Saban Says Bama Needs To Improve

Alabama is coming off an impressive 24-3 win over nationally-ranked Penn State lto improve its record to 2-0. The Crimson Tide has won 16 consecutive games and 26 regular season games in a row. Bama is ranked number one in all polls and will be heavily favored in this week's game at Duke.

So naturally, the emphasis at practice this week will be improving, working on the deficiencies.

"We're trying to maintain a standard here," said Alabama Coach Nick Saban. "A standard of excellence. That requires everybody to be on every day in practice, every game that you play, every play that you play. You're either gaining ground or losing ground. You either get better or get worse. You don't stay the same. Those are things that we really emphasize with our players.

"Right now the focus is the things that we didn't do well. We need to learn from that and get better from that.

"I think even though we made improvements on special teams, I still think we need more consistency. We have not made special teams an advantage for us in terms of the return game whether it be penalties or a lack of execution. That is an area that we need to improve on.

"We still need to clean up some mental errors on the defensive team and offensively we had a couple of critical penalties in the red area that probably affected our chances of scoring. We didn't convert a two-minute drive because of a sack. Things like that right before the half make a difference in the game."

It wasn't like Alabama was just stumbling to victory, though.

Saban said, "There are a lot of good things that we did. We got some great turnovers on defense and played hard as a team. We got off to a great start offensively. These are all things that we need to build on. We just have to be more consistent in every part of what we do."

This week Alabama goes to Durham, N.C., to take on the Duke Blue Devils. While Alabama was disposing of Penn State last Saturday, Duke was falling to Wake Forest by a 54-48 margin. Duke has scored 48 points in both its games, the first being a win over Elon, 48-14.

Alabama and Duke will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 central time) from Wallace Wade Stadium. ABC will televise the game.

The Blue Devils are coached by Alabama alumnus David Cutciffe, who is best known as a fine offensive coach, as a coordinator at Tennessee (where he had Peyton Manning at quarterback), and as a head coach at Ole Miss (where he had Eli Manning at quarterback).

Saban said, "David Cutcliffe is an outstanding coach. He has done a great job (at Duke) as well as Ole Miss, offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Wherever he's been they have had a very productive offense and he has done the same thing at Duke. They have been in the top 10 in just about every (offensive) category, whether it's scoring, passing, total offense, whatever you want to talk about. They have nine guys back and they have a new quarterback. He has played very affectively for them in the first two games. This is a very dangerous team because of their ability to throw the ball and score points. They scored 48 points last week on a team that has been ranked in the top 20 most of the last five years in Wake Forest.

"It's going to be important for us to do a good job in preparation, in terms of the experience that we can gain this week and how we prepare for a team that is very good at throwing the football and they play well in all other parts of the game too. They're sound and solid on special teams, Ron Middleton who coached here, does a really good job in that part of the game and last year they were very good on defense. This year they have given up some points, but I still think they are very capable of being a good defensive team.

"I'm sure that everybody we play will be ready to play us. They are a very well coached team. It is the first game on the road for us, which is a challenge for our players to focus and be able to do the things that we need to do to play the kind of football that we want play on a consistent basis all the time. That is where we are as a team, but I think the focus for us is really everybody elevating their game to where we need to get it to so that we can continue to improve as a team. That is going to be critical this week in practice and preparation for a very good Duke team."

Saban was asked various questions in his regular Monday press briefing. Here are some of the questions and answers:

On the formations Duke will use offensively that he hasn't seen in the previous two games:

"You've got two fold. Last year they were in a lot of three wide outs, one tight end and a back. That's probably their No. 1 formation group. They were getting empty out of that. They'll back motion empty. They are doing some pistol this year for the running game, not always offsetting the back. They get in four wide outs. They do play some regular, most of the time its two tight ends and two wides, but I'd say the spread formations are probably 90 percent of what they do."

On what he saw from the secondary after reviewing the tape from the Penn State game:

"I think we made improvement in the secondary. I think we had better eye control, read run/pass a little bit better. I think everybody made improvement. I think there is still room for adjustments, making adjustments and getting in the right position. We had a few mental errors that were costly, especially on third down, whether they were technique-type things or errors in assignment, which were not as prevalent as the week before, but we certainly made progress. Mark Barron played extremely well, and his leadership is really helping the other players I think. I think DeQuan Menzie played a lot better in this game – more confident in his role. We've just got to keep improving, because this will be a real challenge for us this week."

On red zone defense and the turnovers against Penn State:

"I think the turnovers were critical in this game. They always have a significant impact on every game. Playing well in the red zone is one of our goals and one of the things we feel are really, really important. Not giving up big plays and playing well in the red zone are going to make you difficult to score on. We have given up some big plays, but we played very well in the red zone and that's been helpful to keeping the point count down. The turnovers really contributed to that this week. Some of them we created with pressure – a couple of them. One we created with a good hit, and I think that's all good football. We've got to continue to be aggressive in those areas so we can make plays. We really emphasize turnovers all the time, but especially in this fall camp. So far it's paid off for us, especially in this past game."

On defensive players that have caught his eye in the first two games:

"I think Kerry Murphy did a really good job of moving out and playing a different position in this past game because we felt like we needed to be a little more physical against a bigger, more physical offensive line. I thought he did a really nice job in this game. I think the biggest thing we've done – and if we continue to get our players to do this – is play together as a unit. Everybody do your job. Everybody be responsible for what they're supposed to do. Get your eyes in the right place. Key the right things and react the right way. So far, when we've done that, we've been fairly successful, and when we haven't done that, we've been susceptible to giving up plays. I think the consistency in performance is the key to being able to do that. I think everybody on defense has to do it a little bit better. I'm not disappointed in anyone. I'm not disappointed in the way we played. I just think we need to focus on getting a lot better, which we are capable of, because the things we're talking about are correctable things. It's maturity, it's people buying in to doing it that way and believing that it's going to help them be more successful individually and collectively. I think that's what we've got to continue to do."

On his pre-game meeting at midfield with Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden:

"Those two guys have obviously had a great impact on college football. They're great ambassadors for college football. They've done what I think as professionals you should try to do in your program, in terms of helping players be successful as people and students. They've been very successful on the field in developing players. They care about the players after they leave their programs. I just think that those guys are icons in our profession. I never personally thought I would be standing on the field talking to either one of them, let alone both together. I just have a tremendous amount of respect for both of those guys and all they've done for college football."

On Ed Stinson's performance Saturday night:

"He did good and bad, like most players do the first time they get a chance to play. He made some very, very good plays. He played hard, was physical and aggressive, and there were times when he got a little bit confused and made some mental errors. We're pleased with his progress, and it was probably a good opportunity for him to get in against a good football team and get some experience in how to play and what it takes to play. He did a nice job for us."

On Julio Jones changing the culture of how wide receivers approach their work at UA:

"I think what I was speaking of was not what he does in the game, on the field in terms of his ability to make plays, but it's how he works every day, the toughness that he has, the attitude, preparation and being a hard worker. We're very fortunate here that our best players have been very good people, whether you look at guys from last year whether it's Javier Arenas, Rolando McClain, Kareem Jackson, or whether it's Trent (Richardson), Mark (Ingram), Julio, Mark Barron or (Dont'a) Hightower. Those guys are all really good people. They've got the right stuff character wise and they're very good players. I think that has a tremendous impact on, first of all the other people in your group, but also on your unit. Julio and receivers are sometimes guys who, they should want the ball, no doubt, but sometimes can be affected a little when they don't get the ball and don't see other parts of what they do as important to the success of the offense. Julio, because he's such a good blocker, physical and tough, that's sort of permeated throughout the group. I think that's one of reasons we have as many long runs as we do."

On the risks and rewards of blitzing:

"I think anytime you can affect the quarterback, and we haven't had a lot of sacks, but we have pressured him a lot, hit him a lot and pressured him in the pocket, which I think is really important. The secondary gets affected when you rush four guys too. They've still got to cover somebody. You just might be covering with one less guy. I think it's just like pitching baseball. Sometimes you rush three guys, sometimes you rush four guys and sometimes you rush five or six and affect what they do. Most people who have one pitch in baseball; eventually they hit it – sometimes out of the park. That's kind of how we've always tried to play defense, in terms of how we present what we do in an aggressive style to try to dictate what the offense does, rather than always allowing them to dictate what we do. Does it create more multiples for the players? Absolutely, but it can be very effective if it's executed properly."

On appearing on Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski's radio show over the summer and what he admires in Coach K.

"I'm actually reading his book. I think he's another one of those icon coaches, relative to what he does, whether it's John Wooden and people like that that you try to learn from. But anybody who has had as much success as he's had, relative to a full body of work over a long time, you're always interested and anxious to learn how they feel, learn how they see things and learn how they do things, whether it's philosophically or systematically. You learn something to implement and make your program better. I enjoyed that radio show, learned a lot, and I'm enjoying reading his book. It's a good book."

On DeQuan Menzie playing exclusively at the Star position against Penn State:

"It's just a management thing, in terms of how many reps in practice, how healthy he is during practice and where do we have to sort of put our emphasis. Last week, early in the week, he was a little sore coming out of the game, even though he only played 27 plays or something like that, from just playing for the first time and maybe going a little bit faster than normal. For a couple of days last week he wasn't able to take all the reps, so we decided to just give him nickel reps. Well, when he was able to take all the reps, it was a little later in the week so we just said, "Let's just go through this game that way." This (Penn State) ended up, to our surprise, being almost a total nickel game. I sat here and talked about playing two-back runs and regular and they didn't do that at all in the game. They were very effective in how they attacked us, I don't mean it in a negative way. He played just about as many plays everybody else because we were in the nickel just about the whole game."

On whether or not a kicker who can tackle (Cade Foster) is assigned a lane on kickoff coverage:

" No, he's a safety. He has a responsibility to leverage the ball, relative to the rest of the kick coverage group. Cade was a linebacker in high school. He is a football player, is very aggressive and he has made several tackles on kickoff coverage, and that's a benefit because that's an area that we need to improve on. I think we're better than we were at this time last year in kickoff coverage but still not as effective as we need to be."

On the impact Mark Ingram and Marcell Dareus will have in their return to the lineup against Duke:

"I think the key for us is that both of those guys have proven around here that they're very capable players and that they can be very effective. We're very pleased with what both guys have done to this point. Mark had a great camp. Injuries are a part of the game. He's been out now for just about two weeks today. Mark is a very good player and he's going to make us better on offense. Marcell Dareus is a very good player and he's going to make us better on defense. His attitude has been good about it. He went and worked on the scout team last week to help our offense to get prepared for the kind of players that they were going to have to play against in Penn State and their defensive linemen, especially their interior guys who are very quick and aggressive guys. We can't really anticipate anything. We're hopeful that those guys will be able to contribute in a very positive way and make us better. That's our expectation and there is no reason for us to think any differently based on their attitude, how they've worked or what they've done to this point to be ready to be able to play. Mark's situation is going to be a little bit evaluating how much he plays relative to how much he can practice. You're still going day-to-day with a guy coming off of an injury. In Marcell's case it's just full-metal jacket. He's ready to play and hopefully he'll do a great job for us."

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