In his regular Monday briefing to sports reporters, Alabama Coach Nick Saban made his usual points. He was pleased with the way his Crimson Tide responded to its early season loss to Ole Miss by coming back and shutting out Louisiana-Monroe, and he was impressed with what he has seen of the upcoming opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs.
Alabama and Georgia will meet at 3:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 central time) in Athens this Saturday. CBS will televise.
Georgia is 4-0 and ranked sixth in the nation, while Alabama is 3-1 (including 0-1 in Southeastern Conference play) and ranked 13th.
Since the game was announced on this year’s schedule, it has been considered the biggest game of the year as it matches the teams expected to win the SEC Western and Eastern divisions.
Saban said that one plus of Bama’s 34-0 win over ULM Saturday was that the Tide played a large number of players. “I think that helps the development of a lot of young players,” he said, “and at certain positions, we have quite a few young players involved in the game. That was very good for them.
“I have a lot of faith in this team. We're certainly a developing team right now. We've got to play with more passion and aggressiveness on a consistent basis and be confident in what we're doing. Focus on what we need to do to play well down in, down out. We've just got to be aggressive.”
By all accounts, Alabama needs to develop quickly. Saban called the Bulldogs one of the best teams in the country. “I’m talking about a total and complete team,” he said. He pointed out that Georgia Coach Mark Richt has had a long, successful tenure with consistently good teams, and “this year’s team has a lot of experienced players.
“Offensively, defensively, special teams, they're really solid in all areas.”
Conversation on the Bulldogs centers on the old and the new. The old is Nick Chubb, who was expected to be one of the nation’s best running backs this year, and who hasn’t disappointed. The new is quarterback Grayson Lambert, a transfer from Virginia who has been one of the nation’s most efficient passers.
Saban said Chubb is “very strong, physical, fast, explosive. He's got power. He is a complete back in every sense of the word. He's effective in their screen game so you can't discount him as a receiver in any way, shape or form either. This guy is by far the best back we've played against all year long.
“Don't discount No. 1 (Sony Michel) either, the next guy that comes in, because he's a pretty good player as well,” Saban added.
Chubb has rushed for 599 yards and 6 touchdowns with an 8.4 yards per carry average.
As for Lambert, Saban said he “has created a tremendous amount of balance for them.”
He has completed 52 of 68 passes for 733 yards and 7 touchdowns with no interceptions. His favorite target is Malcolm Mitchell, who has 20 receptions for 306 yards and 3 TDs.
“They've got a lot of weapons,” Saban said. “Defensively, they're one of the highest ranked teams statistically in the conference as well as the country. Jeremy Pruitt (former Tide player and assistant coach) has done a really good job with their players and with their scheme. They play hard and very aggressive. They're a very good team.”
It was suggested the Georgia has copied the Alabama football blueprint.
Saban said, "I would say they look a lot like some of our teams of the past. Very physical, don't make a lot of mistakes, don't beat themselves much. And they play with a lot of toughness and they're very aggressive on both sides of the ball. That's the kind of team that we've always sort of aspired to have here. And it certainly looks like that's the kind of team they have developed there."
As for Alabama, still with its back against the wall after the early loss to SEC West member Ole Miss, Saban said, “I think how you respond to the loss says a lot about your character. I like the way our team responded in the last game.
“This will be a much bigger challenge for them, playing on the road and playing one of the better teams in the country. So it'll tell us a lot about our team this week and how they respond. I've been pleased with the way they practiced, the way they tried to prepare, the things that they learned from the loss. I think we've gotten better. I just think it's important for us to continue to do that."