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November 27, 2009AUBURN _ With his 56-yard return in the third quarter, University of Alabama senior cornerback Javier Arenas became the Southeastern Conference's all-time leader in punt-return yards Friday.
Coming in, Arenas was 38 yards shy of breaking Lee Nalley's long-standing record of 1,695, which he established at Vanderbilt in 1947-49. With two returns for 67 yards he now has 1,725.
"It is great to get the record, but even better to win the game," Arenas said through a spokesperson. "To go into Auburn and get the win, as a senior, and then also get the SEC punt-return record will be something I can look back on after the season as something special. Records are something that you can sit back and enjoy when you are old and gray. Right now, all I'm worried about is next week."
Arenas is now second on the NCAA all-time list and needs 37 yards to surpass Wes Welker of Texas Tech, who gained 1,761 yards on punt returns from 2000-03.
Last week, Arenas set the SEC record for career punt returns for touchdowns with seven.
After Auburn tried to keep the ball away from Arenas, going so far as to put two kickoffs out of bounds (for penalties), his record-setting return came at an important time in the game when the Tide was down 21-14. It led to a field goal and the Tigers never challenged to score again.
"I think the biggest thing it did was flip the field position," Coach Nick Saban said. "We were struggling with field position."
Ingram must wait for record
Running back Mark Ingram was limited to a season-low 30 rushing yards on 16 carries and finished the game on the sideline with a hip-pointer. The sophomore said he expected to be ready to play Florida in next week's SEC Championship Game.
Ingram has 1,429 rushing yards for the season, which is 42 shy of the UA single-season record set by Bobby Humphrey in 1986 (1,471).
Meanwhile, true freshman Trent Richardson led Alabama with 51 rushing yards on 15 carries and had a touchdown.
"The way he ran the ball like that, I'm happy for him," Ingram said.
Overall, the Tide had 73 rushing yards, with the longest gain 8 yards, but pulled out the 26-21 victory with Roy Upchurch scoring the decisive touchdown.
"It was a team effort," Ingram said. "They focused on not letting me have a big day, so other players stepped up. Trent Richardson stepped up and played well. Roy Upchurch had a big catch and Julio Jones also had a big game. If they stopped one thing, we knew we would have to execute with another."
Injuries and starters
Junior running back Terry Grant (abdominal muscle) did not play. Alabama's starting lineup was a bit askew because the offense came out in a three tight-end formation with Colin Peek, Michael Williams and Preston Dial. The defense began the game with a dime package featuring three safeties, and senior Ali Sharrief played much of the game lined up where a linebacker would normally be.
Auburn was without sophomore linebacker Eltoro Freeman, who is still recovering from a concussion and did not suit up. With his backup at right linebacker, Adam Herring, questionable with a foot injury, freshman Jonathan Evans started and made eight tackles.
Tigers sophomore wide receiver Darvin Adams played despite a shoulder injury and made four receptions for 138 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown.
Senior kicker Leigh Tiffin made two field goals to exceed Phillip Doyle (78, 1987-90) on the school's career list with 80. Already the Alabama career scoring leader, Tiffin has made 27 of 31 attempts this season, breaking his own single-season record of 25 field goals made in 2008 (25-for-34).
The 67-yard touchdown run on a reverse by receiver Terrell Zachery was the longest yielded by the Crimson Tide since a 70-yard run by Arkansas' Darren McFadden in 2005. Prior to that play, the longest run given up by Alabama this season was the 34-yard carry LSU running back Charles Scott broke a collarbone.
Seniors P.J. Fitzgerald, Mike Johnson and Sharrief played their 51st game at Alabama, and can tie the school record against Florida next week (52, Travis McCall, Nick Walker and Tarrant Lynch).
Alabama has recorded back-to-back 12-win seasons for the first time in school history, and joined 1995-96 Florida as the only teams to record back-to-back 8-0 seasons in SEC play since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 1992. ... Auburn's wide-ranging postseason possibilities were reflected in the number or bowl reps on hand, including the Outback, Chick-fil-A, Liberty and Capital One bowls. Notably absent was the Cotton Bowl. Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on Alabama was the Sugar Bowl, one of two likely destinations for the Crimson Tide depending on the outcome of next week's SEC Championship Game. ... Auburn honored 13 seniors, its smallest outgoing class since 2001 (10), including right tackle Andrew McClain, quarterback Chris Todd, tailback Ben Tate, end Antonio Coleman, end Antoine Carter, cornerback Walker McFadden, punter Clinton Durst and holder Clayton Crofoot. However, the 1989 team that won the first game with Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium was introduced before the game along with Coach Pat Dye. ... Team captains were Johnson, Rolando McClain, Cory Reamer and Jones. ... Penn Wagers' crew officiated the game.