October 6, 2007

Alabama Homecoming: Parade yes, picnic no

With a three-game stretch of Arkansas, Georgia and Florida State now in its rear-view mirror, the Alabama football team returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday for a Homecoming break against Houston.

Fast break, that is.

The Cougars bring a no-huddle offense that has kept defenses on their heels all season. And while Homecoming games are often lopsided by design, this one has the makings of a tighter score. There's a reason why Homecoming parades always roll the streets before the game: they do get spoiled every once in a while.

Houston at Alabama
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Records: Alabama (3-2, 2-1 SEC); Houston (2-2, 1-1 C-USA)
The line: Alabama by 11
Television: Pay per view.
Pre-game events: Alumni Council breakfast, 9 a.m., Bryant Conference Center; Homecoming parade, 9 a.m., downtown to campus; Homecoming activities, 10 a.m., the Quad.
"This is a different preparation," coach Nick Saban said of Houston's offensive weaponry. "…It taxes you in terms of, 'We're spread out here [defensively], so how are we going to get enough guys inside to stop the run'?"

The Crimson Tide is favored by oddsmakers by 11 points - a rather small number for a Homecoming game - and ESPN analyst Lou Holtz named the game as an upset to watch for on Friday.

Alabama defensive back Simeon Castille should be in his comfort zone Saturday in the nickelback, or "star", position. Against a base set of four wide receivers, Alabama's defense will be in its nickel and dime packages for virtually the entire game. Castille said most of the biggest plays in his career have come from the nickel spot.

"As a DB you look forward to these games because you know they're going to throw," Castille said. "They run a lot of bubble screens, jailbreak screens, a lot of easy little throws. But our job is to make them not so easy."

Castille led Alabama with six interceptions as a junior, but has yet to record his first pick-off of 2007. Houston's reliance on short, high-percentage throws may make this game an unlikely source for Castille's first interception, but the senior said tackling is his primary focus anyway.

"Their whole game is to get people one on one in open space," Castille said. "We've got to make sure we get these guys on the ground."

The challenge isn't only in the secondary, however. Houston also employs wide splits on its offensive line - much like Alabama saw in the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech two seasons ago. Cougars running back Anthony Alridge, who burned Oregon for more than 200 yards rushing, is just the type of quick-footed back who can most benefit from a wide-split front.

"That's huge," said Saban. "Because the gap now that you have to tackle a good runner who has a lot of speed in just got wider."

ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR HALL - While the Alabama defense tries to solve a 485-yard-per-game offense, UA receiver DJ Hall will almost certainly solve another school record. Already UA's all-time leader for career receiving yards, Hall needs only three catches to pass Freddie Milons for the top spot on the career receptions list. Hall has pulled in150 career catches, while Milons made 152 in his career.

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