Alabama, 10-1 overall and 6-1 overall and needing a win to reach the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, hosts Auburn (8-3, 4-3) at 6:45 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Nick Saban isn’t worried about the atmosphere for the game. He said it will be “great.”
With Alabama ranked first in college football, the game has the attention of the nation. ESPN will televise the game.
The only “number one” on Saban’s mind, however, is that “execution is the number one goal.”
The most likely to succeed, he said, are the players on “the team that can be the most exact in how they execute and keep their discipline, play with great emotion but also have poise in what they do.”
How many times has it been said that in rivalry games the record book is irrelevant. Thrown out the window, is the cliché. Saban seems to agree. He said, “It doesn’t really matter much about who’s favored, ranks or rankings, any of that kind of stuff, because rivalry games get determined by the team that can stay focused on what they need to do to execute and do it for 60 minutes in a game.”
Alabama has a good record under Saban of being able to do the things necessary to win. The Tide coach said that 24 Crimson Tide seniors will be recognized in their final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“This has been a fantastic senior class for us, some great individuals in this class, leaders, who have done a great job for us academically as well as on the field,” Saban said. “The last four years this class has won 46 games and they won at least 10 games in every one of their seasons, and extended the streak of many 10-win seasons that we’ve had. More important than that, I think they’re great people; they do a really, really good job of representing The University, the program, their families, and they’ve done a great job in their leadership in terms of how they’ve affected other people in the program here, as well as caring for others. They set a good example. I’m really proud of this group.
“I think one of the reasons why we have really good chemistry on our team this year is because of the senior class and the quality of people that we have in this class.”
Those seniors and their younger teammates will have to be very good Saturday against Auburn.
Saban addressed the challenge of the Auburn defense, particularly its ability to force turnovers. He said, “They’re very aggressive upfront. They create a lot of negative plays. They’ve got a ball-hawking secondary that has made a lot of plays. They’re not afraid to pressure – they give you problems with their pressure, get in eight-man fronts if they need to. They have two really, really good inside players who create a lot of problems for you. This is a very good defensive team in my opinion.
“I think in games like this, turnovers are really, really critical, in terms of how you take care of the ball and manage to manufacture some turnovers, I think they’re huge and critical in a game like this.”
Although Auburn is known primarily as a running team, in many cases the big plays have been made by the Tigers’ two outstanding wide receivers, Sammie Coates (6-2, 201) and Duke Williams (6-2, 216).
The size of those receivers, Saban said, is “one of the real challenge for any team that plays these types of receivers. Mississippi State had a couple of guys like that who were very challenging. These two guys are probably as good as anyone in the country in terms of size, vertical guys who can make great catches, have great catch radius, really good hands, and can separate from you, and are very physical.
“It’s going to be a challenge for our guys. They’re going to have to use great technique, really good eye control in terms of what they’re doing.
“But it’s got to be a team thing. These guys make a lot of plays because the quarterback extends plays and does a really goof job of getting the ball to them. How you affect the quarterback up front, how you cover people, how you disguise things, all these things contribute to trying to slow these guys down a little bit in terms of their big, physical receivers.”
Saban said on the injury front that two players who had been described as questionable – tight end Brian Vogler and wide receiver Ardarius Stewart – have not been able to practice and remain “very questionable.”