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. Tampa lawyer Fred Ridley to be new chairman of Augusta National, Masters' home (w/ video)


    AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred Ridley first came to Augusta National to compete in the 1976 Masters as the U.S. Amateur champion, and he played the opening round in the traditional pairing with the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus.

  2. Rays send down Chase Whitley, Andrew Kittredge; add Chih-Wei Hu, activate Alex Cobb


    After having to cover more than five innings following a short start by Austin Pruitt, the Rays shuffled their bullpen following Wednesday's game, sending down RHPs Chase Whitley and Andrew Kittredge,

    The Kittredge move was expected, as he was summoned to add depth to the pen Wednesday in advance of RHP Alex …

  3. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

    MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks with reporters at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Blue Jays game

    The Heater

    The Austin Pruitt experiment might be over, or at least put on pause. After allowing six runs over seven innings to Seattle on Friday, the rookie didn't get through the fourth Wednesday, giving up five runs on four homers. His ERA for past six starts: 5.29.

  5. Six home runs doom Rays in loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — A curve that didn't bounce was the difference Wednesday as the Rays lost 7-6 to the Blue Jays in front of 8,264, the smallest Tropicana field crowd since Sept. 5, 2006.

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (11) greets center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) at the plate after his two run home run in the third inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.