September 8, 2007

Special delivery: UA 24, Vandy 10

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Special teams were a question mark for the Alabama football team entering the season, and they may yet have some questionable stretches iduring the 2007 season.

But for one afternoon in Nashville, the special teams not only answered questions against Vanderbilt, they won the game. The Crimson Tide (2-0, 1-0 SEC) claimed new coach Nick Saban's Southeastern Conference debut with a 24-10 win over the Commodores at Dudley Field.

On a day when quarterback John Parker Wilson never found a groove, every phase of Alabama's special teams made a positive contribution. Javier Arenas' 69-yard punt return early in the first quarter set up a 1-yard plunge by Terry Grant that turned out to be the only touchdown in the game's first three quarters. Arenaas broke a tackle as soon as he received Vanderbilt's first punt, then broke containment around the right side for a long return up the visiting sideline.

"We had a gunner right in the guy's face, should have tackled the guy right off the bat for no gain," said Saban. "They did a god job of holding us up, and the guy got to the wall."

Said Commodores coach Bobby Johnson: "We had a long punt return that we couldn't afford to [give up]. To have a chance to win, we can't help the other team."

Arenas was unavailable for comment following the game. He finished with 79 punt return yards on three returns.

Leigh Tiffin knocked home three of five field goal tries, providing nine points that gave Alabama its only real breathing room on the scoreboard for most of the game. And punter P.J. Fitzgerald launched a career-best 58-yard punt with no return to help flip the field in the third quarter.

Alabama's offense finally earned seven of its own - another short-yardage score by Grant to open the fourth quarter - to put the game out of reach for the Commodores. But were it not for the efforts of the special teams, Grant's second touchdown wouldn't have been nearly as much of a back-breaker.

Tiffin did miss a pair of field goals, although Saban noted after the game that one of those resulted from a poor snap. Vanderbilt's return game, by contrast, was stifled for 10 yards on three punts and 75 on five kickoffs. Fitzgerald punted five times for a 41.6-yard average.

"Special teams was an asset for us today, and it started with the long punt return to start the game," Saban said.

Wilson finished 14 of 28 for 150 yards and an interception. Grant, a redshirt freshman, finished with 174 yards on 24 carries and a 7.2-yard average. Glen Coffee spelled Grant with 11 carries for 54 yards.

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