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January 3, 2010

Alabama defense ready for Texas challenge

MORE: Texas offense has something to prove | Bowl schedule/results

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - To hear Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart talk about it, defense is pretty simple.

"What do they do best? How do you stop it?" Smart said. "It starts with that. And make them do something they don't do. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to the players making the plays in the situations that we put them in."

Smart has done a great job of putting his defenders in the right place at the right time all season. That's why he won the Frank Broyles Award, which is given to the nation's best assistant coach.

Smart's defense will be front and center on Thursday when Alabama plays Texas in the BCS title game. The unit welcomed back eight starters from last year's 12-2 team, including the likes of nose tackle Terrence Cody, linebackers Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Javier Arenas. Smart has built on that unit and made it even better.

The Tide ranks in the top seven in every major defensive category. The unit leads the nation in scoring defense (11 ppg) and pass-efficiency defense (88.8) and ranks second in rushing defense (77.9 ypg) and total defense (241.7 ypg).

If Texas struggled to move the ball and score against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, how will the Longhorns fare against an Alabama defense that's even better?

"Nebraska does a lot of the same stuff we do," Smart said. "But at the end of the day, Nebraska does fewer things than we do [from a scheme standpoint]. They are a simpler defense. They run what they run and make you try to beat them. We mix it up a lot, do a lot of different things. We probably make more mistakes than Nebraska."

Texas barely escaped the Cornhuskers, taking a 13-12 decision on a last-second, 46-yard field goal. In the game, the Longhorns totaled just 202 yards, with 184 in the air and 18 on the ground.

Run stuffers

For Texas to beat Alabama, the Longhorns will have to run the ball effectively. The Crimson Tide hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 131 yards on October 13, 2007. That's a span of 33 games, the longest such mark in the nation.

Alabama is one of five teams to not permit a 100-yard rusher this season, with the Tide holding 22 of its past 27 foes under 100 yards rushing.

Texas' rushing attack ranks fifth in the Big 12 and No. 55 in the nation (152.7 ypg). Longhorn running backs Tre Newton and Vondrell McGee will have their work cut our for them against an Alabama defense that ranks No. 2 in the nation vs. the run (77.9 ypg), allowing just 2.8 yards per carry and five rushing scores.

Below is a look at the rushing yards allowed by Alabama this season.

Virginia Tech 64
Florida International 1
North Texas 61
Arkansas 63
Kentucky 133
Ole Miss 57
South Carolina 64
Tennessee 74
LSU 95
Mississippi State 114
Chattanooga 48
Auburn 151
Florida 88

"I don't think we executed as well as we could have," Texas offensive lineman Adam Ulatoski said. "Nebraska's defensive line, they read and kind of made plays on their own. The Alabama line really takes up blocks and frees up space for the linebackers to go make plays, and they have great linebackers back there. They are a great defense."

If Alabama is able to mute the Texas running attack that ranks fifth in the Big 12 and No. 55 in the nation (152.7 ypg), it then will be able to pin its ears back and come after quarterback Colt McCoy. But that may not be a good thing.

"It always is a danger when you have a great quarterback who can throw the ball well and scramble well," Smart said. "You may push him into his best asset. You may force him to do what he does best [run the ball]. You have to be able to throw curveballs and stop the pass as well as you stop the run."

McCoy has run for 348 yards this season. That's down from the team-leading 561 he rushed for in 2008. But he's still a dangerous athlete who can make things happen with his feet for a Texas attack that has had spotty run production all season.

"The problem is he can make plays on the run, too, so it's going to be up to us and our front seven to really keep him contained," Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer said. "[We can't] let him get outside or sit in the pocket all day because when you let him sit back there and just have free rein, he can pick anybody he wants to throw it to and he can get the ball to them.

"He's got a strong arm and we're going to have to make sure we get to him fast, keep pressure on him and keep him inside the pocket to make sure he can't run around because he can make plays with his feet, too."

It may not matter what option McCoy uses against an Alabama defense the likes of which Texas or McCoy haven't seen all season in the much weaker Big 12.

MORE: Texas offense has something to prove | Bowl schedule/results

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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