|Gilberry, Groves trying for big ending|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 20 November 2007 13:28|
Wallace Gilberry? The Alabama defensive end was a constant, steady presence on the front line who did everything but rack up lots of sacks.
That's about how it stood through the first three years of the two ends' college careers.
These days, Gilberry has instead been a constant, steady presence in opposing backfields while Groves is just trying to find his way back to the quarterback going into their final Iron Bowl Saturday night at No. 25 Auburn.
Gilberry has been one of the Southeastern Conference's best defenders lately. He has nine sacks - his season total - and 17 tackles for loss in the last six games for the Crimson Tide (6-5, 4-3).
He and Kentucky's Jeremy Jarmon are tied for second in the league in sacks, behind Mississippi's Greg Hardy. Gilberry and Hardy share the league lead averaging two tackles for loss per game, good for third nationally.
To what does he credit his recent hot streak? ``Just hard work.''
``There's nothing magical about it, it just happens,'' said Gilberry, who had only five sacks in the past two seasons after logging 6 1/2 as a redshirt freshman.
Groves had a huge impact in last year's Iron Bowl, forcing two fumbles by Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson in the second quarter to set up touchdowns in a 22-15 Auburn win.
He hasn't been catching any QBs lately. Groves, major college football's career sack leader among current players, entered the season three sacks shy of Gerald Robinson's school career mark of 26. He got two in the first three games, but has just one in the past eight to leave him in a tie, and recently he has played part-time at linebacker.
That record he has long coveted? ``I wish it wasn't hanging over my head,'' Groves said.
He has been overtaken by sophomore Antonio Coleman (seven) as the Tigers' 2007 sackmaster.
Part of the problem has been a foot injury that kept Groves out of two games and might have cost him a step in speed and quickness.
If any opposing quarterback has reason to remain wary of Groves, it would be Wilson based on last year's game.
``He's a fast, aggressive player,'' Wilson said. ``He likes to rush upfield and rush the passer and he's good at it. We just have to be ready for that. We've had some pretty good defensive ends we've faced this year, and we'll probably do the same things we did with them.''
Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox had a similar take on the Tigers' plans for dealing with Gilberry.
``We've faced some good defensive players this year like (LSU defensive tackle) Glenn Dorsey and we didn't do anything special for him,'' Cox said. ``It's just part of the game plan, so it's nothing really special that focuses on him.''
Then again, sacks and quarterback pressure have played huge parts in the past two Iron Bowls. Plus, both teams have allowed 22 sacks this season, tied for seventh in the SEC.
The ends have done an end around in a rivalry where quarterbacks and running backs have typically been the heroes.
Besides Groves' big plays last season, the Tigers collected a school-record 11 sacks in the Iron Bowl two years ago, including 3 1/2 by end Stanley McClover.
Gilberry said he isn't thinking about trying to become the latest pass rusher to snag Iron Bowl headlines.
``Once you go to thinking and making it too personal, you lose focus on what the job is at hand,'' said Gilberry, who will play in his 49th career game. ``I just want to go out and do my job.''
Groves just wants a turnaround from the Georgia game, where he and the Auburn defense both struggled. The sack record would be nice, too.
``I think I played pretty poorly,'' Groves said. ``I know I played pretty poorly.''
Even if they don't rack up the sacks, Gilberry, Groves and the other pass rushers could play a role. Both quarterbacks have been pressured into a number of mistakes and interceptions this season.
Gilberry will happily take credit for some of Tide safety Rashad Johnson's six interceptions, which is tied for first in the SEC and fourth nationally.
``He's just stepping up and doing what we all thought he could do,'' Johnson said. ``He's a leader on this team, and he's playing like one. He's always joking around with me before the game that he's the reason for all my interceptions and that I was going to owe him after the game.
``He's gotten a lot of pressure on the quarterback.''