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November 18, 2009

Notebook: Tide fans on record watch

TUSCALOOSA _ Even though University of Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram is in the running for the Heisman Trophy (pun intended), don't expect Coach Nick Saban to give him some extra handoffs to improve his numbers Saturday against Chattanooga.

"We don't really worry about stats," Saban said. "We're going to make all the decisions based on winning and what's best for our team. The most important thing to Mark Ingram is that our team has success and he does all the things that he needs to do to help our team be successful. I think he understands that if he does that, that's going enhance his chances of having success better than anything else."

Nevertheless, the sellout crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be on a records watch during the Crimson Tide's final home game of the season.

Ingram is sixth on Alabama's single-season rushing list with 1,297 yards, but could quickly move up against the Mocs. He needs 87 rushing yards to vault past Shaun Alexander into second place (1,383, 2008), and is 175 shy of all-time leader Bobby Humphrey (1,471, 1986).

Humphrey did it with 236 carries and Alexander 302. Ingram has taken just 194 handoffs this season.

Meanwhile, senior Javier Arenas has 1,590 career punt-return yards on 117 returns. He's 106 yards shy of breaking Lee Nalley's SEC record (1,695, 1947-49), and 172 of Wes Walker's NCAA record of 1,761 set in 2003.

Finally, while senior kicker Leigh Tiffin has already scored more points than anyone in Alabama history, his 77 field goals is one shy of Phillip Doyle (1987-90) on the school's career list. He's fourth on the SEC's career field goals made list, just 10 behind Georgia's Billy Bennett (87).

Team focus
Saban has deflected all questions about future opponents all week long, especially Florida.

"I haven't talked about it, and I'm not going to talk about it, and I said in my press conference this week the only game I'm going to talk about is the game we've got this week" Saban said during the weekly SEC coaches' conference call Wednesday morning. "So call me back in a couple of weeks."

Chattanooga, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as I-AA), is 6-4 and has already made the biggest turnaround in program history after finishing 1-11 last year, and will conclude its season Saturday. The Mocs are 0-10 against Alabama with the series dating back to 1908.

Of course, the Tide still has to visit Auburn next week before facing the Gators in the SEC Championship Game.

"Well, we had to play somebody," Saban said about scheduling Chattanooga so late in the season. "I mean, you've got to play 12 games. So it just worked out with our schedule that this was a time that we could add a game. We only had two options relative to when we had a bye week earlier in the season. If we'd have played the game then, we'd have had like 11 games in a row without a bye week. There's a lot of things to consider.

"I like the way we did it in the Big Ten, where you played all the games out of conference before you ever started conference play. But I think at that time, we were only playing 11 games, so you only had to play three. I think when they added the 12th game, it made it more difficult to schedule things the way you'd like. Sometimes you have to schedule them when you can."

Practice report
Saban described junior running Terry Grant's injury as a painful abdominal strain that's been slow to heal.

"The treatment has gone slow, but we're doing everything we can to get him back and we're hopeful he'll be back and contribute to our team," the coach said.

Grant spent Wednesday's practice on an exercise bike, while senior linebacker Eryk Anders (sprained ankle) and senior tight end Colin Peek went through drills with teammates.

Redshirts and scout-team players
Saban gave a progress report on the freshmen who are expected to redshirt:

"Those guys all have made a lot of improvement throughout the course of the year. I think in some cases this is beneficial to be able to mature for a year, to learn for a year, get in the kind of shape they need to be in.

"(D.J.) Fluker has done a lot. He's lost a lot of weight, gotten in shape, he does a good job every day against the first-team defense. So do the other three offensive linemen who are over there on that field, they've made a lot of improvement and done a really good job.

"Eddie Lacy is the scout running back, and of all the people that's probably the toughest job because he gets the ball a lot and gets hit a lot, banged around a lot, and makes a lot of plays.

"The young receivers have all done a good job. They had a good day today.

"From the defensive side, we pick anywhere from two to six scout team players of the week because of the good job that they do. Ed Stinson has been one of those guys quite a bit of the time. So there are guys making a lot of progress and improvement, and we try and work with them as much as we can especially when we go against each other."

Tide-bits
Although there are 926 Heisman Award voters (870 media members and the 55 living winners), one ballot will reflect fan voting from www.TheHeismanVote.com. Fans can once a day until Dec. 7, and also register to win a trip to the award show and a football autographed by former Heisman winners.

Senior linebacker Cory Reamer is going to try and play in the NFL after his Alabama career concludes. "If there's a chance I'm going to give it a shot," he said. "I'm going to work in the offseason like there is and if it doesn't work out that's fine I have a backup plan. I've got my degree and I'm getting my master's right now. I don't want to look back and think, 'Man, I should have given it a shot.'" Playing on numerous special-team units might really help Reamer's chances. "The more you can do, the better your chances to make a team. Versatility is the name of the game."

In addition to becoming a fixture on kick coverage, sophomore Jerrell Harris appears to have settled in as Reamer's backup at the strongside spot.

Saban has been repeating what he said after the Mississippi State game, that the Crimson Tide hasn't peaked yet. "I've said time and time and time again, I think our best game is out there," he said. Junior linebacker Rolando McClain agrees: "We don't want to peak too early, and I don't think we have. We can always play better in every aspect of the game."

In addition to sophomore safety Mark Barron leading the SEC with six interceptions, he's also tied for the conference lead in passes defended along with teammate Marquis Johnson with 15. Their 1.50 passes defended per game are tied for third nationally.

One reason why Saban likes the offense to be going with the wind in the fourth quarter, instead of the first like many coaches do, stems from his first loss as a head coach against Central Michigan. "I used to be that way until we lost the championship when I was the head coach at Toledo because we didn't have the wind in the fourth quarter and couldn't make a 25-yard field goal … It got to just about the goalpost and died, went straight down and we lost (13-12)."

Awards list rundown
The five finalists for the 2009 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for best senior quarterback were announced Wednesday with Florida's Tim Tebow, Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour, Duke's Thaddeus Lewis, Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson.

Both the Butkus Award (linebacker) finalists and the Bednarik semifinalists (defensive player) are expected to be announced Thursday.

Heisman Trophy: Finalists announced Dec. 9.
Maxwell Award (outstanding player): Mark Ingram, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Walter Camp Award (Player of the year): Ingram, Rolando McClain semifinalists. Finalists announced Dec. 2.

Butkus Award (linebacker): Rolando McClain, semifinalist. Finalists announced Thursday.

Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Terrence Cody and Mike Johnson on watch list. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Bednarik Award (defensive player): Cody and McClain, semifinalists. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Doak Walker Award (running back): Ingram, semifinalist. Finalists named Nov. 23.

Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Javier Arenas, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Lou Groza Award (kicker): Leigh Tiffin, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player): Finalists announced Thursday. Arenas, Cody and McClain are all on the watch list.

Rotary Lombard Award (lineman): Cody finalist. Winner announced Dec. 9.

Ted Hendricks Award (defensive end): Midseason watch list announced in mid-November. No Alabama players were on the preseason watch list.

Lott Trophy (defensive impact player): McClain semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 24.

Rimington Trophy (center): Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Eddie Robinson Award (coach): Finalists announced Dec. 9.

George Munger Award (coach): Nick Saban, semifinalist. Finalists announced Nov. 23.

Broyles Award (assistant coach): Finalists announced Nov. 30.

Alabama no longer in the running: Davey O'Brien Award (quarterback); Unitas Golden Arm (senior quarterback); Fred Biletnikoff Award (wide receiver); John Mackey Award (tight end); Ray Guy Award (punter); Walter Campbell Trophy (scholar-athlete, formerly known as the Draddy Trophy).


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