No. 13 Bama needs Arenas' kick returns spark win over Tulane

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Forced out of New Orleans a week ago by the threat of Hurricane Gustav, Tulane got a standing ovation from Alabama fans just for jogging into the stadium.

The 13th-ranked Crimson Tide wasn't as nice, even as it struggled to a win.

Javier Arenas returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown and Alabama held on Saturday to beat Tulane 20-6.

Just one game after looking like world beaters against then-No. 9 Clemson, a listless Alabama (2-0) allowed four sacks of John Parker Wilson, fumbled once, missed two kicks and gained only 172 yards -- just 38 in the first half.

Coach Nick Saban got his 100th collegiate career victory, but he wasn't exactly thrilled.

"It's a little disappointing. It's our goal to play with consistency ... but we were unable to do that," he said. "We did not make progress as a team."

Playing in its season opener after days of hotel food and worrying about friends and family back in Louisiana, Tulane kept the Tide offense off balance but managed only field goals of 35 and 21 yards by Ross Thevenot, who missed two more.

Tulane headed back home, but it might not be for long since another hurricane, Ike, could threaten the northern Gulf coast next week. Coach Bob Toledo doesn't know what to expect in the coming days.

"I'm not a weather guy, but I guess it's coming our way," he said.

Arenas gave 'Bama all the points it needed early.

Tulane's first drive stalled on the Alabama 46, and Darren deRochemont punted. Arenas caught the ball at his own 13, broke a tackle and cut down the left sideline for a TD that had fans screaming wildly.

DeRochemont was forced to punt two drives later from the Green Wave 23, but Roy Upchurch made a diving block. Chris Rogers scooped up the ball and ran 17 yards for a score.

"I was able to get inside the wing and block it," Upchurch said. "It was a great feeling. It was almost like scoring a touchdown."

The special teams theatrics over, Alabama's offense sputtered badly. Scattered boos got louder after the offensive line allowed three sacks in the second quarter alone, and freshman Corey Smith, in briefly for the injured Leigh Tiffin, missed a point-after kick and a 37-yard field goal.

Alabama didn't manage an offensive touchdown until the end of the third quarter, when Mark Ingram scored on a 15-yard run to cap a 77-yard, 11-play drive that wore down the Tulane defense.

With Alabama missing injured offensive line starters Andre Smith and Marlon Davis, Wilson was under pressure all night. He completed just 11 of 23 passes for 73 yards but didn't thrown an interception.

"We weren't clicking," Wilson said. "We didn't execute on third downs. We're not consistent. There's a lot of little things we have to correct. It's one thing on this play, one thing on another play."

Arenas, who set an Alabama record with 212 return yards, left injured in the third quarter after getting leveled by Jordan Ellis on a punt return. Saban said Arenas suffered a blow to the head but should be OK.

Tulane's Thevenot was wide left on field goal attempts from 41 and 23 yards.

The Tulane team evacuated its New Orleans campus Aug. 30 as Gustav roared through the Gulf of Mexico toward a landfall. The squad spent a week in a hotel in Birmingham, alternately practicing at Samford University and watching movies and bowling to kill time.

Things could be worse next game: Tulane is supposed to play host to East Carolina on Saturday, and forecasters said Ike is on a path that could take it to southwestern Louisiana by the weekend.

The hurricane drill is getting old for Tulane. Two dozen players on the roster also evacuated when Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, and a handful are left from 2004, when Hurricane Ivan forced the team to leave town.

Bad weather or not, Tulane has a tough time with Alabama. The Green Wave hasn't beaten the Crimson Tide since 1958, and it hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 1900.