When is a punt out of bounds at the 35-yard line a good thing?
When you’re kicking to Javier Arenas or Brandon James.
Between them, they’ve taken back 12 punts or kickoffs for touchdowns during their careers.
Arenas, Alabama’s senior cornerback, set the SEC record earlier this season with his seventh punt return for a touchdown. James, Florida’s junior running back/receiver, took a kickoff back for a touchdown in the opener this season. He already had four career punt returns for touchdowns.
They’re both fearless. They’re both impossible to tackle in the open field. They’re both the kind of players who can completely change the complexion of a game with one stutter step, one broken tackle and one burst down the sideline.
This Saturday, they may also be their respective offense’s best friend in the SEC championship game.
Points won’t be easy to come by against either one of these defenses and neither will yards.
So it goes without saying that a short field set up by a nice return would be extra valuable, and a touchdown on special teams would be worth its weight in gold.
Florida’s defense has allowed just nine touchdowns all season, while Alabama’s defense has given up 13 touchdowns. They’re both serious about protecting their end zone, which makes game-changers like Arenas and James all the more critical in a game of this nature.
For Arenas, who needs 37 yards to pass Wes Welker as the NCAA’s all-time leader in punt return yardage, the hardest thing might be staying patient.
When he’s back deep, he’s thinking touchdown -- every time.
“I've always got to have people on the sidelines telling me relax, to calm down, [that] it's going to come to you,” Arenas said. “I'm like, ‘You’re right.’ I need somebody in my corner to help me out with things like that. I want to get back and make the play.
“I know at the same time that I have experience from trying to do too much and fumbling the ball or muffing the ball, all the worst that you can expect. I had experience from that, and I think it's helped me grow as a return man back there.”
While Arenas may be a little more powerful and more adept at running through would-be tacklers, James has Houdini-like moves and an extra gear after he makes that first guy miss.
He has 12 punt returns of 30 yards or more in his career, including four punt returns for touchdowns of 74-plus yards.
“It’s not one man,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s the whole scheme, and both teams take great pride in their return games.”
Both teams also have guys who can change the game in the blink of an eye … and may need to Saturday in the Georgia Dome.