Saban Gives Tide A Little Break

It isn't because of last Saturday's 38-10 romp over Florida in Gainesville. It's not because historic whipping boy Vanderbilt is coming to Tuscaloosa as homecoming fodder this Saturday. Alabama's football team got something of a respite from the rigors of practice Monday. But that was going to happen regardless of the last game or the next game.

Alabama's preparation for Vanderbilt was a little different Monday than a normal Monday during the season. "It was something that was planned," Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said. "It has nothing to do with outcomes, and it has nothing to do with opponents. We've done this every year.

"When we play eight games in a row, we don't like to play more than six without changing the routine, giving the players basically two days where they don't do much. We're going to do some walkthroughs today, but I just think it's important that after so many games that they have a little extra recovery time. If we don't have a bye week, and the season doesn't get broken up, we're never going to play more than six games in a row without doing this."

While Saban was setting the record straight that the walkthrough day wasn't a reward for the win over Florida or because he thought he could coast a bit before playing Vandy, Trent Richardson said even a Saban walkthough can be tough. "Even when we get a chance like this, we've got to make sure we get our walkthrough just right," Richardson said. "We've been going hard every day, practicing real hard. Coach Saban isn't taking any pity on us. He doesn't give any pity. If he did, he wouldn't be Coach Saban."

Nose tackle Josh Chapman said the team "kind of needs this. We do it every year, get our legs right. Instread of practicing on the field, we try to do more inside the film room, watch more film on our opponent."

Alabama, 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference games, and ranked second in the nation in one poll and third in another, hosts Vanderbilt, 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC, at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday. ESPNU will televise the game.

"The big thing that everybody has to keep in mind is that you've never really arrived as a football team," Saban said. "Every team that we play in the SEC is a very capable team. Vanderbilt is certainly a very capable team. They've got 19 starters back from last year's team. They've already won more games than they won last year and gotten off to a pretty good start. They've done enough offensively to score points and are doing a good job with the players that they have. Their defense has been very opportunistic and led the nation in interceptions. They've done a really good job of playing very good defense.

"Unlike what people sometimes have a perception of, this team is 3-1 and a good team that beat Ole Miss and played South Carolina tough at South Carolina. We need to be focused on what we need to do to take care of our business and get ready to play our best football game of the year and continue to improve as a team."

Saban was pleased with Bama's win at Florida, which had been undefeated and ranked 12th in the nation. The Gatrors scored on a 65-yard pass on the first play of the game and had a 10-3 lead before the Tide reeled off 35 consecutive points on four rushing touchdowns and Courtney Upshaw's 345-yard interception return for a TD.

Saban said, "I think one of the most important things in this past game is when things didn't go well early, especially defensively, there was really no panic. We did a really good job the first two drives of the game offensively, coming up with scores, with the field goal and touchdown, then the defense sort of settled down.

"In boxing, you never know when you have a good fighter until the guy gets hit, gets staggered, and you see how he takes a punch. In a tough environment, in a tough situation, I was really pleased with the way our team competed through a lot of things that happened early. We played well on the line of scrimmage, both sides of the ball, and could run the ball effectively, had balance on offense and stopped their running."

Bama is not a perfect team, of course. Saban said, "The biggest thing we have to do is eliminate mental errors that give other teams opportunities. Whether it's how we block them, how we run routes, how we get in the right formations, or how we play coverages and don't make mistakes and how we match people up and what we do. Eliminate mental errors. You just can't give other people opportunities. They are too good of teams that we play, and it's important that we continue to improve as a team and focus on the things that we need to focus on."

Last week, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has an elbow injury, was held out and back-up tailback Eddie Lacy, who has a foot problem and "will probably be in a boot for a couple of days," was limited. Saban said decisions on the status of both would be made later in the week.

Saban touched on a number of topics, including:

Fourth quarter success, he said, is the result of "the philosophy of the program." Alabama has a 45-8 advantage in scoring in fourth quarters this year.

Saban said, "We have a fourth quarter program which is basically the strength and conditioning program that we do in the off-season, summertime. I think we try to get our players to believe that the hard work they do is going to contribute to their ability to be more physical for longer, and to finish games better."

He said quarterback A. J. McCarron "is doing a good job. "I think he's done a good job of managing the game in both road games, in some pretty tough circumstances and environments, and I think the big thing is he is kind of making good decisions. We're not turning the ball over.

"We probably need to do a better job overall in the passing game, but that's not really the quarterback.

"I've been really pleased with the way that A.J. has improved and hopefully he'll continue to improve throughout the season and we will be a little bit more explosive, hopefully, down the field and making some plays in the passing game. He had a couple of opportunities in the last game and just missed them. I think it's going to be important that we start making some of those."

On Alabama throwing the ball more on first down, Saban said, "I think the balance is the most important thing. I think the best down to throw it on is first down. You usually know what you want to get, especially if you can run the ball. The other teams, probably 70 or 80 per cent of the time, are in some kind of safety down, middle of the field, closed type of [defense], which is the best time to throw it. I think we have to continue to mix it up, and try to keep the team off balance based on whether its formations, how we line up, and some of the packages that we put together based on what they line up in. That determines what we do, so some of that is called, and some of it is ‘this is best thing to do against this particular situation.' We've been doing a good job with that. When I'm talking about game management, that's the kind of stuff that I'm really referring to."

He was asked if kickoff man Cade Foster's efforts were high and short by design. Saban said, "No they are not high and short by design. I wish we would kick it in the stands. I can't tell you why. Technically, in practice he does a really good job. I think he has to have confidence that if he carries over those same fundamentals in the game, that that's going to be the best way to get the best results. That's something that he has to continue to work through psychologically, so that he's confident and believing in the process."

Although Bama has dominated the opposition in five games this year, the Tide has given up 20 points in the first quarter, about half of the 42 allowed by Alabama this season. Saban said he thinks there are two parts to that. "We really haven't played worth a damn in the first quarter is one way to look at it," he said.

"And the other part of it, depending on how you want to look at it would be we play better as it goes because we make good adjustments, which we do. They get good information, but I think part of it is how a player thinks when he starts the game. I think in the more emotional games, players probably are more emotional and think less, which affects mental errors."

One of the most interesting Tide players is Australian Jesse Williams, who plays defensive end. "Jesse's done a good job for us," Saban said. "He's played well. He's really improved a lot from the spring to the fall, and each game this fall. He's a good practice player. He's a smart guy. He's learned how to use his hands better. He's become a little better pass rusher. He's a very physical guy, and difficult to block. So Jessie has been a real key, I think, to helping our front, and done a really, really good job. I'm really pleased with the way he's progressed. I think he's come along quicker than I thought he might."

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