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Alabama defense presents tough challenge for Mizzou

2012-10-08T00:30:00Z 2012-10-08T20:11:32Z Alabama defense presents tough challenge for MizzouCollege Football Focus > BY STU DURANDO • sdurando@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8232 stltoday.com

Teams that have designs on beating Alabama need to first worry about finding a way to get a lead on the Crimson Tide. The only opponent to do that this season quickly discovered the country's No. 1-ranked team doesn't take kindly to falling behind.

Ole Miss became the first opponent to lead Alabama when the Rebels jumped in front 7-6 in their Sept. 29 meeting. That only served to anger coach Nick Saban's team.

Christion Jones responded with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, needing 15 seconds to reclaim the lead for the Crimson Tide. Any thoughts Ole Miss had of responding were ended by two more quick Alabama scores.

"We are constantly trying to teach our players that you play the next play, you are not worried about the scoreboard, you are not worried about the circumstance of the game," Saban said during a weekly news conference. "That is an external factor. You need to focus on what you need to do to execute the very next play, whether you're ahead in the game or behind."

Mizzou will be the next team that tries to crack the Alabama defense enough to gain and maintain a lead when the Crimson Tide visit Faurot Field on Saturday afternoon. It will be a monumental challenge, especially if starting quarterback James Franklin misses the game as expected with a sprained left knee.

Until that game at Ole Miss, no one came close. Alabama scored the first 31 points against Michigan before shutting out Western Kentucky and Arkansas. Then came a 40-0 lead against Florida Atlantic.

Putting the Crimson Tide in a hole is so difficult because they just don't surrender many points. They never have under Saban and probably never will.

Since 2008, Alabama has ranked no lower than fifth in the country in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. The Tide has held 28 of 59 opponents to nine or fewer points in that time.

This year they're up to their usual exploits, ranking No. 1 in total defense, allowing 191 yards a game, and in scoring defense at seven points a game.

HEISMAN RUNAWAY?

It's starting to look like West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has the Heisman Trophy wrapped up at the season's midway point after yet another impressive performance, this time on the road against Texas.

But let's skip right to his overall numbers. Smith has completed 81 percent of his passes for 1,996 yards and 24 touchdowns without throwing an interception. He already was the unanimous selection in the Scripps-Howard Heisman poll before beating Texas.

He was 25 for 35 for 268 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-45 win over the Longhorns.

WASHINGTON NO THREAT

Oregon was expected to face a challenge from up-and-coming Washington, but the Huskies ended up not being a threat as the Ducks opened a 35-7 halftime lead on the way to a 52-21 win. That game saw the continued development of a potential future Heisman candidate.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota tossed four touchdown passes and continued to look like a veteran in leading an offense that is averaging 52.3 points.

"He can keep plays extended with his feet, but he is looking to throw and he's not always looking to run," coach Chip Kelly said. "But if he force him to run he will take off and go. That really adds a huge dimension to your offense when your quarterback can buy some time."

HERE COME THE IRISH

Notre Dame jumped to No. 7 this week after destroying Miami 41-3, and Brian Kelly has the Irish on the brink of something big in his third season after going 8-5 in 2010 and 2011 and landing in a pair of mid-level bowls.

The question is whether the Irish can survive their schedule. They have taken care of Michigan and Michigan State, among others. Next week, they will face No. 17 Stanford at home. And there are still trips to No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 11 USC.

But for now, Notre Dame is in the top 10 for the first time since 2006.

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