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October 27, 2009TUSCALOOSA _ Although University of Alabama junior quarterback Greg McElroy didn't put up his best numbers Saturday against Tennessee, Coach Nick Saban was pleased with his performance which could be an important step in getting the passing game back on track.
McElroy completed 18 of 29 passes for 120 yards, with four passes knocked away after not being immediately secured by the receivers and one drop.
"He had command of his pitches, like if he was a baseball player," Saban said. "He was throwing the ball in the right place, he was throwing the ball on time, he was doing a good job of executing what he was supposed to do. We're pleased with that."
However, with Alabama never trailing and holding two-score lead until the final 2:10, coaches kept the play-calling close to the vest to minimize risks of a costly turnover. It eventually happened anyway with sophomore running back Mark Ingram's first lost fumble of his collegiate career, but Saban made it clear Tuesday that attacking more with the passing game will be a "point of emphasis."
"When we used to play the Raiders in pro ball, we knew they were going to have two fast guys and they were going to throw the ball (deep) five or sixes times and run down the field and you had to cover," Saban said. "Whether they catch them or not, it makes (the defensive backs) play different all the other plays in the game.
"It's not just about the results sometimes, it's about the effects."
Although sophomore Julio Jones had a season-high seven receptions for 54 yards against Tennessee, the rest of the wide receivers have seen their production drop dramatically.
Darius Hanks: Had three catches Saturday after being shut out the two previous games.
Marquis Maze: Tied his season-high with four receptions against Ole Miss, otherwise has three catches against Kentucky (0), South Carolina (two) and Tennessee (one) combined.
Mike McCoy: Hasn't had a reception since North Texas.
Earl Alexander: One catch over the last five games.
Meanwhile, Saban has instructed McElroy to concentrate on what's before him and not the external factors.
"It's great to have tremendous success, but sometimes when you have success and you get a build up you can get chopped down pretty easily," Saban said. "That cannot affect you, you have to keep on focusing on the process and the things that you need to do at your position."
Surprised by issue
Senior nose tackle Terrence Cody was a little surprised by the controversy he caused by taking his helmet off after his second field-goal block against Tennessee.
"The game was over," he said.
CBS caught a shot Cody beginning to take his helmet off with the clock in the background already reading 0:00, and despite objections from Tennessee the SEC confirmed that the dead-ball foul could not be called in that circumstance.
Meanwhile, Cody called it the highlight of his career so far: "I'd say it would have to be at the top."
Even more than scoring a touchdown?
"It depends on what game I scored a touchdown in, say the SEC Championship or another big game," Cody said.
No more tape
An official told the special-teams players on both sides Saturday that he would be watching to see if anyone used something to mark where to spot the ball on field goals, which would be a penalty.
He also did so with a smile on his face after South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier openly complained about Alabama doing so the previous week.
"I told P.J. (Fitzgerald), 'Yeah I hope we do well this week. If not, everyone's going to blame it on the tape,'" senior kicker Leigh Tiffin said. "I wasn't worried about it and I didn't think it would affect anything."
The two players saw other teams doing it last year and decided to follow their example, usually with a piece of white grass or a small piece of tape.
"I think it's pretty common probably not in the SEC anymore," Tiffin said.
Tiffin made all four field goals, including from 50 and 49 yards.
As for his reaction to the controversy, Fitzgerald said, "My draw dropped, like 'Really? Wow.'"
Senior tight end Colin Peek, who sustained a sprained left knee while warming up Saturday, rode an exercise bike during Tuesday's practice.
"We are hopeful that we will get him back for the LSU game, but that's going to be day-to-day," Saban said. "He probably won't practice this week, but the real key to it will be where he is next week."
For those wondering about freshman linebacker Nico Johnson on the "max" unit, Alabama defends field goals with its base defense in part to minimize substitutions and avoid confusion, with each position having specific responsibilities. One of the few changes is Jones for the Jack linebacker because of his leaping ability.
Ingram says he's not haunted by his first lost fumble: "I was upset it the day it happen, but you just have to get over and make sure it doesn't happen again. I probably could have done a better job of having two hands on it, but I was falling and they pretty much made a great play."
Saban noted that senior cornerback Javier Arenas had a record number of production points for a defensive back in Saturday's game. Production points are how the coaching staff grades players in each game. He had 13 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and a sack.
The wind at Bryant-Denny Stadium has been inconsistent ever since the north end zone expansion was completed. "I just never can get a beat on it really," Tiffin said. "It's like it's always changing and the flags are never indicative what's actually going on." Smaller stadiums usually don't affect the wind currents, but it tends to swirl more in places where the ends are enclosed with a second deck. "For whatever reason ours is the one I have the most trouble with," he added. "It just feels like it changes a lot.
Saban is still looking for a replacement at rush-end in dime packages, a role that used to be held by injured linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Courtney Upshaw initially filled the role, but Chavis Williams played there against Tennessee. "Chavis did a decent job in the game, and Courtney has done a decent job," Saban said. "We many even look at different guys this week to continue to try and develop. I think that's one of the things in the bye week you can do."
Cody on what he's dressing up as for Halloween: "Myself."