Saban Says Bye Week Not An Issue

Well, there went six weeks of questions to Alabama Coach Nick Saban. "I know somebody is going to ask about bye weeks, so I just want to clear this up for the year," Saban said in his regular Monday press briefing. And clear it up he did.

Alabama plays South Carolina in Columbia in a Southeastern Conference game Saturday afternoon. The game will be nationally televised by CBS as it pits the number one ranked Crimson Tide against the 19th rated Gamecocks. Bama is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC games, coming off a 31-6 win over a Florida team that had been undefeated and ranked seventh in the nation. South Carolina is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in SEC games and did not play last Saturday.

And that's why Nick Saban knew there would be some curiosity about his thoughts regarding an upcoming opponent having a bye week. Actually, that is one-sixth of the reason, because the SEC schedule-maker gave the next six Crimson Tide opponents an open date before those teams play Bama.

Before taking questions Monday, Saban said, "I know somebody is going to ask about bye weeks so I just want to clear this up for the year. Everybody out there assumes that having a bye week is an advantage. I've always answered that question by saying, ‘I don't know if it's an advantage or disadvantage.' We did research on the last five years of all other 11 teams in the SEC and how they did when they had a bye week, and their record is 29-29. I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong, but the statistics kind of prove that it's not an advantage or disadvantage to have a bye week. It probably depends a lot on the circumstances."

Not that there is a guarantee the question won't be asked again. After all, on Monday Saban was asked about a report that former North Carolina assistant coach John Blake had contacted Crimson Tide star defensive end Marcell Dareus on behalf of an agent. Dareus admitted receiving improper benefits, presumably from an agent, as the NCAA and Alabama investigated his participation in a summer party in South Florida with other top football juniors. He served a two-game suspension and the matter is closed.

Saban said he didn't know anything about the Blake report, but in any event "it's water that's been under the bridge for several months now," and he did not intend to talk about it.

Nonetheless, a reporter tried a follow-up question. Saban said to keep the subject on the South Carolina game. When the reporter tried once more on the subject, Saban said, "Is that South Carolina? I guess I must stutter. Did I stutter? I'm not very clear on how I articulate. Maybe I need to go back to West Virginia and get some more hillbilly slang and maybe everybody can understand me a little better."

Saban had no trouble staying on topic, the topic being the state of his Crimson Tide team as it prepares for the Gamecocks of Coach Steve Spurrier.

As for last week's game, Saban said he was "really pleased and proud, after watching the film, of the way our players competed in the last game, the intensity that they had, came out and played really well, especially in the first 30 minutes of the game and we obviously still have plenty of things to improve on. The last 17 minutes of the Arkansas game and the first 30 minutes of the Florida game is sort of the standard that we talk about that we want to play to, and everybody needs to have the accountability to that standard.

"I think teams at this time of the year definitely need to be aware of what their weaknesses are, individually and collectively, systematically, offensively, defensively and on special teams, because at this time of the year people start to see what you do, see what you are doing, how you're doing it and that's when you start getting exposed if you don't start getting those things corrected, so that's why improvement, I think, is really, really important at this time of year for individual players in terms of what they do and how they do it, as well as what we're doing on offense, defense and special teams. I think the biggest thing is being able to continue to challenge yourself and challenge each other to improve and play to a standard, and I think that's what we really want to try to do here."

Does that sound like Saban is admitting his team has weaknesses?

"We have plenty," Saban said. "They're not always consistently identifiable. Some games we have thrown the ball extremely effectively on offense. In other games you would like to do it a little better. Defensively we have given up far too many big plays, made lots of mental errors that we need to continue to clean up, and play with consistency. In special teams we finally had a punt return last week. Our return game and our special teams we want to continue to improve. I think in just about every area that you look at I think there is something that we can improve on. Even the things that we've done well, we'd like to continue to stress being able to do better.

"I don't think you have ever arrived. I don't think you're ever where you would like to be, so there are a lot of things that we need to continue to focus on and improve on."

On the good side, Saban said, "I really think our team is progressing. Each week you have a new challenge and you learn more about your team. Like how are we going to respond this week? We play another very good team on the road in a difficult place to play. Are we going to be able to challenge ourselves to continue to do the things we need to do to play at a high standard? Are we going to be relieved with what we've done up to this point? I can't answer those questions. They have to come from within, with what people accomplish and what they want to do. So far we've responded fairly well, but not consistently all the time and that is something we have to continue to work on."

Looking ahead to Saturday in Columbia, Saban said, "We had a tough, physical game with these guys (South Carolina) last year. They're a very good football team, and I think one of the better teams relative to being very well coached on defense. They play tough, physical, have some good pass rushers and good skill guys in the secondary. They run well.

"Offensively, Steve (Spurrier) always does a great job of getting his players to be efficient and effective. This year they're able to run the ball a lot more effectively maybe than a year ago, probably because of the freshman back. (Marcus) Lattimore is really an outstanding player, and they've got some really good skill guys. (Alshon) Jeffery is obviously the leading receiver on the year, and they play really sound and solid on special teams, so this is going to be a very challenging game for us.

"We have to continue to challenge ourselves to do the things that we need to do to get better and play our best football. Hopefully we've learned that when we don't, good things don't happen."

On the injury front, Saban said linebacker Chris Jordan pulled a hamstring muscle and wide receiver Julio Jones had a bruised knee and that both would be day-to-day.

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