The Mean Green Taking on Crimson Tide

Alabama hoping to start faster against North Texas

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Chris Graythen
    NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 16: A fan of the North Texas Mean Green cheers for the team over the Memphis Tigers during round one of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 16, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

    Nick Saban's message this week to No. 4 Alabama: It's not just how you finish. How you start matters, too.

      The Crimson Tide coach seems to have made his mantra leading up to Saturday's game with North Texas "start fast and finish strong."
     
    But Saban' message isn't just for the Mean Green, who are 38-point underdogs this week.
     
    "That's something we focus on all the time," Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said. "He's really harped on it the last couple of weeks. We've started slow.
     
    "We've come out and finished strong, but that's not the identity we want to have as a team. We want to come out and play fast like we know we can instead of coming out sluggish."
     
    The Tide (2-0) was locked in a tight game with 33-point underdog Florida International until late in the third quarter last week, and trailed in the second before pulling away for a 40-14 win.
     
    Alabama was behind Virginia Tech by a point in the opener going into the fourth quarter of a 34-24 win. Saban wants his team to become "a model of consistency over a 60-minute period."
     
    It goes beyond all that, though. Sure, Alabama has scored on six of its seven first quarter possessions, but the Tide had to settle for field goals on five of them.
     
    Jumping out early on North Texas (1-1) wouldn't just make the coach happy, it might also help the Tide rest some players and get some youngsters more experience before the Southeastern Conference opener against Western Division rival Arkansas. Then comes league road trips to Kentucky and No. 5 Mississippi.
     
    Receiver Julio Jones (bruised knee) and tailback Roy Upchurch (high ankle sprain) are nursing injuries. Backup defensive lineman Damion Square sustained a season-ending knee injury against FIU.
     
    Slow starts haven't been a problem for the North Texas defense, which has allowed only 216 yards and three points in the first half of its two games.
     
    Alabama might have gotten off to a sluggish start in the FIU game, but it did give the Tide a chance to prove it had more offensive weapons besides Jones, Upchurch and tailback Mark Ingram.
     
    There was 100-yard receiver Mike McCoy and 118-yard rusher Trent Richardson, among others.
     
    "We just have so many playmakers," McCoy said, "so at any given time anybody can do anything."
     
    North Texas has ranked last in the nation in scoring defense two years running, though Saban expects to face an improved group. The Mean Green allowed just 232 total yards and 63 rushing yards in a 31-30 double-overtime loss to Ohio last week.
     
    "North Texas is a much improved team this year," Saban said. "They're a lot better on defense."
     
    The Sun Belt Conference team won just one game last season and is 4-31 against SEC teams.
     
    The Mean Green might be limping a bit. Starting quarterback Riley Dodge is out of the game with a separated nonthrowing shoulder. Plus, there was the disheartening loss.
     
    Coach Todd Dodge turns to Nathan Tune, a junior who played in only seven games in his first two seasons. Tune relieved Riley Dodge against Ohio and completed 9-of-15 passes for a career-high 69 yards.
     
    Of course, now he has to do it in front of 92,000 fans against a team in the national championship hunt.
     
    "It's obviously a completely different situation with the type of team that we're playing in Alabama," Dodge said. "I feel very confident in what Nathan can get done. He understands what his job is. Like with any other quarterback, you don't want the weight of the world on his shoulders. Be accurate, be a good distributor and make good decisions with the football. I feel very confident he's going to get that done."
     
    North Texas's main weapon is tailback Cam Montgomery, who leads the Sun Belt in rushing and ranks 13th nationally with 237 yards. It's not your typical pass-first spread offense.
     
    The Mean Green have run for 411 yards and passed for 402. Alabama ranks fifth nationally in run defense, giving up just 32.5 yards a game with a formidable front seven that has produced 10 sacks.
     
    "It's definitely a different look than we're used to seeing," Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said. "They get out three- or four-wide. When you see these kinds of formations, usually you expect a fast-paced passing offense. They move at a quick pace but they do different things. Instead of passing all the time, they believe they can run the ball. It's just a different mixture of things than we're used to seeing out of those formations.
     
    "We've got to be prepared more for the run. They do a lot different things than we've seen."