Tide Must Improve, Move On, Says Saban

When Alabama Coach Nick Saban addressed the media at midday Monday, he didn't know anything about the demeanor of his Crimson Tide football team following its first loss after 19 straight games. "They were a little upset after the game," the coach said.

Since that regular Monday Saban press briefing, the coach has been with his Alabama players, who had Sunday off following their 35-21 loss at South Carolina. Following Saban's meeting with sportswriters, he met with his players. And then they hit the practice field.

The coach suggested players might be curious. "They might ask you after the meeting ‘How did coach respond? What's his demeanor?'," Saban said.

Saban didn't pretend to be a know-it-all. He was also asked how his 2003 LSU team responded after it lost a game. That LSU team went on to win the national championship.

Saban claimed he couldn't remember. But he has learned something about losses over the years.

"We've lost a lot of games," he said. "Most people do. It's unusual to win every game that you play and I think that there are reasons for the loss and you learn from those things. How our players learn the lessons that they learn, from what they have and have not done, we build on the things that they have done and correct the things that they have not done.

"It's not just about this game. This is a cumulative effect of what's happened all season in terms of choices that people make, in terms of what they do and how they do it. How they improve what they do. How they develop confidence in what they do.  We've got some young guys out there on defense that have been playing for six games now and we quite frankly expect them to start maturing, play with confidence, not make mental errors and be able to make adjustments that we practiced, that's our expectation.

"Maybe early in the season we knew that it would take time to develop, but we've had some time to develop them and people need to be accountable to the standard they need to play to. That's the same thing for every position on our team. It all goes back to the psyche of our team, is it what it needs to be? What happened last year means nothing to what happens this year. Have we had the same psychological disposition on this team towards being successful as last year's team? That's a question I'm going to ask."

Saban is determined that those who follow Alabama--as players presumably first and foremost; as reporters; and as fans--learn the concept of playing to a standard.

"I've stood here before you just about every week that I've been up here, which I think is since we started, and I always talk about improving as a team," the coach said. "Everybody, individually and collectively, doing the things that you need to do to make yourself better so you can play to a standard, so you can be the best you can be at what you do. Sometimes that's very difficult to do, especially if you're satisfied with the success you've had to that point.

"It doesn't become about playing to a standard, it becomes about winning a game. I know to fans, that's probably the only thing that is important, but to competitors and football players, and really players in any sport, it's always about aspiring to be the best that you can be and focusing on the things that you need to do daily in terms of preparation, in terms of practice, in terms of how you take care of yourself, in terms of the intensity that you're ready to compete with when the game comes, which we all have to be responsible for. Everybody has to be accountable to a standard and the question is ‘What is everyone doing to impact the success, to impact the standard, individually and collectively?'

"That starts at the top with me all the way down to the players and we need to continue to work on getting better, playing with more maturity, being more consistent in what we do, which I think comes with maturity, those two probably go hand-in-hand, but that's what our team needs to do. You make errors at critical times in the game then you don't end up making the stops that you need to make or making the plays you need to make on offense to have a chance to be successful in the game

" Between third down, red area, fourth-and-two, when we had a chance to stop them on defense, we never made the plays to do it. On offense we moved the ball effectively most of the game but when we got in the red zone we were unable to make the plays to come away with the kind of points that we could have, and that's really the difference in the game and there's really nothing else to talk about."

Players frequently say that getting over a loss is more difficult than forgetting a win. At Alabama, the 24-hour rule asks players to celebrate or grieve--whichever is appropriate--for 24 hours after a game and then move on to the next one. Saban said he hopes that it isn't more difficult to forget the loss.

"We have to move on," he said. "It's over and done with. There's nothing we can do to get it back. Whatever the players didn't bring is gone forever so we have to learn from it. It's a great lesson to learn from and that's what we're focused on moving forward. Our attention needs to be on Ole Miss and what we can learn from the experiences that we had so that we can improve and get better, no more and no less. If you're a great competitor the loss doesn't just go away."

Saban said it won't be necessary to wait until Saturday, when Alabama hosts Ole Miss for homecoming, to see how the team is reacting. "Who you are is who you are very day," Saban said. "How do you practice? How do you decide to do things? What choices do you make about how you do things? How important is it for you to do things the right way? And that all carries over into how you're going to play in the game on Saturday so all these things are important. Everybody needs to focus, be accountable and be responsible for doing the things that they need to do to improve. I've been saying this every week, all year. This is not new, it's not a new message. It just happens to be after we lost everybody is willing to listen because you all are like everybody else, like the fans, ‘Oh he's just saying that because he's the coach. They're doing everything they're supposed to do. They won.' That doesn't mean that you're doing what you're supposed to do. That doesn't mean you're playing the best you can play. What did I say last week? At this time of the year if you're not doing things right you're going to get exposed. Well, we had some guys who got exposed, whether it's the left tackle, whether it's the right corner. What are you going to do about it? That's the question."

Saban said if players are content, they are listening to the wrong reports. "Just because you beat Florida 31-6 people start talking about you being the best team in the country. We're not the best team in the country. We had the best team in the country last year and we proved it. We proved it over 14 games. "

He added with great emphasis that this team has not proven anything.

 On Saturday, Bama will host Mississippi in an 8 p.m. CDT game from Bryant-Denny Stadium. It is homecoming at Alabama. ESPN2 will televise the game. Alabama is 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference games and has fallen to eighth in the nation. Ole Miss has improved to 3-2 and is 1-1 in conference games.

Saban said, "Anytime you play Ole Miss it's a tough game. Anytime you play a Houston Nutt-coached team it's a tough game. They bounced back with two quality wins. As (quarterback Jeremiah) Masoli has gotten more comfortable with their offense they have been very, very productive and one of the leading teams in the country in terms of scoring points. In the last two weeks they've put up 55 and 42 points so this is a different kind of offense. There are a lot of options, a lot of reads, a lot of different formation variables, a lot of different personnel groups.  Defensively they've got five or six guys back. They've got two really good defensive tackles. This is a team that has gotten better, really bounced back and playing better right now. We know from our experience in playing against them in the past that it's always a difficult preparation. The key to it is going to be how we respond, how we prepare, how guys respond to doing the things that they need to do to continue improve so that we give ourselves a better chance to be successful in the future. Consistency in performance is a big part of being successful."

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