Bama says it’s not overlooking Arkansas State

Published 11:52 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — Javier Arenas figures it’s time for No. 2 Alabama to stop living in the past.

The Crimson Tide cornerback isn’t talking about the rich football tradition of titles and wins that the fans hold so dear, but the more recent one of letdowns and breakdowns.

That’s just so 2007. Yes, Saturday’s opponent, Arkansas State, is an upset-minded Sun Belt Conference team just like Louisiana-Monroe was about this time last year. As far as Arenas is concerned, this ‘Bama team just isn’t nearly so susceptible to overlooking teams and treating such games with a yawn.

“We’re past that point, you know?” he said. “That letting up point and playing down to the competition. We’re past that point.”

Alabama (8-0) has moved on from that painful 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season and the issues of discipline and effort that contributed to it. Now, a slip-up would bump the Tide from it’s lofty status as one of the top contenders in the national championship race.

Arkansas State (4-3) has gotten ‘Bama’s attention with an opening upset at Texas A&M and a subsequent 83-10 drubbing of Texas Southern.

“Any time you get a team that scores 83 points, it’s definitely some offense going on and players making plays, regardless of who they’re playing against,” Tide safety Rashad Johnson said. “There’s definitely a thought in the back of your mind that these guys can put up points. It’s going to be a good task for us.”

The Red Wolves also bring an option attack directed by quarterback Corey Leonard, who is averaging 260 yards of total offense. Leonard and running backs Derek Lawson and Reggie Arnold all rank among the Sun Belt’s top nine rushers.

“It’s kind of like what Florida runs, if you want to compare it to somebody,” Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer said. “They run the (Tim) Tebow-jump pass, where the quarterback runs up, jumps and throws it. They run the option. He is an athletic quarterback that makes big plays.”

Stopping the run has been the Tide’s biggest strength. They are allowing a league-low 62 yards on the ground with only one rushing touchdown, but this will be a new challenge.

“We haven’t seen anything like that this year,” cornerback Kareem Jackson said.

The Tide will be without run-stuffing nose guard Terrence Cody (knee injury) for the second straight game, but he is expected to return next week at LSU.

Arkansas State, meanwhile, hasn’t faced a team ranked this high since coach Steve Roberts took over in 2002. The Red Wolves are 0-7 against ranked teams under Roberts.

But this won’t be the biggest crowd they’ve played in front of. That was the 102,368 last season at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium; this game could be No. 2.

“It’s a great opportunity for our program, for our kids, to go against some of the best college football players in the game,” Roberts said. “We’re going to go give it everything that we have.”

And will the Louisiana-Monroe upset last season at Bryant-Denny Stadium give his team a confidence boost? Or will it help motivate ‘Bama players?

“I’m sure that they’re talking about not having a letup like they did last year,” Roberts said. “Who knows? I don’t know whether it will be to our advantage or not.”

The Sun Belt does have two upsets over BCS conference teams — Middle Tennessee’s win over Maryland and Arkansas State’s win over A&M.

Arkansas State might hope to catch Alabama looking ahead to next week’s visit to No. 15 LSU with a chance to capture the SEC West title.

Tide coach Nick Saban finds plenty of reason to praise Arkansas State, calling Leonard as good a dual-threat quarterback as Alabama has faced this season.

Plus, defensive end Alex Carrington has 9.5 sacks, second best nationally, and is first with an average of two tackles for a loss per game. Saban said he is a player “who can play for anybody.”

“They run the ball as well as anybody and they can throw it and make big plays,” Saban said. “This is a good team. I know sometimes people don’t have the proper respect for these teams, but this team certainly has done enough this season, in terms of what they have accomplished week in and week out, to garner everyone’s respect.”