Focus on turnovers pays off for Tide D

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In 2011, Alabama's defense was nothing short of dominant. It finished No. 1 in all four major defensive categories: passing, rushing, scoring and total defense.

The defense was a stone wall many tried to scale and others tried to break through, but eventually all failed.

But it wasn't perfect. Like a stone wall, it was inanimate at times. It was effective without being affective. It kept offenses from moving the ball but rarely ever took it away.

The Alabama defense was No. 1 at a many things in 2011, but turnovers wasn't one of them. UA finished 77th overall in turnovers gained with 20.

This season, it appears the Tide are ready to change that. Through two games, Alabama has forced seven turnovers and recovered them all. Against Western Kentucky on Saturday, UA recovered three fumbles that led to two touchdowns on offense.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said creating turnovers is something he's preached since coming to Tuscaloosa in 2007.

Every day in practice, players work on stripping the ball and intercepting passes. The defensive coaches go into meetings and the first thing they do is put up who has caused turnovers as a way of positively reinforcing the action.

Saban said that, for whatever reason, the practice didn't pay off in games last year.

"As good as we were on defense, we didn’t cause many fumbles," Saban said. "But it was a pretty good trade-off for as well as they played. This year, I think if we can be a really good turnover team and have a great turnover ratio, that would probably be very beneficial to us.”

Given the drop-off in experience from a season ago, the need for more turnovers is paramount. It's a way, other than simply getting off the field, to gain confidence for a unit which features a number of players starting or seeing the field for the first time.

Vinnie Sunseri was a star on special teams for the Tide last season. Now, he's splitting time at safety as well as playing the nickelback position. Against Western Kentucky, he had four tackles and a fumble recovery. He said seeing the ball hit the turf so many times felt good and hoped it was a sign of things to come.

"We definitely wanted to get better at forcing fumbles," he said. "… Those are huge momentum plays, definitely opportunities for our offense to get out there switch field position and definitely get a score."

Defensive end Damion Square was a big part of the Tide's success in 2011 and pointed out that the way to a great defense is always different. In his final season at Alabama, he hopes the defense can create its own identity by handing the ball back to the offense whenever possible.

"Giving the offense the ball in great field position is just as great as a three-and-out -- it's even better," he said. "Anytime you see a guy vulnerable with the ball, you want to get the ball out of his hands. To create plays for the offense, I'm sure they appreciate that. We try to give it to them whenever we can."

Linebacker Adrian Hubbard said it was a reward to have the defense create a number of turnovers against Michigan and Western Kentucky to start the season.

"It puts so much pressure off of you because you know you can do it," Hubbard said. "We knew we could do it, but in the games it never happened like we thought it would. Today, we're kind of proud of ourselves for doing that."