“We tried to back off the last couple of Monday practices. I think our players really tried, and I think they were mentally and physically tired today. The best thing I can say is you’ve got to respect guys (on) a team that finds a way to win. We’re going to heal up, rest up, try to improve, and get guys ready to play. It tells a lot about our players that they were able to mentally and physically compete in the game."
San said, “I thought Jake (quarterback Jacob Coker, who went 21-27 for 244 yards with one interception) did a fantastic job today. He didn’t get real good protection. He was sacked five times, and he got out of some other sacks. We certainly need to clean (pass blocking up). Derrick Henry (28 carries, 143 yards, 2 TDs) had another really good day today running the football.”
Saban went up and down the sidelines late in the third quarter with a message for his offensive position groups: “They are not stopping us. We’re stopping ourselves, whether it’s a penalty, a negative play, or a missed assignment. I told them we needed to keep our poise, and focus on executing, and they would not stop us.
“I said we were going to have to play with more energy, and I thought they did. I thought they responded, and played better in the fourth quarter.”
Saban had some good words for his defense. “(Tennessee) had two drives against us, and made a couple of big plays on that last (touchdown) drive that were a little too easy, but that’s a good offensive team, and they’ve got some really good weapons. I’m just really proud of the way our guys competed in this game. (Tennessee’s) always a big win for us, no matter what the score.”
Injury-wise, Saban hinted that the bye week came at a good time. “Ronnie Harrison and Dominick (Jackson) both had ankle sprains. The severity of those things are hard to determine. Maybe they’ll be able to go a little bit later in the week. Eddie Jackson had a (first half) knee sprain, but he came back and played in the game, so he’ll probably be okay.”
Saban said after Tennessee’s first two drives, defensive adjustments slowed down the success Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs was having running the ball. “I think that helped us a lot,” he said. “We were able to stop the run well enough.”
Asked about the keys to Bama’s game-clinching, 71-yard drive that ended in Henry’s second score from the 14, Saban said, “I think the third down conversions, especially the two fade routes, were really good catches and really good throws, and we were able to run the ball. Those third down conversions were huge.”
“We want to milk the clock as much as we can, because we were in a position to kick a field goal. They had three time outs, and most of the time the other coach is not going to let you take the time and the game.”
Tennessee got the ball back needing a touchdown with 2:24 left. “That’s plenty of time to go two-minute (offense),” Saban said. “I think when you get the negative plays, the sacks, and you put them behind the sticks, you can play zone, and it’s really helpful. We got a sack (by Ryan Anderson), and we got the ball out, and we got it down on the 4-yard line (on a fumble return by A'Shawn Robinson).”
Saban explained why he went into “Victory” formation and didn’t go for another touchdown after the late sack/recovery by saying, “The only way we were going to lose the game is on a fumble.” He then recounted a game years ago when Baylor had the ball inside the 5-yard line, tried to score, lost a fumble, and it was returned for a game-winning touchdown.
The Bama coach couldn’t help but notice the career day receiver Ardarius Stewart had (114 yards on six grabs). Saban said, “(Stewart) played great. He’s had a lot of opportunities to make big plays, and he’s had three or four big plays that were just missed. He made a big catch today, that came at a good time, and I’m sure that will help his confidence.”
Saban added that senior center Ryan Kelly’s return from concussion-like symptoms made a difference up front. “Ryan’s an important player for us,” he said. “He makes the line calls, and he makes the players around him better. They were playing an extra guy in the box almost all the time, so it made for tough sledding against the run.”
Happy his team got five sacks, Saban was also pragmatic. “They got five, and we got five, so that’s kind of a wash,” he said. “I think they were really important for us, because when we got them behind the sticks on defense, that’s when we played the best. When you take the sacks and the (six) penalties they got, that’s (over) ten negative plays, and those are drive-stoppers.”