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February 28, 2010

Looking back at the 2009 season, part III

Who doesn't like a good hit in football?

It's a major part of Coach Nick Saban's "Make them quit" mentality, and can get both a team and fans fired up as much as any offensive play, sometimes more.

Historical examples include Alabama's first victory against Notre Dame in 1986, The 1979 Sugar Bowl against Penn State, All the plays that make fans go "ooooohh" during the pregame video at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Consequently, one of the greatest compliments an opponent can give the Crimson Tide is by saying how hard the players hit.

"I don't guess anybody has ever hit us that hard," Auburn coach Shug Jordan said after the 34-0 loss in 1961, the season Coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant won his first national championship.

"Let's face it. Alabama just likes to hit you," Illinois quarterback Tony Eason said at the 1982 Liberty Bowl, Bryant's final game. "They are the hardest hitting team I've ever played against."

A number of hits from this last season will be remembered in the same vein.

Here are the 14 hits of the game from the weekly "Upon Further Review" columns. Vote for your favorite on our message board.

Virginia Tech: It's not often this goes to an offensive player, but instead of trying to dive into the end zone to finish off a 19-yard touchdown run, senior running back Roy Upchurch lowered his shoulder and ran over rover Dorian Porch.

Florida International: There were a number to choose from, but nothing was nastier than sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and sophomore safety Mark Barron sandwiching quarterback Paul McCall at the end of a 5-yard run in the third quarter,

North Texas: Although it wasn't the hardest hit, the one that got the most attention was when North Texas essentially ran a screen pass into senior nose guard Terrence Cody, who promptly flattened redshirt freshman wide receiver Darius Carey for a 3-yard loss. Honorable mention goes to true freshman Nico Johnson on the last kick return. Incidentally, Cody finished with five tackles and Johnson made four.

Arkansas: Give honorable mention to senior Cody for his block on sophomore running back Mark Ingram's 2-yard touchdown, and freshman running back Trent Richardson for dropping his shoulder on cornerback Andru Stewart, but it's sophomore safety Robby Green drilling receiver Greg Childs to knock the ball out for a first-half incompletion.

Kentucky: (Was also play of the game) When junior linebacker Rolando McClain saw where running back Derrick Locke tucked the ball after making a short reception he punched it out into sophomore linebacker Courtney Upshaw's hands, who returned it 45 yards for a back-breaking touchdown with 21 seconds remaining in the first half. Honorable mention goes to freshman Johnson for his kick-return hit on Cobb in the second half.

Ole Miss: Although it was an inadvertent helmet-to-helmet hit, any time a player can make a nasty tackle and take away the ball at the same time like senior Cory Reamer did from Dexter McCluster is impressive. Honorable mention goes to Dareus for his earlier hit on McCluster.

South Carolina: It came early when Cody worked his way down the line and flattened South Carolina running Kenny Miles for no gain.

Tennessee: Upchurch had a nice hit on a second-half punt return, but we're giving it to Dareus for his sack right after Ingram's fumble.

LSU: LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson wasn't quite the same after the play he got drilled when senior cornerback Javier Arenas got to him followed by senior end Brandon Deaderick. By the end of the drive he was on the sideline after spraining an ankle on Johnson's sack and the Tigers were already out of time outs. Jefferson's ankle couldn't have been too bad because when LSU scored a touchdown on its next possession he was one of the first players to run down to the end zone to celebrate.

Mississippi State: McClain made 10 tackles, but his last may be the one the Bulldogs remember the most. When Chris Relf started to roll and hesitated, McClain promptly drilled him despite the quarterback leaning into him for a 9-yard loss.

Chattanooga: Immediately following Arenas' touchdown sophomore Jerrell Harris drilled Buster Skrine on the end of his 22-yard kick return. It was his third, and last, return of the game.

Auburn: A big key to Auburn's offense was running back Mario Fannin, who lined up in various spots and had 34 yards of offense. However, in the second quarter the junior running back was drilled by senior cornerback Marquis Johnson and buckled. At the time he was leading the Tigers in receptions and wasn't a factor the rest of the game. Two other hits of note were by junior cornerback Kareem Jackson on Arenas' punt return, and Cody flattening freshman Jonathan Evans on the Tide's touchdown run.

Florida: On the opening kickoff, sophomore Julio Jones burst through the line and flattened one Florida player, hit a second and kept going. Block of the game was Greg McElroy helping Richardson turn what should have been no gain into positive yards by using his body to take out a linebacker. Tackle of the game was senior punter P.J. Fitzgerald preventing a touchdown when he brought down Brandon James early in the second quarter, and got style points as well for the open-field tackle that would have been impressive for a linebacker. Near-sack of the game was senior defensive end Lorenzo Washington, who was essentially double-teamed but still made a textbook blindside hit on Tebow that was initially called a fumble, recovered by Reamer, only to be overturned by instant replay and ruled an incomplete pass. The call was very, very close and probably could have gone either way.

Texas: Senior "Jack" linebacker Eryk Anders played a terrific game, leading the Tide with seven tackles, two for a loss, and his sack of freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert forced a fumble that Alabama recovered to secure the victory.


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