Tide: We have to finish games this year

HOOVER — It has been eight months since the Iron Bowl, but Alabama’s players — especially the defense — remember it quite well.

The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 24-0 lead and looked to be on their way to derailing Auburn’s national championship hopes. From that point on, Auburn outscored Alabama 28-3 and walked around Bryant-Denny Stadium victorious while Crimson Tide players wondered how that game got away from them.

“As a defense, we didn’t finish in that Auburn game,” said safety Mark Barron. “Never again will we go out and not finish like we did in that Auburn game.”

This year the defense is determined to make sure to fans forget about the Iron Bowl performance and show that it can be one of the elite defensive units in college football.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower said he thinks this year’s defense can be one of the best to come through Tuscaloosa.

“Other than ’09, this could be the best defense Alabama has had,” said Hightower. “We have what it take to go out and do it. We have the right coaches and players.”

That is a strong statement considering the Tide lost a defensive lineman in Marcell Darius who was selected third overall in the NFL Draft this spring. SEC coaches tend to agree with Hightower, as seven Alabama defensive players were selected to the 2011 SEC Coaches Preseason All-SEC Team, including four first-team selections.

Optimism should be up for the defense as it is not only one of the most talented in the conference, but also one of the most experienced. Alabama is losing only one other defensive starter from last season — linebacker Chavis Williams.

Mix that experience with the quarterbacks who will be playing for division opponents this season — three of the five teams in the SEC Western Division will have new starting quarterbacks — and it is understandable why the players are ready for the season to begin.

“There’s nothing like coach Saban’s defense in college football. We never have the same game plans — there will be different blitzes and schemes,” Hightower said. “(The new quarterbacks) are going to be preparing, but when they get into the games in the SEC…”

While the defense is eager to prey on the new quarterbacks, opposing defenses will be looking to do the same to Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost two-year starter Greg McElroy and has yet to name his replacement.

The offense will also be without Hiesman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones, who was selected sixth overall in the NFL Draft.

That doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide is worried about scoring points.

Running back Trent Richardson who will be the feature back for the first time and he is setting lofty goals.

“I know that I want to be one of the best backs, one of the best not just in the conference — although the conference is great and has some great backs — but one of the best backs in the country,” Richardson said. “I want to have my name remembered, be one of those players you see on the greatest games, someone who was one of the best on the field.”

Hightower said he thinks Richardson can accomplish those goals and the team believes he can help carry the offense.

Of course, the defense will be the story this year. Barron said he hopes the defense can establish a legacy — one that is opposite of the defense that played the second half of the Iron Bowl.

When asked what he wants the defense to be known for, Barron did not give a statistical landmark or a win total. He had a simple response.

“They don’t quit. They finish. Always.”