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November 22, 2009

Upon Further Review: Chattanooga at Alabama

The University of Alabama's game against Chattanooga on Saturday probably couldn't have gone better for the host Crimson Tide.

No turnovers. No injuries. No setbacks.

Consequently, the lopsided nature of the game, which ended up being a 45-0 victory, allowed the coaching staff to essentially pull all of the starters at halftime.

"It's always nice, I can't say enough about that," senior guard Mike Johnson said. "I don't know if people understand how tiring a game actually is."

Don't underestimate the importance of that, especially considering No. 2 Alabama visits rival Auburn on Friday, with the Tigers coming off a bye.

Meanwhile, the Mocs won over a lot of Alabama fans, and not just because it went from a one-win season in 2008 to six.

"That's a great football team that we had the opportunity to play," quarterback B.J. Coleman said. "It's always an honor to get the chance to come out and play against a potential national champion. They have Auburn, followed by Florida in the SEC Championship coming up soon and we wish them the best of luck."

Coach Russ Huesman, who when asked earlier in the week what Alabama had to worry about said "Auburn," explained why he didn't go for a field goal when UTC had the ball at the Alabama 22, down 35-0.

"I didn't feel like bragging about kicking a field goal and having three points on the board," he said. "You kick field goals to put yourself in position to win games. You don't kick field goals just because you're at Alabama trying to put three points on the board."

Player(s) of the game: Since hardly anyone played more than a half, the award is split between three, each representing a different part of the team.

Offense: It wasn't so much that Mark Ingram had 102 rushing yards on 11 carries (9.3) average and two touchdowns, but how he did it. For example, four defenders hit him on his 25-yard touchdown before he dragged two more across the goal-line. By our unofficial count, Ingram had 81 yards after contact.

Defense: Junior linebacker Rolando McClain led the Tide with seven tackles, was in on one for a loss and broke up a pass. Among his three quarterback hurries was a blitz he burst into the backfield so quickly the running back didn't have a chance to react and the quarterback could only throw the ball away.

Special teams: Senior Javier Arenas came into the game averaging 13.8 yards per punt return, but didn't have a touchdown this season until the second quarter. At cornerback he also batted up a ball to himself for an interception and made three tackles.

Play of the game: With his 66-yard return late in the second quarter, Arenas became the Southeastern Conference's career leader in punt-return touchdowns with seven. Key blocks were made by senior Roy Upchurch and junior Chavis Williams.

Hit of the game: Immediately following Arenas' touchdown sophomore Jerrell Harris drilled Buster Skrine on the end of his 22-yard kick return. It was his third, and last, return of the game.

Statistic of the game: Chattanooga's longest offensive play was a 10-yard pass from Coleman to Chris Pitchford on a slant route in the first quarter. Alabama had three passes and 10 carries of 10-or-more yards.

Did you notice? Alabama had its longest possession of the season and it didn't result in any points. When the Tide got the ball at its own 25 with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter, it executed 19 plays for 50 yards that lasted 10:14 and ended with Jeremy Shelley's short field-goal attempt. UA's longest scoring drive this season remains 13, which it's done six times (of which the longest in time was 6:50 at Kentucky, 97 yards).

Also, Alabama played the "Hells Bells" chimes during the game, which the SEC considers illegal artificial nose. Why? It wasn't an SEC game, and thus legal.

Before the 10 other notable things from Saturday's game, here are some bonus statistics:

Alabama is the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to not allow a single 100-yard rusher over the past two seasons.

Although it was the Tide's first shutout of the season, Chattanooga was the fourth opponent to not reach the end zone, joining Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State. The combined score of those four games was 118-12.

Alabama has give up just three points over the last nine quarters.

The SEC's non-conference record is 39-6, with the 86.7 winning percentage leading the nation. With three non-conference games next week (Clemson at South Carolina, Georgia at Georgia Tech, Florida State at Florida) the SEC needs two wins to equal its highest win total of 41 set in 2006.

1. The pass-rush: Huesman predicted that his quarterback would usually get no more than two seconds to make a throw and he turned out to be right. Surprisingly, Alabama had no sacks, but nine hurries, seven passes broken up and three interceptions. Consequently, Coleman completed just 7 of 25 passes while quarterback turned wideout Jare Gault was 0-for-2, for a combined 25.9 completion percentage.

2. The interceptions: One was off a trick play, one was a great play and the third thanks to a bad decision. Senior linebacker Cory Reamer looked like he was still a safety when he dropped back on the reverse and the ball ended up with Gualt, who tried to throw to tight end Garrett Hughes (who was subsequently hit by sophomore safety Mark Barron). Arenas batted the ball to himself for his pickoff and was also in coverage when Coleman overthrew Pitchford and senior safety Justin Woodall snared the interception.

3. Greg McElroy's day: He attempted only 11 passes, with six completions, two drops and one thrown away. However, it was interesting that all five first-quarter passes went in sophomore Julio Jones' direction, and then the second quarter threw at everyone else (Marquis Maze, Earl Alexander, Colin Peek, Brandon Gibson, Mike McCoy and Trent Richardson). Jones finished with three catches for 65 yards, and in the last four games has 18 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns. In comparison, he had 13 catches for 175 yards and one touchdown over the first seven games. Surprisingly, the Tide only had 21 yards after the catch.

4. Star Jackson's day: He completed 4 of 5 passes with the lone miss a drop by Alexander in the end zone. That was also both his only attempt on third down and in the red zone. However, the redshirt freshman got an earful from Saban when he rolled out on third-and-7 at the Chattanooga 26 and instead of throwing the ball away took a 12-yard sack, and then Alabama had to take a time out when the clock was about to run out on the subsequent play.

5. The running game: Interestingly, it was as if Alabama initially tested Chattanooga with Ingram hitting each hole once except going around the right end, which Richardson subsequently did for a 15-yard gain. The Tide then went left for Ingram's 25-yard touchdown and 40-yard score. The Tide ran three plays out of the wildcat formation for 12 yards, although Ingram might have had a big gain the play he tripped over junior tight end Preston Dial. On Upchurch's 21-yard touchdown he benefitted from key blocks by senior Baron Huber and walk-on receiver Robert Ezell.

6. Who was thrown at: The Mocs had their greatest success against junior cornerback Kareem Jackson, completing three of the six passes thrown his way for a paltry 24 yards. They challenged Arenas four times resulting in two interceptions, and only completed one short pass underneath his coverage. Barron was in coverage on Reamer's pickoff, and the three other balls thrown his way were all incomplete. Chattanooga was 0-for-2 throwing against senior Marquis Johnson, and only a 6-yard gain on Woodall when the quarterback correctly read a blitz. Against Alabama's reserves UTC completed just one pass in the second half, a 1-yard pass to someone out of the backfield.

7. Who played: Of all the seniors honored Saturday the only one whose name didn't appear on the participation chart (which listed 77 names) was walk-on punter Heath Thomas. Walk-on linebacker Michael DeJohn played but wasn't listed on the roster distributed in the press box. Also getting into the game was junior lineman Taylor Pharr at left tackle. A notable true freshman to play was wide receiver Michael Bowman.

8. Red-zone numbers: McElroy attempted only one pass inside the 20, Jones' 19-yard touchdown pass. Meanwhile, the running game had two carries for 17 yards in the first half. With the reserves, Star Jackson had one incompletion and Upchurch had one carry for minus-6 yards. Overall, Alabama had just five offensive snaps in the red zone, but scored on three-of-four possessions.

9. Special teams: Freshman Robert Lester was added to the kick-coverage unit and combined with his playing time at safety finished with three tackles. The rest of the unit was mostly the same as last week, although sophomore Chris Underwood was the first substitute for freshman Rod Woodson. UTC averaged 24 yards per kick return with the longest being 29 yards, and had no punt returns.

10. Penalties: Alabama had six, with a holding call against reserve junior center Davis Ross declined. Sophomore end Marcell Dareus was called for roughing the passer when he brought his arm down like a club on the quarterback's head, Woodson was flagged for holding on a kick return, sophomore Chris Jordan was called for roughing the snapper (which is a rule and he did do it), Huber had a late hit (even though the whistle hadn't blown), and the field-goal unit was penalized for a 12th man (with Huber coming off). The most controversial call, or this case non-call, was Arenas being brought down by a horsecollar tackle.


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