENIOR CLASS AWARD: Alabama defensive back Javier Arenas has been selected as one of 30 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The Tampa, Fla. native is a preseason first-team Playboy All-American, but his accomplishments in the classroom and in the community are bringing him accolades off the field as well. CLASS, an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

SPORTING NEWS CHRONICLES MIKE JOHNSON: Like his fellow offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell did a season ago, Alabama senior left guard Mike Johnson will write a regular diary for the Sporting News in 2009. Johnson will take a look at all aspects of life when you are a college football player at one of the most storied programs.

SOPHOMORE SENSATIONS: Julio Jones and Mark Ingram return for their sophomore season and give the Alabama offense a big-play threat both inside and outside. The duo turned in some of the best rookie seasons in school history in 2008. Jones set school freshman marks for receptions (58), yards (924) and touchdowns (4), while Ingram rushed for 728 yards and a UA rookie record 12 scores. The pair is off to another fast start in 2009. Ingram rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes for 35 yards and a score. Jones caught a team-high four passes for 46 yards in the opener.

ARENAS BREAKING SPECIAL TEAMS RECORDS: Javier Arenas enters his senior season near or at the top of almost all of the Crimson Tide’s punt return records. He is a preseason Playboy All-American as a return specialist and a first-team All-SEC selection at cornerback. He is one of the most dangerous return men in the country and Alabama’s career leader in punt returns yards in a game, season and career as well as touchdowns. He is the active NCAA leader in career punt returns for touchdowns and punt return yards in a game. Arenas’ 13.5 career yards per punt return also ranks first on the Alabama career chart, just ahead of Harry Gilmer. His six career punt returns for touchdowns also ties the SEC record.

NFL DRAFT: The Crimson Tide saw four players selected in the 2009 NFL Draft, including first-round pick Andre Smith, who went to the Cincinnati Bengals with the No. 6 overall pick. Glen Coffee (San Francisco), Antoine Caldwell (Houston) and Rashad Johnson (Arizona) all went off the board in the third round. The four picks are the most for the Tide since five players were taken in 2005.

RETURNING SUCCESS: Much of the talk in the preseason has been about Alabama‘s vaunted defense, and the defensive side of the football is where the Crimson Tide returns the biggest portion of its players from last year’s Sugar Bowl team. UA features 14 total returning starters and 55 lettermen this season, but eight of those returning starters are on the defensive side of the football with four on offense and both specialists. The Tide returns 90 percent of its lettermen on defense and 73 percent on offense. The defense returns 84 percent of the tackles (728 of 866) from last season. The special teams returns almost completely intact with place-kicker Leigh Tiffin, punter P.J. Fitzgerald, snapper Brian Selman and return specialist Javier Arenas.

NICK’S KIDS: At Michigan State, head coach Nick Saban and his wife Terry started the “Nick’s Kids” Foundation, which the Sabans have continued in Tuscaloosa. Since their arrival at the University of Alabama, the Sabans have helped raise over $1 million – including over $300,000 this year – for “Nick’s Kids” and made a total of more than 160 donations to children’s charities throughout the state of Alabama.

STADIUM RENOVATION: The newest expansion project for Bryant-Denny Stadium will see an increase in seating capacity to approximately 101,000, keeping it among the largest on-campus football stadiums in the nation. The expansion, which is expected to be complete for the beginning of the 2010 season, will be the fourth expansion of this magnificent edifice since 1988 and the seventh expansion in the stadium’s history. This renovation will mirror north end zone project that was completed in 2006. It will consist of roughly 8,500 additional seats, 1,700 South Zone Club seats, two corner video boards, an upper concourse with concessions and restrooms, 36 skyboxes, offices Donors Hall of Fame and an outdoor market for food and merchandise.

NEW HIRES: The Alabama football staff features two new faces in 2009, including linebackers’ coaches Sal Sunseri and James Willis. Sunseri joins the staff spending the last seven seasons as the defensive line coach for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers where he coached the likes of Pro Bowl players Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins. Willis joined Saban’s staff after spending three years with Auburn where he worked with former Saban assistant Will Muschamp. He spent seven seasons in the NFL prior to beginning his coaching career.

TOP AIDES: Alabama’s coaching staff has a wealth of knowledge across all levels of football. The nine-man Crimson Tide staff features a former head coach at the Bowl Subdivision level in Bobby Williams (Michigan State). The staff also has six coaches that have spent time as assistant coaches in the NFL in Bo Davis (Dolphins), Jim McElwain (Raiders), Joe Pendry (19 years with multiple teams), Kirby Smart (Dolphins), Sal Sunseri (Panthers) and Bobby Williams (Lions and Dolphins). Alabama’s coaching staff boasts 40-plus years of combined NFL coaching experience.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Saban’s success and quick turnaround in 2008 was not lost on the nation. He garnered six national coach of the year awards, including the Home Depot Coach of the year, the FWAA/Eddie Robinson, Associated Press, Sporting News, Walter Camp and Liberty Mutual. In 2003, Saban was also selected National Coach of the Year by the Associated Press and captured the Paul W. “Bear” Bryant National Coach of the Year Award.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: Coach Saban also spent a little time behind the camera during the offseason. He flew out to Los Angeles to film an ESPN College GameDay commercial with Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler. Saban also filmed scenes for the movie Blindside, which chronicles the life of former Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher.

BURNS and cochran honored: Associate head coach and running backs coach Burton Burns along with head strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran were named the nation’s best at their respective fields in 2008. Burns was named college football’s 2008 FootballScoop Running Backs Coach of the Year, while Cochran was tabbed as the 2008 Samson Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year for his work with the Crimson Tide in the weight room.

ALABAMA’S TV RECORD: Alabama has compiled a 178-115-5 (.606) all-time record in 298 televised games. This does not include pay-per-view, tape-delayed or closed circuit telecasts. The Crimson Tide owns a 153-96-3 (.613) record in 252 regular-season televised games.

OVERTIME RECORD: Alabama is 4-7 (.364) all-time in overtime games. In its last overtime game, the Crimson Tide defeated LSU 27-21 at Tiger Stadium on Nov. 8, 2008. Alabama has lost six of its last nine overtime games. The Crimson Tide is 4-6 (.400) in overtime games against SEC teams. Alabama is 2-4 (.333) in overtime home games. The Crimson Tide is 3-4 (.429) in single-overtime games.