- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mark Ingram knows that look.
More precisely, he knows what a group of guys look like when they’re playing with a certain object on their collective shoulders.
“They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Alabama’s Heisman Trophy running back said of his defense. “I’ve had the utmost confidence in them. They have great athletes and great playmakers. Just because they lost nine players doesn’t mean that they’re not a great defense.
“They came out here with a chip on their shoulder and wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
Nobody’s going to mistake this Alabama defense for the one that choked the life out of everything in its sight a year ago on its way to the BCS national championship.
But who’s to say this defense won’t get there, either, especially when you consider that most of the guys doing the heavy lifting this season were watching from the sidelines a year ago?
Top-ranked Alabama beat up on No. 7-ranked Florida for a 31-6 victory Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium that was really never close.
The Crimson Tide forced four turnovers, two of those on the doorstep of their own goal line, and turned the back side of Florida quarterback John Brantley’s jersey a distinct shade of green.
Alabama only sacked Brantley once, but knocked him around a bunch. Moreover, the Gators managed just 79 rushing yards.
Never mind that was supposed to be a veteran Florida offensive line and an offensive line that was supposed to be the backbone of the Gators’ offense this season.
On Saturday, they were no match for an Alabama defense that came at them in droves.
“I think we can do whatever we want to do if we just go out and work hard,” Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus said. “We worked hard all week. We didn’t think about who they had on the o-line. We were mostly worried about capitalizing on our plays and doing what we’re supposed to do.
“We don’t too much worry about whether they’ve got veteran offensive linemen, whether they got big, old offensive linemen or whether they’re mature up front. We just worry about going out and playing the best we can play.”
Alabama hasn’t been perfect, far from it. The Crimson Tide are still busting some assignments in the secondary, and they could use another finisher when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
But they still haven’t allowed a touchdown in the second half and have given up a total of three touchdowns in five games -- all this with eight first-year starters in the lineup. Junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower opened last season as a starter, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth week.
Who needs experience, right?
“It shows at some points,” junior safety Mark Barron said of all the new faces in the starting lineup. “But the guys that are young and new, we try to let them know that being young is not an excuse. You have to step up and grow up.
“Being young is not an excuse here.”
Alabama has forced seven turnovers in its past two games, and just about all of them have come at key junctures.
Freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley returned a Brantley interception 35 yards for a touchdown for Alabama’s final touchdown.
“It’s something we have emphasized tremendously with this group in terms of the turnover drills we do,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Every ball that hits the ground, we have to pick it up and run with it. There’s a lot of conscious effort into trying to make and get turnovers. That’s the one thing that probably has the biggest effect on the outcome of the game.”
Barron admits that the defense has bailed itself out more than once this season thanks to getting turnovers.
“Turnovers save us sometimes,” Barron said. “That’s playing a big role in our defense doing as well as we are.”
Dareus, who hurt his ankle last week against Arkansas, still isn’t back to full speed. He estimated that he’s probably around 80 percent.
The same goes for this defense, which isn’t what it will be come November when some of the mistakes are eliminated and everybody is fully acclimated.
“There’s no telling,” said Dareus, asked how good this defense could be.
“The sky’s the limit. We’ll just keep going and see.”
7hSam Khan Jr.
1dSam Khan Jr.