November 24, 2007

Iron Redemption

Sometime tonight, they'll face another third-and-2 situation that is really third-and-the-game. The Alabama football team will only be a week removed from the third-and-2 that was stoned at the line of scrimmage by a band of smaller guys who weren't supposed to offer so much resistance.

But it will seem like years ago.

The defense, most certainly, will be far more menacing. The crowd, without a doubt, far more hostile; the weather far more nasty, and the stakes far more meaningful. But things won't look the same on the Crimson Tide's side of the line, either. And when Evan Cardwell snaps that particular ball, the 2007 Iron Bowl will be decided.

A floundering offensive front for Alabama was boosted this week by the return of suspended starters Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis, and a sputtering ground game welcomed Glen Coffee back to the backfield. A clue to how much Caldwell and Davis were missed was evident on Wednesday, when both worked with the first team at positions they haven't started at all season: Davis at left guard and Caldwell at right tackle.

The Crimson Tide (6-5) tangles with archrival Auburn (7-4) Saturday night at 7 p.m., and at last check, even UA coach Nick Saban was uncertain how the newly reinstated players would affect the lineup.

"There could be several scenarios that play out relative to who ends up playing, who ends up starting," Saban said earlier this week. "... Caldwell and Marlon certainly make improvement and depth with experience. ... They worked in individual drills and even team drills in their time off. Those guys will make a significant contribution."

Coffee's tough, straight-ahead style has also been missed over the past four games as Alabama has relied on smaller backs in Terry Grant and Jonathan Lowe. And at no time was Coffee missed more than when two fourth-quarter drives were stopped last week against Louisiana-Monroe because a smaller back could not push a pile, or a bigger back (Jimmy Johns) could not secure the ball.

Alabama at Auburn
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
Records: Alabama (6-5, 4-3 SEC); Auburn (7-4, 4-3 SEC)
The line: Auburn by 4.5
Television: ESPN.

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