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September 26, 2009TUCSALOOSA _ The University of Alabama's defense likely had a major setback Saturday when sophomore Dont'a Hightower sustained what appeared to be a season-ending injury near the end of the first quarter.
"He has a knee injury," Saban said. "We'll do an MRI (Sunday). The initial prognosis is not good, but we're hopeful that it won't be bad. We'll know for sure tomorrow, but the initial prognosis is not good.
"There's a guy right there, he doesn't get talked about enough. He's a fine young man, a great leader on our team, one of our best football players on our entire team. The best pass-rusher we have, very good linebacker. Plays in the nickel, athletic size, and I hate to see any player get hurt, ever, but that one there is a good one."
Coming into the game, Hightower, thought to be the perfect partner to junior middle linebacker Rolando McClain, had 14 tackles, four for a loss and one sack.
"It was devastating seeing Dont'a go down like that," sophomore end Marcell Dareus said.
To replace him, Alabama moved senior Cory Reamer from strong-side to weak-side linebacker to fill Hightower's spot, with Courtney Upshaw coming in at Jack linebacker and Eryk Anders switching from Jack to Sam. The team worked on that contingency plan during fall camp.
"It worked pretty well," Reamer said.
Behind Hightower on the depth chart is Jerrell Harris, who is still ineligible, and true freshman Nico Johnson, who did not play Saturday.
"But, we had a lot of scheme things for Dont'a to do in the game from a pass-rush standpoint and the other guys did a good job of filling in and executing," Saban said.
Junior quarterback Greg McElroy sustained a hip-pointer on Mark Ingram's 14-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, but the injury is not considered serious.
"John Parker (Wilson) had the same injury his sophomore year at Arkansas," he said. "It's not something that's going to limit you, it's something you just have to keep an eye on."
Sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones, who had two catches for 65 yards, said he wasn't affected by his bruised knee.
"Not at all," he said. "I'm one-hundred percent now."
Senior running back Roy Upchurch returned from a sprained ankle and led the year in receptions with three (along with Ingram) for 30 yards. His first catch for eight yards was Alabama's first first down.
True freshman cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick appeared to have no problems with a foot injury after being stepped on earlier this week and was a special-teams regular.
The coach says it too
Saban couldn't help himself when asked about third downs, and let reporters in on some of what was said on the sideline: "One of the big plays they (made) was on the boot(leg), we saw that play last year, everyone rolls out, the tight end falls down and then comes across and in football terms, am I allowed to say this? That play is called the "Oh [expletive] screen." Because you're standing on the sideline and you go 'Oh [expletive].' I don't want to offend anybody, but I said it today."
While McElroy took except to the media attention given Ryan Mallett this week, so did Saban about his so-called showdown with Bobby Petrino. "Bobby (Petrino) is a great offensive coach, Kirby Smart is the defensive coordinator here and he did a fantastic job of getting our players ready to play the game. We have a defensive coordinator, we have an offensive coordinator. (Smart) did a great job today of calling the game, putting the plan together, teaching the players and all of that. I help him, I'm his (general assistant), and that's it. All that got proven out there today is that I'm a better G.A. than somebody else. That's not really fair to our coaches on our staff or anyone else."
Petrino on the game: "I am disappointed in our performance. Alabama is a good football team and they do a lot of real good things. They've got good players and they're very, very well coached, but I am disappointed in the way we played and in our execution. Really where that shows up is that we didn't really believe that we could come in and win the game. When you don't believe you can come in and win the game you drop passes, you don't do the things you've been coached to do, you don't do the things you normally do and you don't set your feet and throw the ball with conviction."
Marquis Maze's 80-yard touchdown reception tied for the sixth-longest passing touchdown in Alabama history. The record is 94, Freddie Kitchens to Michael Vaughn vs. Florida in 1996.
Former Alabama linebacker Woodrow Lowe was honored before the game for being part of the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2009. The induction ceremony will be Dec. 8 in New York City. Members of the 2008-09 gymnastics team received their SEC championship rings at halftime, after the 1979 national championship football team was recognized.
Representatives of the Sugar, Capital One, Liberty and Papajohns.com bowls were in attendance.
Team captains were McClain, Mike Johnson and Terry Grant.