Alabama went on to a 48-14 win with subs playing basically the entire second half, while Auburn pulled away to a 31-7 decision. But at the end of the first quarter, Bama’s lead was only 10-7 and the Tigers and Samford had battled to 0-0.
A slow start this week could be hazardous. Alabama (10-1 overall and 6-1 in the Southeastern Conference) hosts Auburn (8-1, 4-3) at 6:45 p.m. CST in Bryant-Denny Stadium with ESPN televising the game. The Tigers have nothing to look ahead to other than a decent bowl trip a few weeks down the road. The Crimson Tide best not be caught looking ahead, even though there is potentially the SEC Championship Game against either Missouri or Georgia on Dec. 6 in Atlanta.
A lack of attention to this Saturday, though, and there won’t be any championship opportunity. Alabama has to defeat Auburn to make it to Atlanta. And Alabama has to beat Auburn to continue to be among the top four teams in the nation for the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The BCS era has ended, but it will be oft noted this week that the winner of the Alabama-Auburn game the past five years played in the national championship game. Bama was 3-0 in those games, the Tigers 1-1.
Following Saturday’s game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, ““I don’t think that we started the game out the way we’d hoped to or how we planned. We wanted to maintain focus, and I thought the players did a really good job all week of practicing well and preparing for the game. It’s really up to me to make sure that the guys have the right psychological disposition when we come out and play a game. We just didn’t have much energy in the beginning of the game, and just didn’t have much energy and enthusiasm in pregame.
“As the game wore on, I thought our guys played better. I was proud of the way they competed throughout. Their (Western Carolina’s) players did a really good job in the game. They had a really good plan and did a really good job of executing it.”
For about as long as the game has been played, coaches have talked about games in which extra motivation has to be provided by the coaches. Saban was asked how that’s done.
“I obviously don’t have the answer to that question, so it’s more difficult than what I can figure out,” Saban said. “We were as flat as a pancake when we went out there today, so I didn’t do a very good job. I really thought our guys practiced pretty well all week and didn’t look at this game as if, they really tried to keep focus. They tried to keep the momentum of what we’ve been doing going. But when we went out there for pregame warm-ups today, I was really surprised that we didn’t have a little more energy and a little more juice than we did. We had to play our way into it.”
Saban did see good things about the game. “It’s a good win for us.,” he said.A” lot of guys got to play, which is a good thing, because we haven’t had a lot of games this year where we’ve been able to play a lot of players.”
No fewer than four Tiders were dressed out, but did not play, and a half dozen left the game with injuries. Saban said three of the four held out – tailback T.J. Yeldon, wide receiver DeAndrew White, and placekicker Adam Griffith – “probably could have played if they had to, but we chose not to play them so they wouldn’t keep having recurring problems. (Linebacker) Denzel Devall had an ankle (injury) in practice on Thursday. We held him out of the game and hopefully he’ll be back.”
Players that left the game with injuries included wide receivers Amari Cooper and Ardarius Stewart, running back Jalston Fowler, tight end Brian Vogler, offensive tackle Cam Robinson, and defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson.
Saban said, “Coop (Amari Cooper) just has a bruised knee. He could’ve gone back in the game and played – we don’t have a problem with him. A’Shawn Robinson has an ankle sprain and should be okay. Cam Robinson has an ankle sprain and should be okay. (Brian) Vogler and (ArDarius) Stewart both have stretched knee ligaments and are probably the guys that will be most questionable. That’s kind of the injury report.
“At this time of the year, other people have opportunities and need to step up. I thought some of the receivers did a really nice job. I thought Jake (Coker) did a really good job in there. We got to play a lot of defensive players, so it was a really good game from that standpoint.”
Saban elaborated on some Bama players who got more than usual playing time. He said, “We played a lot of guys. Chris Black had some catches. I thought Tyren Jones did a good job of running the ball when he had the opportunity. Altee (Tenpenny) did okay, too. I already mentioned Jake (Coker) as a guy that did a good job. Robert Foster got to play a little bit; he’s got ability and he’s been making a lot of improvement. On the defensive side, we probably played more players all year long. It was good to get those guys some opportunities. I know a couple of those guys got sacks -- No. 56 (Tim Williams) and No. 62 (Josh Frazier). That was really good for them. I thought those guys did a pretty good job when they went in the game, in terms of the way they executed.”