Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Gators-Alabama Tide SEC title game could turn on punt returners

GAINESVILLE — Javier Arenas doesn't like to brag. In fact, he has a hard time talking about himself.

But Arenas likely had a hard time staying away from the subject of himself this week. The former standout at Tampa's Robinson High is in the spotlight as his undefeated, No. 1-ranked Alabama squad gets ready to play No. 2 Florida in Saturday's SEC title game.

Arenas and Florida's Brandon James, both juniors, are among the best return men in the SEC, and how they perform could have a huge impact on the outcome.

"I think he's electric," Florida coach Urban Meyer said of Arenas. "The area where he's really good is on punt returns. We're pretty good at that phase, but I'm not sure we have faced a challenge like this one. He's electric with the ball in his hands.

"This is a big matchup. This is going to be one of those games where it's hard to move the ball. I hope it's hard for them to move the ball. Every 10-yard increment is critical. It was hard two years ago (a 28-13 win in Gainesville), and it's going to be like that in this game."

Impact players

James is second in the SEC and 11th in the nation at 14.67 yards per punt return (33 for 484 yards). Arenas is third and 12th, respectively, at 14.66 (38 for 557 yards). Both have returned two for touchdowns, James with a long of 78 yards and Arenas 87.

At 5 feet 8, James possesses speed along with an ability to get lost behind his blockers and break free in the open field. Arenas, at 5-9, also is lightning quick. And both pull double duty. James is a running back and Arenas one of the Tide's best defensive backs.

Why they will matter

Both teams have been stingy on defense, Florida allowing 12.2 points per game and Alabama 12.6.

So conventional wisdom says yards and points will be hard to come by. Arenas and James have the ability to change a game with touchdowns or by getting their team great field position.

Arenas on Arenas

"When I go back there, I trust my blockers, so I don't even think about what they are doing. I go with my instincts and move on their blocks. Then I have so much confidence — and I know what they are going to do for me — that I feel like we're going to score every time.

"Then I feel as though I have the ability to make guys miss if I have to. It doesn't get any better than that, the combination of great guys blocking and a decent return guy. So when I'm back there, I'm thinking touchdown. The most important thing is catching the ball. After that, it's all instinct."

James on James

"I'm always thinking just make the plays; big plays. I just try to change field position for our team and put the offense in a good situation. It's a combination of speed and just instinct. I don't really think about it. I just react to what my guys are giving me."

The turning point

"The (return game) is going to have a big impact on the game," Meyer said. "Any championship level game, the field position element is huge."

Florida Gators-Alabama Tide SEC title game could turn on punt returners 12/04/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 7, 2008 11:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  2. Bucs journal: Few complaints about Jameis Winston's play

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It wasn't enough to pull out a win Sunday at Buffalo, but a week removed from a shoulder sprain, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns against the NFL's No. 2 pass defense.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes (24) signs autographs for fans before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.
  3. Lightning's Jon Cooper uses unusual tactic to create mismatches

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Tyler Johnson is about to swing his left leg over the boards for his next shift alongside linemate Alex Killorn and … who else?

    Stamkos? Kucherov? Point?

    Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper argues the called as his team gets a faceoff violation, leading to penalty and #Caps PP goal, during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (10/09/17).DIRK SHADD   |   Times
  4. A buzz-worthy look at the Astros-Dodgers World Series matchup

    The Heater

    Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel is congratulated by Jose Altuve after scoring during the fifth inning of Game 7 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) TXMG170
  5. Florida, FSU try to ignore death threats, angry fans

    College

    GAINESVILLE — Frustration over uncharacteristically down seasons at Florida and Florida State has started to spill over from message boards and start crossing real-world lines.

    Fans watch the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville, Fla. At the half, Florida was up 10 to 3.