Maybe if Alabama Coach Nick Saban had been willing to risk $30,000 or so, Javier Arenas would already have the Southeastern Conference record for punt return yardage. Maybe even the NCAA record. Arenas is getting close to both, but has had some bumps along the way this season.
Alabama senior return specialist and cornerback Javier Arenas is close to being the most productive punt return man in college football history. He might have had the record by now if a few of his runbacks had not been negated by penalties against some of his teammates, which wiped out a lot of yards.
Several of those calls looked suspicious, but one certainly can understand Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban keeping his lip zipped about the officiating, since Commissioner Mike Slive has been in an ugly mood when it comes to criticizing his zebras.
Arenas has already broken all Alabama punt return records and last week had a 66-yard runback against Chattanooga for his seventh career punt return for touchdown. That's an SEC record.
This week, Arenas was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance in the Tide’s 45-0 win over Chattanooga on Saturday.
His touchdown gave the Tide a 28-0 second quarter lead. Bama starters could have had big days statistically against the Mocs, but Arenas and friends were lifted early. He finished the day with two punt returns for 68 yards. On defense, he added three tackles, a half tackle for loss, a 21-yard interception return, and two quarterback pressures. He totaled 89 all-purpose yards in less than two quarters of playing time on Saturday.
Arena is the NCAA active leader in career [punt returns, yards, touchdowns, returns per game, and yards per game. Arenas, who has 1,658 career punt return yards on 119 returns is 39 return yards away from breaking former Vanderbilt player Lee Nalley's long-standing record of 1,695 on 102 returns, set 1947-49.
Nalley's record was the NCAA record for 54 years before Wes Welker of Texas Tech broke it in 2003. Welker had 1,761 punt return yards. Arenas needs 104 yards to break the national record.
The first team against which Arenas will have his opportunity is Auburn. Most teams have not kicked to Arenas this year, but Auburn has been excellent in punt coverage.
Alabama will be at Auburn for the final regular season game of the year. Kickoff will be at 1:30 p.m. CST with national television coverage by CBS. Alabama is 9-0 and ranked second in the nation and 7-0 in SEC games and headed to the SEC Championship Game against Florida on December 5. Auburn is 7-4 overall and 3-4 in SEC games.
Arenas, a Tampa, Florida, native, is the eighth different Crimson Tide player to earn SEC weekly honors this season. In fact, Alabama has had at least one SEC Player of the Week winner in 10 of its 11 games this season, including Mark Ingram (Virginia Tech and South Carolina), Trent Richardson (Florida International and Arkansas), Rolando McClain (Kentucky), William Vlachos (Mississippi), Leigh Tiffin (Tennessee), Terrence Cody (Tennessee), Mike Johnson (Mississippi State) and Arenas (Chattanooga).
The Alabama coaching staff recognized seven players of the week following the win over Chattanooga, including Drew Davis, Julio Jones and Trent Richardson on offense, Rolando McClain and Arenas on defense and Robert Lester and Leigh Tiffin on special teams.
Davis helped clear a path for a season-high 313 yards rushing for the Tide and did not give up a sack or a hurry as the Tide cranked out 422 yards of offense. Jones caught three passes for 65 yards and a touchdown. He first snared a 44-yard reception before following with a 19-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter, his fourth of the season. Trent Richardson ran nine times for 60 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry while only playing in the first half.
McClain claimed his seventh defensive player of the week honor from the coaching staff. He accounted for a team-high seven tackles, half of a tackle for loss, one pass breakup and three quarterback hurries in just one half of play on Saturday.
Tiffin connected on five extra-point attempts and nailed his only field goal, a 42-yarder in the third quarter, while averaging 68.7 yards on kickoffs with two touchbacks. Robert Lester made three special teams tackles on coverage units.