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September 23, 2009
Notebook: Third downs will be a key Saturday
TUSCALOOSA _ Fans looking for something specific to concentrate on during the University of Alabama's game against Arkansas on Saturday need look no further than third downs.
Although the Razorbacks have been lighting it up offensively so far this season, Arkansas is dead last in the Southeastern Conference when it comes to converting third downs. It's just six-for-24, 25 percent.
"Yeah, we're concerned," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said during the weekly SEC conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. "We've always been traditionally very good on third down. We've struggled a little bit this year.
"We need to do better on third down, particularly when it's short yardage running the ball and long yardage protecting the quarterback and getting completions."
Meanwhile, Alabama's defense is third on third downs at 30.2 percent (13-for-43).
"You always have to do a good job on third down," Coach Nick Saban said. "They have a lot of capability, good passing team, and I think some of the third-down conversion rate is based on how well you do on the other downs and what third-down situation you're in. If you end up getting a lot of third-and-longs, then you're going to have more difficulty probably converting."
This time last year Arkansas was second in third-down conversions and went 5-for-17 against Alabama including safety Justin Woodall's interception return for a touchdown on third-and-10 at the Alabama 26. The Razorbacks eventually finished seventh in the conference (36.9 percent).
"We'll improve on it," Petrino said.
True freshman cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was held out of practice and wore a protective boot after a teammate stepped on his foot during Tuesday's final drills.
X-rays were negative. Saban called it a bruise and expects Kirkpatrick to return to practice Thursday and be available Saturday.
Freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell (shin splints) was the only other player wearing black, signaling no contract. Sophomore running back Demetrius Goode (hyperextended knee) returned to practice Tuesday, but will likely be held out against Arkansas.
Sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones (bruised knee) and senior running back Roy Upchurch (sprained ankle) continued to practice after being held out of the North Texas game last Saturday.
"Julio practiced today and didn't have any issues, Roy's getting better, probably not 100 percent at this point," Saban said. Day-to-day."
Former Alabama defensive lineman Antwan Odom was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. Odom's five sacks tied a Cincinnati Bengals team record (Eddie Edwards vs. Cleveland on Dec. 21, 1980) to help lead a 31-24 victory at Green Bay.
From SEC headquarters, the last time any conference had three of the top four spots in the Associated Press poll was the Big 8 at the end of the 1971 season. Also, the Western Division has three teams ranked seventh or better. "I think it speaks volumes for the quality of our division," Saban said. "Obviously, Ole Miss and LSU are getting that recognition, but I think everybody on our side has played well. Auburn is undefeated. Arkansas is, we feel, as good as anybody, in terms of what they might be able to accomplish this year with the numbers they have put up, especially in how they've been able to score points and I think they are much improved on defense. I think from top to bottom, our division is really strong."
Saban had some high praise for the Bryant-Denny Stadium grounds crew regarding Saturday's field conditions after taking so much rain: "I thought we should have a tarp, but I guess we don't need a tarp. To rain as much as it rained, and the field does that well, the system works so good to get the water out of it, and the field was in pretty good shape. I don't know if it can rain a whole lot more before the game than it did. The system that we have, whatever it is, really worked well and the groundskeeper did a fantastic job of having the field in great condition. I probably ought to go apologize to all the people I raised hell to about not having a tarp."
Although senior holder P.J. Fitzgerald called the two missed extra points against North Texas just a "bad day," Saban said they were due to lack of focus and technique. In other words, neither was because of the snap or hold.
Alabama is considering redshirting sophomore B.J. Scott, who switched from wide receiver to cornerback last year. "We're in a position right now we probably have five guys at corner, who are playing," Saban said. "B.J. didn't get redshirted last year because he played and he's capable of playing this year. But if we don't need him to play, maybe we won't play him. But we may need to play him and he might be starting before the year is out. We'd like to have the opportunity to make a good decision about that."