Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said that all that goes with the game puts a particular burden on the competitors. “This is a game where you have to stay focused on the game and not on all the things that go on around it,” Saban said.
Alabama is playing for the SEC Western Division title and a chance to play for the SEC Championship on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. Bama is ranked first in the nation in the Coaches Poll and second in the Associated Press poll and last week was also number one in the poll that matters most for the national championship, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee poll.
Saban said, “This game requires a tremendous amount of discipline and focus and preparation to be able to go out there and play the kind of football game that you want to play. And you can't really be concerned about all those other things and really be able to do that. The focus needs to be on ‘What do I need to do to go out there and be able to do my job well?’”
A fear of coaches in preparation for big games is to keep the team from peaking early. Saban said, “As a coach that’s what you’re always trying to do. Tried to do it last week and didn’t do a very good job of it against the team that we were playing. We try to do it every week so the players are ready for when the game comes.
“I think the thing that we try to do is we have a routine that the players go through in terms of what they can expect on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and hopefully that routine helps them prepare themselves, not only physically to execute the things they need to do in the game but also psychologically in terms of getting themselves ready to play in the game.
“We don’t want to create a lot of anxiety with the players, we just want them to be focused and ready to go and have a sense of urgency to do things the right way and to be able to do it for 60 minutes in the game because I’m sure that’s what it’s going to take in a game like that for us to have a chance to be successful.”
A win for Alabama Saturday would mean a bigger game ahead, the SEC title game in Atlanta against either Missouri or Georgia. Saban doesn’t necessarily buy into the belief that the Alabama-Auburn game has more intensity than a conference or national championship game.
“I really can’t compare this to anything else because when you’re playing in this game and any of those games, it’s the most important game...at that time,” Saban said. He said this game, like a championship game, has high energy level and “a lot of meaning to a lot of people.”
Saban complimented Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn for the “fantastic job last year and this year,” and pointed out the Tigers have nine returning starters on offense, six on defense.
He said, “Their offense is one of the most productive in the country and certainly in our league. They've got a very good scheme.
“Their quarterback, Nick Marshall, does a fantastic job of executing that on the field. They've got a lot of weapons offensively. A couple of really good, explosive, big wide receivers that are great versatile wide receivers in Sammie Coates and Duke Williams. A very good running back, who's leading the SEC in rushing. The offensive line does a really god job. Lots of speed on the perimeter.
“This is a very, very challenging team to defend in the way they play offense and the way they execute their offense. Their fast pace is certainly something that we've played a lot against this year, and hopefully something we'll adapt to in the game very well.
“Defensively, they're very athletic up front and very active and create a lot of negative plays. They've been able to create a lot of turnovers with their defense and played great in the red zone and been very hard to score on. “I think this is a very good defensive team.
“They always do a great job on special teams, but Quan Bray is one of the outstanding return guys in the country. So it's going to be important to play well on special teams.”
Almost no one remembers that Alabama had the lead in Auburn until the final minutes of the game. Everyone remembers Bama trying a long field goal on the final play of the game and Auburn returning it from the end zone for a winning touchdown.
Saban said, “We didn’t finish the game like we wanted. It was very, very disapponting to all of us here. Not just the last play but the last five minutes of the game that we never really ever finished the game like we needed to. It was a tough way to lose a game, and I'm sure everybody has that in mind.”