Saban Says Bama Gained Momentum

What did Alabama get out of playing Chattanooga, a lower division team the Crimson Tide handled with no trouble by 49-0 in Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday? The obvious thing is that the Crimson Tide got its starters out of the game with minimal injuries.

And what became obvious when the Mocs went on offense is that Bama had scheduled a game that would give Alabama a look at what it would face this week. Chattanooga ran a spread option that is similar to what Auburn uses.

On Monday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban pointed out something else the Crimson Tide got by playing last Saturday while upcoming opponent Auburn was having an open date.

"I think we built some momentum," Saban said. "That's what you'd like to do by playing well, executing well. Obviously, there are always things we can improve on on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We'll try to look at those things and get them corrected today."

Alabama has considerable momentum, back-to-back national championships and a 15-game winning streak, including an 11-0 mark this season. Bama, ranked first in the nation in every poll, is 7-0 in Southeastern Conference games. The Tide takes on Auburn, ranked fourth in the nation, at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday in Auburn. CBS will televise the game. Auburn is the surprise team of the SEC with a 10-1 record, 6-1 in conference games. The winner of the game will represent the SEC Western Division in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta Dec. 7.

With so much at stake, the winner will be thrilled and the loser would seem to be devastated. So which is it: the ecstasy of winning is better than the agony of defeat is bitter, or vice versa?

Saban said, "I can't answer that question because I never think of things in those terms. You're focused on what you need to do today to try to give your team the best opportunity to be successful. You don't think about the results, you think about the process of what you need to do to help your players do a good job in the game. To me, that's your job as a coach. It's not really worrying about whether you're going to celebrate or be sad. I never think of it that way. I just think about what we need to do to play well in every situation of the game and the same thing during the game.

"Focus on the next play. Focus on what you've got to do the next play to try to give your guys the best chance to be successful and make corrections, coach them on the mistakes that they made. This is an ongoing process for the whole week plus the whole 60 minutes of the game right down to the last play of the game. And then when the game's over, it is what it is. But you know that you've given everything that you have to your players and your team as a coach.

"I hope our entire staff looks at it the same way, so you help your players have a chance to be successful."

One of the intangibles cited by some is that Alabama's players have been on the big stage with back-to-back national championships and wins over the likes of Texas A&M and LSU this year. Saban was asked about this as a possible advantage and said, "I can't really answer that.

"It's probably a little bit different for every guy, based on their experience and knowledge, guys that have played in this game. Forget anything else about this, this is the Alabama-Auburn game. It's the Iron Bowl.

"That in and of itself makes this a very emotional game. We just try to emphasize with our players that you've got to focus on the right stuff so that you can go play your best football. If there was a better way to do it, we would have already tried to do it because we've already had some other big games.

"It starts with your preparation and your mind-set in terms of how you go about preparing so that you can recognize and do the things that you need to do to be effective at playing your position. At the end of the day, it will probably come down to the team that executes the best in the game will have the best opportunity to be successful.

"Obviously the Iron Bowl is a great rivalry game, one that's recognized all over the country in college football. If you're a competitor, it's a great opportunity to compete if you're playing in a game like this that means a lot to a lot of people on both sides.

"Our team has worked very hard to create an opportunity for themselves. I think the focus needs to be on playing your best football, which goes back to playing your best, playing with the best fundamentals, having the best discipline. Try to do your job the best you can against a very, very, very good team.

"Auburn has a lot of returning starters on their team. They've got a lot of experienced players. They've played extremely well all year long, especially their offense.

"They're one of the leading offensive teams in the country. Gus (Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn) has always done a fantastic job with the offense, with their ability to run the ball effectively, throw it when they need to. Score the points that they've been able to score on a pretty consistent basis against just about everybody in this league. They've got a good offensive line. They've got good inside runners. Nick Marshall does a very good job of implementing their offense, and he's very athletic and makes a lot of plays as a rusher as well. Tre Mason is the leading rusher in the league.

"Nick Marshall has almost 1,000 yards rushing himself. They create a lot of issues and a lot of problems. They have good receivers that can make plays down the field when you try to load up on them.

"Defensively, they've played really, really well. They're hard to score on. I think that's the most important thing about playing good defense. They create a lot of negative plays for you offenseively. They've got a really good pass rushing team. They've been able to create some negative plays in the passing game because of their pass rush."

Saban said, Auburn is "very, very good in the kicking game. Most of the time the guy kicks the ball out of the end zone. They have very few punt return yards against them all year long. They do a good job on the coverage teams. They've got good specialists.

"All the way around, this is a very, very good team, and I think their record sort of reflects that."

Most of the conversation has focused on whether the Alabama defense – which ranks among the best in the nation in most categories, including leading the nation in scoring defense at 9.3 points per game – can control the spread, zone read offense of the Tigers.

Saban said defensive consistency is "something that you try to emphasize and work on with your players. If you don't give up big plays and you play well in the red zone, all of a sudden you can get difficult to score on, which they have done a really good job of. That's what we try to do as well. To play well in the red zone, you do have to emphasize that with your players. They have to have an understanding that the field shrinks. You've got to play things a little bit differently. I think they do a good job of that. Our players have done a fairly good job of that this year as well."

For Alabama's Monday practice, Saban said only one player, offensive guard Arie Kouandjio, who suffered a sprained ankle in last week's win over Chattanooga, would be held out. "He will practice Tuesday," the coach said. "We're just going to give him one more day."

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