Alabama defeated the Tigers from Auburn, 55-44, Saturday night to claim the SEC Western Division title. Now the Crimson Tide will meet Missouri in the SEC Championship Game at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. CBS will televise the game.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel participated in a media teleconference Sunday afternoon and were predictably complimentary of one another and of each’s football program. The two have known each other since their days as players and later graduate assistant coaches under the legendary Don James at Kent State.
Saban took a pass on being too specific regarding this year’s Missouri team. “We just finished playing a game at midnight last night,” he exagerrated…only slightly. But he said the Tigers have earned respect by their performance in the SEC by winning the Eastern Division the past two years, going 12-2 with a Cotton Bowl win last year, and winning six consecutive games this year to reach the championship game.
He continued, “I think they're one of the best teams in our league, no doubt. Certainly very deserving of what they've accomplished. They've overcome a lot of adversity this year to do it.
“They've got a good quarterback, good receivers, nationally ranked defense that has some real pass rush specialists. So this is an outstanding team. I think they've done a great job since they joined the league, especially the last two years.”
It was a tad interesting that when Saban was asked about the Tigers’ fine pass rushers, Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the Tide coach said, “I really haven’t seen them that much other than watching them a couple of times during the season.”
He then cited their statistics – Ray with 13 ½ sacks and 20 tackles for loss, Golden 8 ½ sacks and 16 tackles for loss.
“These guys are obviously very quick guys that are instinctive, that beat people with their quickness,” Saban said. “They're very productive in their system and scheme. They do a good job of executing. Not many guys have made that kind of an impact with their defense anywhere in the country in terms of giving the offense negative plays.”
On the injury front, Saban said that offensive tackle Cam Robinson had suffered a sprained shoulder. He also said that he wants Adam Griffith to be the placekicker, but that Griffith is having to work through undisclosed “health issues.” He said that quarterback Blake Sims was not hindered by an ankle problem. And, finally, he said that tailback T.J. Yeldon “really played well in the game, made some explosive runs, looked like he had some of that explosion back. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him even healthier so he can continue to improve this week.”
Regarding his Bama squad, Saban said, “I'm proud of what our team has been able to accomplish to this point, the way they played. We had a tough loss early in the season to Ole Miss on the road. The question then was how are they going to respond to that. I think they responded pretty well. I think they responded pretty well last night to some tough circumstances in the game.
“I'm just really proud of the way our guys have competed all year long. We've got a good bunch of guys. Just want to keep working to try to play with a little more consistency.
“I still don't think we've played as well as we're capable of playing. Hopefully we'll look at this new season and opportunity to play for the SEC Championship as a stimulus to try to go out there and practice and prepare well, play our best.
“I think this team has shown a tremendous resiliency all year long to make plays in critical times in games. They've always been able to overcome adversity, do the things they needed to do to be able to come out on top. I think that speaks a lot of the competitive character that the group has.
“I think offensively we've probably been a little more consistent in the last few ballgames. Defensively we haven't been quite as consistent. We'd like to get back to playing a little better defensively, continuing to build on what we've been able to accomplish offensively here in the last few weeks.
“We weren't real pleased with some of the big plays that we gave up, especially in the first half in last night's game. That's something we certainly need to address, try to take the things that we can learn from the game last night and improve.”
As the inagural College Football Playoff draws more near, Saban was asked if he thought the SEC should have a representative regardless of the outcome of the SEC Championship Game. The general opinion is that if Alabama wins, the Crimson Tide will be the number one seed in the four-team playoff and that if the Crimson Tide loses to Missouri the SEC will be without representation in the national championship tournament.
Saban said, “I can't speak to that. I think we have an outstanding league. We have a lot of good teams. The fact that we play each other, end up beating each other probably hurts a little bit relative to the quality especially of our division.
“I think some of the teams in our division are really, really good teams. I'm sure there're some other really good teams out there that I have not seen.
“So without looking at everyone, I would think that somebody in our league qualifies to be one of the better four teams in the country based on the quality of the league, the good teams that we all have to play.”