Make us your home page

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

  1. Rowdies shut out at Pittsburgh


    PITTSBURGH — The Rowdies lost their first USL game in nearly a month, 1-0 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

  2. LSU's Paul Mainieri defends FSU's Mike Martin; Gators play Friday


    OMAHA, Neb. — LSU coach Paul Mainieri says whether Florida State's Mike Martin ever wins a national championship should have no bearing on how his long career in college baseball is judged.

    MADE IT: Josh Watson beats the tag of Louisville catcher Colby Fitch during TCU’s 4-3 win in the College World Series.
  3. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101