After so much hype for the opening game, Alabama would seem to be a solid favorite over Middle Tennessee, a member of Conference USA. Kickoff Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 3 p.m. CDT.
Although the quarterback question at Bama seemed to be answered convincingly in the win over Wisconsin with Jacob Coker completing 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, the play of back-up quarterback Coper Bateman (7-8 for 51 yards) was also solid. As a result, Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked in his Monday press briefing if perhaps he would use the MTSU game to continue the competition.
It was no surprise that Saban took a bit of umbrage at the suggestion that Middle Tennessee is a cupcake opponent.
“No,” he said. “I don’t look at it like that at all. We’re going to do what’s best for our team getting ready for out game.
“Here's the one thing that everybody's got to keep in mind. Everybody's got good football players and everybody's got to respect the opponent. I don't care if we're favored in a game or not favored in a game, the most important thing for our players is to focus on what they need to do to play their best. We took one step up on the climb and we need to improve significantly.”
He said Alabama will approach the game like “it's the most important game in the season for us because it's the next game and it's the next opportunity for us to get better. So we're not trying to create anything based on who we're playing. Because we respect who we're playing and I suggest everybody else does too. They just put 700 yards on a team so we respect that and we respect what they do. We respect their players and we respect their coaches, they go fast, it's probably going to be a hot day, so we've got lots of issues and lots of problems to deal with just in creating the type of performance that we want to create without creating something else."
That wasn’t all. Saban was asked another question, but before answering said, “I’m sorry. You’ll need to ask me that again.
“I’m still on the last question because being able to concentrate on the right thing on the right time is critical to being successful. All right, so what's the right thing at the right time now? Improving our team.”
Saban discussed MTSU, pointing out it was a 6-6 team a year ago, but that the win by the Blue Raiders last week was impressive. He said Middle Tennessee Coach Rick Stockstill does a “great job. They go fast on offense and have got really good concepts and schemes in what they do. They have a good quarterback and a lot of returning players on both sides of the ball.
“This is a game that I feel like will be a challenge for us, ourselves to improve and be ready and play to a standard that's going to help us to get better as a team.”
In looking back at the Wisconsin game, Saban said, “When we looked at the film on this game and the feeling that we had after the game as well was there were a lot of good things in that game. I think probably the best thing was our players really played hard in the game, really physical.
“It was a physical game on both sides of the line. Our offensive line got some movement when we needed to, we had good balance on offense. The defensive front kind of controlled their running game, which was their sort of their forte.
“I think the team had fun playing together, which was good to see. It's always exciting as a coach when you think the players are out there having fun, hat on hat. They're down, they're up. They're doing the things that you like to see from an energy and enthusiasm standpoint. They took care of the ball well in the game. Didn't turn the ball over. Still need to attack the ball on defense. We made some explosive plays and we didn't give up as many big plays. There's a lot of things that we need to clean up. Details across the board. Way too many penalties. We stopped ourselves on several drives
“Lack of fundamental execution and basic discipline led to poor outcomes and that's something that we're looking forward to learning from, whether it was how we blocked, how we covered, how we played gaps up front, how we ran routes, how we protected, whatever it might be.
“Consequently, do a better job on third down on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively. Certainly we need to improve our execution on special teams across the board. When the young players got a chance to play, they need to see the standard that we expect guys to play to around here, regardless of the circumstance and situation in the game. That's something that I think will be a great learning experience for a lot of those players. Concentrating on the right things, thinking about the right things, is really important right now. Which is things we did well, build on. Things we need to improve, we need to address and go out there and get better at those things.”