Alabama Crimson Tide: Dont'a Hightower

Tide's haul started at Saban's hiring 

November, 21, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For Nick Saban, his success started on the recruiting trail, not the football field.

In his first season, the University of Alabama head football coach went 6-6 and guided the Crimson Tide to a berth in the Independence Bowl, the lowly Independence Bowl, where they hung on to defeat Colorado.

Recruiting battles: Tennessee vs. Alabama 

October, 16, 2012
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When Nick Saban arrived at the University of Alabama in 2007, he made it a point of emphasis to recruit the state of Tennessee and take what recruits he could away from the rival Volunteers. It didn’t take long to make his presence felt.

[+] EnlargeBarrett Jones
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAlabama center Barrett Jones is one of several high-profile players Nick Saban has recruited out of Tennessee.
In 2008, his first full recruiting class, Saban signed three Tennessee natives -- linebackers Don'ta Hightower and Chris Jordan and offensive lineman Barrett Jones.

Hightower now plays for the New England Patriots. Jones, who won the Outland Trophy a year ago, is expected to hear his name called in next year’s NFL draft, and Jordan battled several injuries but still made a contribution both on special teams and as a backup.

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DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban isn't looking to compare his 2012 football team to past ones, but he'd like to take one key ingredient from 2011 and sprinkle it around his team right now, especially on defense.

What Saban hopes to see more of from his defense when the players and coaches get back together shortly before fall camp is leadership. This defense can be as hungry as it wants, but Saban knows it won't go very far without a few chiefs stepping up.

He saw progress this spring, but it wasn't enough.

"I'm never satisfied," Saban said at the 2012 SEC spring meetings. "That's an area of our team that we need to continue to develop and mature."

Gone are upperclassmen leaders like Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Josh Chapman. In are seniors Nico Johnson (linebacker) and Jesse Williams (defensive tackle) and linebackers C.J. Mosley (junior) and Adrian Hubbard (sophomore). All seemed to make strides this spring, but there's still a lot of room for them and others to grow, Saban said.

This defense isn't on the same level as the historic one in 2011, but it's still pretty talented. But so was the 2010 defense and its slow start hurt Alabama's chance to repeat as SEC champs. Though this unit is older than the 2010 defense, Saban made it clear that leadership and maturity can take a team further than talent and experience.

There's still plenty of time for all the leadership kinks to be worked out and there's no doubt that Saban will take a different approach in helping that growth after what transpired in 2010.

"I've been pleased with the leadership on this team so far," he said," but it's a work in progress and it's developing. It's going to have to continue to develop for them to be what we need them to be successful on a consistent basis."

SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: The defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, but coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), and senior Akeem Auguste coming back after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

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On Thursday night, four former University of Alabama stars had their lives changed forever as they were chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. Millions of dollars are poised to flood into their respective bank accounts as they begin their professional careers around the country. But as we project their stardom at the next level, it’s also a good time to reflect on where they came from and how they got to where they are today.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Jerry Lai/US PresswireMark Barron was selected No. 7 overall by Tampa Bay in the 2012 NFL draft.
Trent Richardson
Recruiting ranking: No. 6 overall, No. 1 running back

What he looked like: He was grown before he put on the crimson and white, coming in at 5-foot-11, 219 pounds.

When we knew: Scouts knew Richardson was going to be special back when he graduated from Escambia High (Fla.) in 2009. It was just a matter of time until the rest of the world took notice. And his freshman year, they did. Still a backup to Mark Ingram, Richardson ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns in just his second game on campus.

Drafted: No. 3 overall, Cleveland Browns

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Thursday night could prove to be a historic night for the University of Alabama.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Browns couldn't contain their excitement over getting Alabama's Trent Richardson.
Coming off its second national championship in three years, the Crimson Tide could have up to five players selected in the first round of the NFL draft, the most ever taken in the first round from one SEC school.

A year ago, Alabama had four players taken in the first round, which tied the conference record and set a school record.

This year, UA hopes to set a new mark as running back Trent Richardson, defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw hope to all hear their names called in New York on Thursday night.

“It is special for us to see our guys, who have worked so hard, have the opportunity now to get a lot of positive self-gratification from the opportunity they get to play at the next level,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said.

“And they all did it the right way (at Alabama). They were all good students. They all have a chance to graduate if they haven’t already, and they represented the university well. We’re extremely proud of them, happy for them and want to be very, very supportive in every way that we can.”

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SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally give their takes on a question facing the league or certain teams in the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same opinions. We'll let you decide who's right.

Today's Take Two topic: Other than obvious stars such as Barrett Jones and AJ McCarron, who's the player that needs to come through for Alabama next season if the Crimson Tide are going to become the first team since Nebraska in 1994 and 1995 to win outright national championships in back-to-back seasons?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

Jesse Williams is a guy who I think has to have a big season in 2012 in order for Alabama to try and repeat this fall. Now that Josh Chapman is gone at nose guard, Williams is moving over from defensive end to follow in Chapman's big footsteps. It won't be easy when you consider how effective Chapman was last season, even while basically playing on one knee. He absolutely clogged the middle of Alabama's line and was a key cog in the Crimson Tide's suffocating run defense.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesAlabama needs Jesse Williams, right, to stuff the run and get to the QB from his new spot at nose guard.
Chapman was a big reason why Alabama ranked first nationally in rush defense last season, giving up only 72 yards a game and 2.4 yards per rush. Alabama's defense will go through some growing pains this season. But if the Tide can control things up front, it will go a long way toward protecting that younger secondary. While Williams isn't built like Chapman, he's big enough -- and mean enough -- to clog up the middle just like Chapman. He's 6-foot-4 and weighs 320 pounds, but he's also very athletic, so he won't just be relied on against the run. He'll also be asked to get after the quarterback.

Remember, Williams played tackle when Alabama went to a four-man front last year, so playing inside isn't unfamiliar territory for him. He's likely to get time on the edge again as well, so his versatility will really help Alabama. Getting pressure on opposing backfields will be key for this Tide defense, so the coaches are expecting a lot from Williams. Everything starts up front in the SEC, and Williams' performance could determine a lot for Alabama's defense this fall.

Take 2: Chris Low

The interior of the defensive line is always a good place to start when you’re retooling a defense, and there’s no doubt that Josh Chapman will be sorely missed. The guy was an absolute rock in the middle and played more than half the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. So I understand, Edward, how you could go with Jesse Williams, especially with Williams sliding over from end to nose guard this spring in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 scheme. But I’m picking sophomore Adrian Hubbard as that under-the-radar guy who needs to come through because I think he has everything it takes to become a premier playmaker on defense next season.

Let’s face it. When you’re losing the likes of Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Chapman on defense, new playmakers don’t just magically appear – even for a team that has recruited as well as Alabama has. The 6-6 Hubbard, who looked more like a basketball player when he arrived at Alabama, is now pushing 250 pounds. He was listed at 237 last season. Upshaw was that finisher for the Tide from his Jack linebacker position. He was the guy who made most of the game-changing plays on Alabama’s defense. Hubbard is poised to be that guy in 2012, and the Crimson Tide could be relying on him to harass the opposing quarterback more than ever before.

Much like 2010, Alabama’s going to be inexperienced in the secondary next season with three of the four starters departing. It remains to be seen if the Crimson Tide can match up at cornerback the way they did a year ago. Moreover, when you’re plugging new players into the defensive backfield, there are always going to be growing pains. Remember the mental errors that plagued the Tide in the secondary in 2010? The best way to cover up those errors and help a secondary find its way while players learn on the job is to keep the opposing quarterback running for his life. That’s where Hubbard comes in. He’s had an excellent spring and will be counted on to fill Upshaw’s role next season. According to Upshaw, Hubbard will do more than just fill it. Upshaw as much as guaranteed last season that Hubbard would be a dominant player before his time was up at Alabama. That time is now.
Dont'a HightowerMatthew Emmons/US PresswireAlabama's Dont'a Hightower (30) had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced this fumble. "I don't know any feeling in the world that could top this one," he said.

NEW ORLEANS -- When Alabama senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw addressed his teammates earlier this week, he kept coming back to one word.

Legendary.

“What I told them was, ‘Let’s be legendary,’ ” Upshaw recounted. “And that’s all they heard from me over and over again during the game.”

Upshaw had a feeling what was coming. He said he even dreamed about it.

So it’s no coincidence that he was one of the catalysts for what will go down as a legendary defensive performance by Alabama in a 21-0 strangulation of LSU on Monday night in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Not only was it a legendary performance, but it’s a defense that will invariably evoke comparisons to the most revered defense in school history.

That would be the 1992 defense, which paved the way for Alabama to win a national championship with a dismantling of Miami on this same Superdome turf nearly two decades ago.

History will ultimately be the judge of how good this Alabama defense was, but some of the Crimson Tide’s players think they already know.

“We’re a group of guys who wanted it … with the best group of coaches in the world, and we wanted to finish,” Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “That was our main thing. We didn’t finish anything we did the first time we played these guys. We were going to finish this time.”

Kirkpatrick didn’t blink when asked how this Alabama defense would be remembered 15 years from now.

“The greatest defense in the world … the greatest defense to ever touch the field,” Kirpatrick beamed.

Granted, he was still basking in Alabama’s second national championship in the past three years, and that’s a dizzying label to put on any defense.

But in the realm of the best college defenses in modern times, it’s going to be hard to top this bunch.

In shutting out LSU, Alabama’s defense went all 13 games this season without allowing more than 14 points in any game (Georgia Southern scored 7 of its 21 on a kickoff return). The Crimson Tide also became just the second team in history to finish the season ranked No. 1 statistically in all four major defensive categories -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Oklahoma was the only other team to do it in 1986.

“I don’t know where our place is in history, but this should answer a lot of questions about this season,” Alabama safety Mark Barron said. “We got tired of hearing about how we shouldn’t be here and that somebody else should.

“We didn’t want to leave any questions.”

LSU came into the game unbeaten and leading the SEC in scoring at 38.5 points per game. The Tigers played eight quarters and an overtime period against the Crimson Tide this season and have still yet to score their first touchdown.

In Monday’s title game, LSU crossed midfield just one time, and that came in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were held to 92 total yards, and the reality is that the two teams could have played 10 more quarters and LSU still wouldn’t have scored a touchdown.

“We had the Saban factor on our side,” Alabama junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “You can’t give coach (Nick) Saban 45 days off and not expect him to come up with something. We were ready for everything they threw at us tonight.”

As it was, LSU didn’t have much to throw at Alabama, at least anything that worked.

The Tigers wouldn’t (or couldn’t) go downfield in the vertical passing game. They didn’t pound the middle with the running game like Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was expecting, and they persisted in trying to get outside to no avail with the option.

Smart said LSU hardly did anything Alabama was expecting and almost sounded perplexed that the Tigers didn’t take any shots down the field.

“They got in different personnel groupings and in different formations,” Smart said. “They tried to change everything, at least everything they’d done in every other game, and our guys responded.”

Upshaw, named the game’s Defensive MVP, said the Crimson Tide were determined not to let Jefferson hurt them running the ball. He had some success on the ground back on Nov. 5.

“Watching film on those guys, we saw where we ran upfield and got ourselves blocked and let Jefferson break out,” Upshaw said. “We wanted to come in with another game plan, to close the pocket, let the DBs lock down on their man, get some pressure on Jefferson and try and make him a passer.”

Jefferson finished 11-of-17 with an interception, but mustered just 53 passing yards. He was sacked four times.

“If they tried it, we were on it,” said Hightower, who had 1.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble in one of his better all-around games of the season. “I don’t know any feeling in the world that could top this one.”

But topping this defense?

Saban hates comparisons, and he was asked Monday if this was the best defense he’s ever coached.

The closest he would come to answering that question was this: “I can’t tell you what defense was the best. I can just tell you this was one of the most enjoyable teams to coach.”

And going back to that iconic 1992 Alabama defense, it’s worth noting that the Crimson Tide surrendered an average of 9.2 points per game that season. This Alabama defense, bolstered by Monday night’s shutout, gave up just 8.2 points per game.

The Tide Nation will make the final call.

But there’s no denying one thing: Two different times, Alabama’s defense ran up against the No. 1-ranked team in the country in 2011, and the Crimson Tide didn’t give up their end zone on either occasion.

That’s truly the stuff of legends.

Five plays that got Alabama here

January, 9, 2012
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NEW ORLEANS — In every season, there are a handful of plays that stand out.

Here’s a look at the five plays that got Alabama to Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game:

1. Maze’s punt return: One of the most electrifying plays of the year in the SEC, Marquis Maze weaved his way 83 yards through Arkansas defenders early in the third quarter to break the game wide open and send the Crimson Tide on their way to a 38-14 beatdown of the Hogs. Maze showed his speed, open-field running ability and knack for breaking tackles all on one dazzling return.

2. Upshaw’s interception return: With the game tied at 10 early in the second quarter, Alabama’s Nick Gentry came free up the middle and hurried Florida quarterback John Brantley, whose dump pass over the middle was intercepted by Courtney Upshaw and returned 45 yards for a touchdown. The Gators were never the same, and the Crimson Tide won easily, 38-10 at the Swamp.

3. The fourth-down stop: Tennessee had played Alabama to a 6-6 tie at the half, and the Crimson Tide looked sluggish. They answered with a long touchdown drive coming out of the break to go up 13-6 and then sent the Vols packing for good after Tennessee elected to go for it on fourth-and-inches at their own 39. Josh Chapman and Dont’a Hightower stuffed Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms for no gain. The Vols challenged the spot, but the call on the field was upheld, and Alabama scored a touchdown on its next play en route to a 37-6 romp.

4. McCarron’s lazor: It wasn’t AJ McCarron’s longest pass of the season, but it was one of his most impressive and came at a time in the Penn State game when Beaver Stadium was rocking. McCarron threw a bullet between two defenders on a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams to silence the crowd and give the Crimson Tide a first-quarter lead they would never relinquish in a 27-11 victory over the Nittany Lions.

5. Going for a ride: Alabama running back Trent Richardson had so many spectacular runs this season that it’s impossible to pick just one. But a 16-yard run he had against Auburn says everything you need to know about him as a competitor. Auburn had just pulled within 24-14 on a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half, and Alabama needed to answer. Richardson exploded up the middle on a third-and-4 play and was met by a cluster of Auburn defenders at the 20. He dragged four of them with him for 7 more yards before they finally got him on the ground, setting up a Jeremy Shelley 28-yard field goal. The Crimson Tide never looked back in cruising to a 42-14 win.

Size, speed separate SEC from others

January, 8, 2012
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NEW ORLEANS -- The rest of the college football world will be watching on Monday night.

But in the Big Easy, it’s strictly an SEC world.

The SEC will make it six straight national championships when Alabama and LSU clash in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in what will be the first matchup of two teams from the same league in the BCS National Championship Game.

The players on both sides said they don’t see the SEC onslaught ending any time soon. Already, several early preseason polls for 2012 include four and five SEC teams in the top 10.

Everybody wants to know what the common denominator is in the SEC’s success.

In short, Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said it’s a combination of size, strength and speed mixed in with superior coaching.

“There are a lot of guys who are fast, or they’re big and strong,” Hightower said. “But in the SEC, you’ve got both. You’ve got guys who are 260 and run a 4.5 or 4.6 [in the 40-yard dash], and you see guys who are 200 and 210 pounds that can bench-press 500 pounds. You don’t see that in a lot of conferences.

“It’s that, and I think the coaches here have more of an edge than other conferences.”

LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers said there’s a level of defense played in the SEC with a level of athlete, particularly in the defensive line, that other conferences can’t match.

“Look at the front sevens in the SEC,” Brockers said. “Where else do you see that kind of size, speed and depth? There are great players all over college football, but every team has them in the SEC, and I’m talking about big guys who can run and make plays.”

Alabama center William Vlachos said LSU’s depth in the defensive line is a perfect example.

“They run three or four off and bring in three or four just as good,” Vlachos said. “There’s no drop-off … in size, speed or strength.”

Depth, period, is something that sets both Alabama and LSU apart.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smarts points to LSU’s backfield on offense. Spencer Ware was the go-to guy to begin the season, but Michael Ford goes into the national title game as the Tigers’ leading rusher. Alfred Blue isn’t too far behind, and 240-pound true freshman Kenny Hilliard has emerged as their most powerful back toward the end of the season.

“By the fourth quarter, your linebackers are tackling them 30 times, and they’re getting tackled for the fourth time and fifth time because they’re sharing all the carries,” Smart said. “They’ve got four really good backs, and that’s what you better have in this league to be good.”

Even when the SEC’s streak hits six in a row on Monday, Hightower realizes there will be some people out there who simply won’t give the league its due.

Never mind that four SEC teams are poised to finish in the top 8 of the final polls for the first time ever or that five SEC teams finished among the top 16 in the final BCS standings.

“I feel like there’s always going to be a debate,” Hightower said. “But if you look at the six straight years of winning the national championship and all the bowl games, the SEC has always been the best overall.”
NEW ORLEANS – Alabama is still finalizing its defensive plan for Monday night’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

Junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who makes all of the calls on the field, said Friday he can’t ever remember this many checks in a game plan since coming to Alabama.

“I think since I’ve been here, this may be as many checks as we have for certain formations,” Hightower said. “I don’t know any other game that it’s been this many.”

But, then, that’s part of playing in this Alabama defense. Hightower said he’s continually amazed at the adjustments and tweaks coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart come up with in preparing for games.

“There’s no way I could sit in a room for four and five hours a day and come up with some of the stuff they do,” Hightower said.

Smart confirmed that the Crimson Tide have a broader defensive plan for Monday’s rematch with LSU, which rushed for 148 yards against Alabama in their first meeting Nov. 5.

“Maybe you take some more chances and do some extra things,” Smart said. “You hope with a broader game plan that you don’t have to use it. But if you do, you better have it ready.”

Hightower, responsible for getting everybody lined up on the field, said the mental stress of playing inside linebacker in Saban’s 3-4 scheme can be daunting.

“You definitely have to grow as you go in this defense,” Hightower said. “It’s not something you can learn in just one year. I’ve been here for four years, and there are things I still don’t know about the defense. I’m learning each and every day.

“I feel like I have a good grasp on it now, but this is definitely one of the bigger games with all the checks. Each and every day, it kind of changes or varies a little bit. We’re getting close now, so we know what kind of checks we’re going to have.”

Video: Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower

January, 7, 2012
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Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower talks about containing LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the first game between Alabama and LSU, and why the Tide deserved to be in the title game.

Hightower: Upshaw Tide's defensive MVP

January, 7, 2012
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NEW ORLEANS -- Depending on the week, and depending on whom you ask, the MVP for this Alabama defense could be any number of guys.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron and cornerback DeQuan Menzie would all get votes.

Hightower’s vote goes to Upshaw, who enters the Allstate BCS National Championship Game on Monday second in the SEC with 17 tackles for loss.

“In my eyes, he’s the MVP of this defense,” Hightower said Friday. “He’s the one who gets everybody going. He’s always the one who makes the big tackle for a loss or who makes a sack or who forces a fumble.

“I definitely feel like we kind feed off of him throughout the game.”

For his part, Upshaw said playing with so many talented players around him opens up a lot of chances.

“We push each other, and I think we all make each other better,” said Upshaw, who leads Alabama with 8.5 sacks. “And in this defense, you’re always in position to make plays because our coaches are so good. I don’t know how they do it, but it seems like they’re always a step ahead of the other team.”
NEW ORLEANS -- When Alabama’s defensive players think about Round 1 with LSU, all those blown assignments in the running game stand out.

LSU was one of only two FBS teams to rush for more than 100 yards against Alabama’s defense. The Tigers rushed for 148 yards on 41 carries and wore down one of the best front sevens in the nation.

No matter how good or gritty the defense is, it’s tough to stop a running game that throws fresh legs out there like LSU does. The Tigers can have four to five backs carry the ball on any given drive. It keeps the Tigers’ legs fresh and defenders exhausted.

“It’s hard for teams to prepare for us because they don’t know who they’re going to get or what they’re going to get,” said LSU running back Michael Ford, who led the Tigers with 72 rushing yards against Alabama in November.

[+] EnlargeJordan Jefferson
Spruce Derden/US PresswireOne of the Crimson Tide's biggest challenges will be containing Jordan Jefferson, who thrives at escaping pressure and breaking big plays.
Tide players are certainly giving LSU’s backs their due. They understand that those guys can play. But they feel some of their own mistakes definitely helped get the Tigers rolling.

Players were out of position. Running gaps weren’t filled. Jobs didn’t get done.

“We had guys in the right spot, but then we’d have another guy who’s not,” Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. “It’s on all 11 players on defense to get to the ball and be in the right spot.”

The most frustrating part for players is that stopping the run is what Alabama does. Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense and is giving up just 2.5 yards per carry.

Defensive tackle Josh Chapman said the key is to own the big uglies up front and force LSU to throw. The more teams try to beat Alabama through the air, the more mistakes are made.

“We have to go out and create a new line of scrimmage,” Chapman said. “One thing we do try to do is make teams one-dimensional, and that’s by throwing the ball. Once you throw the ball, our DBs have a mindset that once it’s in the air, it’s ours.”

But that won’t be so easy with this LSU team. The Tigers have yet another running threat that creates a supreme multiheaded backfield monster.

When asked what Alabama’s defense had to account for most during Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game, linebacker Dont’a Hightower emphatically said two words: Jordan Jefferson.

“He’s their MVP,” Hightower said. “He’s the reason why they’re doing so good right now.”

He’s become such a weapon because he has the ability to run. He can squirm his way out of tough situations when the pocket collapses, opening up running lanes and passing plays.

Defensive breakdowns helped Jefferson be successful on designed runs, options and wild scrambles. Tide players are particularly worried about the option because it brings the element of Jefferson running AND one of the many running backs right back into the picture.

For Alabama’s defense to be successful in stopping LSU’s rushing attack, which led the SEC with 220.4 yards against league opponents, Hightower said it comes down to closing in on rushing lanes, filling gaps and throwing in some tricky defensive looks to confuse Jefferson.

When Jefferson keeps the ball, it’s all about containment.

“I feel like once you keep a dual-threat quarterback inside the pocket, I feel like he’s kind of done,” Hightower said.

LSU’s ground game can hurt Alabama in so many different ways. From Jefferson’s legs, to runners that average well over 220 pounds, LSU’s backfield is a physical force that overpowered Alabama the first time.

Well, Hightower says bring it. Hightower is excited for his shot at redemption and wants to prove that Alabama is just as tough.

Hightower wants that robust running game to come right at this defense.

“I like power guys,” he said. “I don’t like chasing the guys who run the 4.23s. I don’t like that. I’d rather them line up in the I-formation and just run at me.”

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