September 8, 2007

Grant lifts Alabama after talk with Saban

Alabama again powers past Vanderbilt | Box score

Around TV cameras, in front of sportswriters' notebooks and around small children are no places to repeat words from a displeased Nick Saban.

Tailback Terry Grant knows better than that.

But Grant, a redshirt freshman, knows enough to heed Saban - no matter the delivery. After a lackluster first half, Grant received what Saban called an "earful," and what Grant was unwilling to repeat.

Whatever was said, it certainly worked. Grant ran for 120 yards in the second half in a 24-10 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. But more importantly, Grant established that Alabama's running game no longer is a weak link. Grant, "Mr. Football" in Mississippi in 2005, just needed some encouragement and forceful instruction from Saban to prove it.

"I don't think I can say it (in front of the media)," said Grant, who finished with 173 rushing yards. "When he got on me. I had to pick it up."

For the second time this season, Grant put Alabama ahead on its first offensive play of the game; he has scored on each of his first two touches in a game this season. He finished with 53 first-half yards against Vanderbilt.

To Saban, though, numbers didn't tell the whole story. Grant's stop-and-start running in the first half didn't suit Alabama's zone-blocking scheme, and stalled drives meant the Tide had to settle for four field-goal attempts in the first half.

"We weren't too pleased with the way he was running the ball in the first half," Saban said. "When you run these zone plays, the back makes the blocks for the blockers because you have to press the ball up to the line. When you abort early, then the offensive linemen don't have a chance to push and move people."

That's when Grant got his earful.

"I felt like I deserved it," he said. "I started slow."

At the start of the second quarter, Grant watched as backup Glen Coffee was the feature back on consecutive possessions. By the third quarter, Grant got the message.

He put his quickness to good use and picked his spots in the zone-blocking scheme. He ran eight times for 80 yards on Alabama's third possession of the second half. His 2-yard touchdown run gave Alabama a 24-3 lead and sapped any remaining momentum from the Commodores.

ALABAMA 24, VANDERBILT 10
Offensive player of the game
Redshirt freshman Terry Grant is giving Alabama the go-to back it didn't have last year. Through two games, he has five rushing touchdowns. Last year's starter, Ken Darby, had three for the season.
Defensive player of the game
Alabama's passing game never got into a rhythm and part of that can be credited to Vanderbilt linebacker Marcus Buggs, who had a sack and two quarterback hurries.
Surprise performance
This isn't a pleasant surprise. This season may be the year of the receiver in the SEC, but you couldn't tell Saturday. D.J. Hall and Earl Bennett combined for seven catches, 119 yards and no touchdowns. Bennett's offensive pass-interference penalty negated a 60-yard gain. Alabama's Keith Brown, making his return from a suspension, didn't have a catch.
What this means for Alabama
Nick Saban is rarely one to praise himself or his team even after a win. The Tide is 1-0 in SEC play, but will have a tougher test next week against Arkansas. Saban is looking for more disciplined play and better production out of the passing game.
What this means for Vanderbilt
The Commodores made strides in the SEC over the past two seasons, defeating Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas. But Saturday, Vanderbilt appeared to take a step back. Vandy penalties negated plays of 60-plus yards. Vanderbilt needs an upset or two to go its first bowl since 1982. Playing the way the Commodores did Saturday is no way to go about that.
Etc.
The Alabama defense has allowed one touchdown in two games. Alabama's D.J. Hall needs 34 yards to break Ozzie Newsome's school record of 2,070 career receiving yards.
"The more you get into a rhythm, the more things happen," said Grant, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry. "It was just a rhythm thing."

More rhythm from Grant means the Alabama offense will have one less concern. The Tide entered the season with a proven duo at receiver in D.J. Hall and Keith Brown, a steady quarterback in John Parker Wilson and a pair of all-conference-caliber linemen in Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell.

One of the major questions was the rushing attack, which sagged in 2006. After an All-SEC-caliber season in 2005, then-senior Ken Darby stalled last year. He finished the season with three rushing touchdowns and Alabama finished in ninth in the league in rushing.

In Grant's first game this year, he tied Darby's three-touchdown mark. He needed only one play Saturday to exceed it. In two games, Grant who was rated the No. 4 all-purpose back in class of 2006 by Rivals.com - has run for 307 yards and five touchdowns.

"Our running game was a question mark at the beginning of the season," Coffee said. "We're happy to get out there and show people we can run the ball and we can set up the offense with running the ball."

Grant is only one part of a revived rushing attack. Coffee ran for 48 serviceable yards, and bruising Jimmy Johns can be a short-yardage specialist.

While Grant might be the missing piece this year, he's not certain he could have helped last season, even if healthy. Former Alabama coach Mike Shula may have thought so. Grant carried the ball twice in Alabama's third game against Louisiana-Monroe before a shoulder injury knocked him out for the season.

Anyway, Grant isn't interested in thinking what might have been. He's not so sure he would have had the same results had he stayed healthy as a true freshman.

"I was young," he said. "I was still maturing and trying to get into the offense. I don't think it would have been this great. I was just trying to get myself together."

Saban also can thank his defense and special teams for his first SEC win as the Tide's coach. Punt returner Javier Arenas set up the first score of the game with a 69-yard return and forced Vanderbilt to use rugby kicks to keep him at bay. The Tide defense pressured Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson into mistakes before he left the game with an apparent hamstring injury.

Nickson finished 5-for-18 with an interception, and his struggles meant Vanderbilt could not take advantage of game-breaking wide receiver Earl Bennett. The junior standout finished with four catches for 52 yards.

Grant bailed out a struggling Alabama passing game and delivered the crushing blow for Alabama. Wilson was 14 of 28 for 150 yards, with an interception.

"(The run game) showed when our passing game struggles a bit like it did today, we can still win," Wilson said.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.




 

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