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October 7, 2009TUSCALOOSA _ When the University of Alabama football team looks at Ole Miss' statistics, one number in particular jumps out.
The Rebels have scored on all 14 possession in the red zone (inside the 20), with 12 touchdowns and two field goals. In comparison, the Crimson Tide is at 85.2 percent, 23 of 27 with 15 touchdowns.
"They do a good job of running the ball in that part of the field, the red area," Coach Nick Saban said. "Last year we did pretty well in the red area and then they had a fake field goal and scored a touchdown. That's something that's always important, being able to score touchdowns in the red zone and defensively not allowing them to score touchdowns in the red zone. They've been very good."
Flanker Dexter McCluster's versatility is one reason why opponents have had so much trouble keeping the Rebels out of the end zone. Of the 12 touchdowns, five have been rushing and seven passing.
"For some reason our guys smell that end zone," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said earlier this week. "When we hit that 25-yard mark going in, we've always put emphasis on that. Just like third down, we have put emphasis on that as well. We are doing really well right now in the red zone and we've got to keep that up. We have been scoring. Our guys smell that end zone and we are executing. We are a little bit more focused in the red zone."
However, Ole Miss hasn't anywhere near the same success on third downs. The offensive has converted 21 of 54 opportunities (38.9 percent, which ranks seventh in the conference), while the defense leads the SEC (15 of 63, 23.8).
"If you look at how many we have had, look at how many we have had that are more than eight yards," Nutt said. "It is way out of whack. There have been a couple of games where we haven't done a good enough job on first and second down. I don't care who you are, the Miami Dolphins or Pittsburgh Steelers, they will all have a tough time if you have so many third and longs. You can't do that in this league consistently. That is where I think it sticks out. We have had a couple of games where there have just been too many. South Carolina was one of them. We had way too many third and longs. That is hard against air. That has been our biggest problem."
The team practiced inside the Hank Crisp Facility while former wide receiver Tyrone Prothro looked on.
"We worked inside today, really just because of the turf," Saban said. "It was a little humid out yesterday. The players worked hard and were a little drained and the fields were a little wet, so this seemed like a good day to go in and get used to the turf. We usually practice in there on Thursday anyway. The players worked pretty well today.
"This is a big national TV game, the kind of game the players ought to be excited about and have a tremendous sense of urgency to get ready to play. It should be the kind of game that you come to a place like Alabama to be able to play. Ole Miss has a very good team on both sides of the ball. They've played extremely well this year and they are one of the teams to beat in our division. It's always tough to play on the road, so this will be a big challenge for us and we're doing a good job of preparing."
Senior Cory Reamer was again going through individual drills with the oustside linebackers, but when the team started going over dime coverage he worked with Jerrell Harris and Tana Patrick while Nico Johnson shadowed junior middle linebacker Rolando McClain and Chris Jordan was on the second unit.
"They're all making progress," Saban said. "Tana's making progress, Nico's making progress, really we're playing Nico at both Mike and Will, so his learning curve is a little heavier than the rest of the guys, but they're all doing fine and they're all probably going to have to play at some point. The opportunity might come sooner rather than later."
Harris is ineligible for one more game, while Patrick is still eligible to redshirt.
Although senior tight end Colin Peek led the Tide with six receptions against Kentucky, he made them all after dislocating his left index finger. "Just tape in up and keep playing," he said. "If you came out of the game for a disclosed finger, I think Coach Saban might yell at you anyway." Peek also disclosed that the hairline fracture in his foot has almost completely healed. "I've just been dealing with a little tendonitis and things like that," he said.
Sophomore linebacker Courtney Upshaw and student Kendall Lynn Gryzb were ordered to attend anger management classes after appearing in Tuscaloosa District Court on Wednesday morning to face misdemeanor domestic violence/harassment charges. All charges against Upshaw will be dropped upon completion of the course by Dec. 9.
Junior Kareem Jackson on being rated one of the best cornerbacks of his class by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and his desire to someday play in the NFL: "If you're playing college ball and going pro isn't a priority, I don't know what's wrong with you."
Peek told reporters about his MTV experience (while attending Georgia Tech) and used his nickname Holla McGhee on the show "Yo Momma." "Both of my parents are lawyers. Of course, my dad was like, 'You'll never have a political career. You'll never have anything if you go on this television show. I actually did it behind his back. Not many people knew about it, but all of the seniors on our team found out about it. They threw me to the wolves, like, 'You're doing this. You don't have any decision.' I actually went on and I did pretty well. It was an interesting experience. I guess it's something you can put on a resume. But now more people call me Holla McGhee than Colin Peek. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing."