Tide, Gamecocks set for red zone smackdown
Kirby Smart saw it coming. No. 1 Alabama’s defensive coordinator
jumped up and down making a throwing motion with his right arm,
warning his players to watch for a jump pass.
Sure enough, that’s what Florida tried on a fourth-down goal
line play last weekend, and Crimson Tide linebacker Nico Johnson
intercepted it in the end zone. Threat averted.
Smart’s Alabama defense isn’t dominating stat sheets like last
year’s group, but it is awfully formidable when opponents get deep
into the red zone.
”Alabama’s been pretty good about the other team getting down
on about the three- or four-inch line and not scoring,” South
Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
Then again, the 19th-ranked Gamecocks have been hard to stop
after penetrating the 20-yard line. That could make for some
interesting red zone collisions in Saturday’s game at South
Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium, a boiled-down version of the
SEC’s best against the best.
No conference team has been better at cashing in on red zone
trips than South Carolina; Spurrier’s offense has scored on all but
one of 16 trips, including 13 touchdowns.
A powerful runner like Marcus Lattimore and big receivers like
Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley certainly don’t hurt. Neither does
the mobility of quarterback Stephen Garcia.
Getting to the red zone against Alabama’s defense hasn’t been a
The end zone? That’s much harder to reach.
The Tide has allowed only eight scores and two touchdowns on 14
tries. Perhaps the most impressive number: five forced turnovers in
that condensed area of the field, including a fumble recovery
against the Gators and that play when Trey Burton pulled up at the
line to throw.
Schemes, preparation and coaches adept at sniffing out potential
trickery all help, of course. Safety Robert Lester thinks attitude
is important, too.
”It’s the mentality,” said Lester, who had an end zone
interception against Arkansas. ”The defense never wants an
opponent to score. Keep them off the board as much as possible. If
the offense doesn’t score a point and the defense doesn’t allow a
point, it’s a tie game. No one can win. That’s the mentality we’re
going in with.”
Florida drove past the Tide’s 20 four times and came away with
one field goal in the 31-6 Alabama win. ”And they were inside the
1 twice,” noted Spurrier.
In fact, he sees some advantages in having a little extra space
in front of the goal line.
”Sometimes, against teams like this, you don’t want to get to
the 1-yard-line,” Spurrier said. ”You’d rather get to the 7 or 8
or something like that. Sometimes it’s actually easier to score
from that distance.”
Either way, South Carolina has the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Jeffery
or the 6-5, 230-pound Gurley for jump balls. Then there’s the
218-pound Lattimore, who has six touchdown runs, the longest 7
Alabama’s success as the opposing offense nears the goal line is
a big reason why the Tide leads the nation in scoring defense.
Coach Nick Saban stresses stopping teams in the red zone, run
defense and not giving up big plays as some of the key elements to
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower simply calls it ”want-to.”
”Our guys have competed very well down there,” Saban said.
”You have to give them credit for the tenacity that they
He said the most important thing is to force a team to pass in
”Most really good teams in the red zone run the ball
effectively,” Saban said. ”If you can force them to throw, it is
a little more difficult to throw it down there. They have more
people in a lot less space and we’ve done a pretty good job of
executing what we do. We practiced a lot and our players have
responded well to it.”
It’s hardly a coincidence that Alabama’s improved play against
the red zone has coincided with the team’s rise. The Tide went from
11th in the SEC two years ago to first in last year’s national
That’s where Alabama has stayed so far in 2010.
Spurrier even noted the Tide’s goal line stand on Texas’ opening
drive of the national title game. The Longhorns had first-and-goal
from the 1, and had to settle for a field goal after two rushes and
an incomplete pass on their opening series.
”So just cause you’re down there close doesn’t mean you’re
going to get a touchdown against Alabama,” Spurrier said. ”Those
guys, they’re not going to concede anything to you. To be in the
game, we’ve got to score TDs if we can instead of kicking field
goals from short range.”
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed
to this report.