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Nick Saban says injured Alabama players are ready to go for LSU

If you were concerned about senior tackle Dominick Jackson’s injury affecting the chemistry on Bama’s offensive line against No. 2 LSU Saturday, don’t be. He, and the other Tide player hobbled against Tennessee, freshman safety Ronnie Harrison, both seem good to go.

“Everybody practiced today, so we don't really have any injuries to report. We have to see how guys respond sometimes to the work that they did, so we'll do that tomorrow,” said Alabama Coach Nick Saban at his Wednesday, post-practice press conference. “All the guys that are injured have done more and more each day and gotten better and better, so hopefully they'll continue to improve. 

"The determination is how much they improve day to day based on how they did the day before and we've been very pleased with their progress. So we're hopeful that both guys will continue to progress and both guys will be able to play. I don't have a crystal ball to say the guy is going to be able to play the whole game and not have an issue or a problem. When it comes right down to it, a lot of it is about the player and whether he feels like he can go out there and do his job and compete. I know they're all going to want to play but they have to make their decision based on what's best for the team and being able to do their job."

Saban, his staff and his players are quite fired up for Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. ET kick on CBS. “We know this is going to be a great atmosphere for this game,” he said. “Two great football teams. We have a great venue here at Bryant-Denny Stadium, great fans. So if you're a competitor, these are the kind of games and opportunities you look forward to and you always remember. So we're excited to try to do the best job we can for our players."

Alabama is fourth in the first Playoff Poll, and as mentioned, the unbeaten Tigers are No. 2. Saban isn’t hearing it. “I don’t think the ranking means anything,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything, all it means is that you’ve created an opportunity to have a chance to finish the season and maybe have an opportunity to play in some other games that are big games. The players are smart enough to know that they need to stay focused on the game because if you don’t play well in every game that we have from here on out you won’t be ranked any more. So what good does it do, what does it mean? It means nothing I don’t even know why we have it. The only reason why we have it is for folks like you (media) to talk about it and write about it. That’s all it is, and ask questions about it. Other than that, what does it mean? Tell me what it means? Does that mean somebody’s getting to the playoff, or not getting into the playoff? It doesn’t mean anything. So until the end of the season I don’t have anything to say about that, I really don’t, because it doesn’t mean anything other than your team has done well enough to have a chance to create an opportunity for itself if they can finish the season the right way. That’s what it means.”

Last month in Athens, Alabama played arguably it’s best game of the season in a driving rain. With precipitation in the Saturday forecast, Saban says his team will be ready. “"We always do wet ball (drills). When we played at Georgia, you can track, you can do whatever you want, you can pray, you can go to church every day, you can do whatever you want. But at the end of the day, if it's going to rain, it's going to rain. I guarantee it. So you have to play the hand that's dealt to you. So I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about it. I do watch the Weather Channel every day. Not because we have a game on Saturday and it might rain. I have my coffee and two (Little) Debbie cookies and for 15 minutes I watch The Weather Channel. Which, out of the 15 minutes, probably eight of it is commercials, but I'm good with that."

Saban, his staff and team all expect a very physical matchup Saturday, which always seems to be the case when Les Miles and LSU come calling. Said Saban: “I think that’s probably true. We play a lot of physical teams in our league, but I think over the years LSU has had a very similar kind of team to our team, you know? We try and have a physical team, we try to recruit physical players and I think they try and do the same thing. There’s not a lot of tricking in what they do and we haven’t had a lot of tricking around here in what we do. The emphasis is on being able to execute. So they’ve had a lot of really good players, they have a really good players right now, and we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of really good players and it’s always been a really physical game.

“Games like this basically come down to who can execute the best, which is blocking, tackling, throwing and catching, covering people, playing on the line of scrimmage, winning on the line of scrimmage, turnovers, explosive plays, (and) you don't want to make mental errors and that type of thing. So everybody has to be ready to do their job and I think that regardless of how big the game is made out to be, the most important thing is that the players can stay focused on doing the things that are going to help them play well in the game. This is a great opportunity for our team to play against an outstanding team that's obviously one of the best teams in the country. They've certainly proved that with their body of work to this point. They've been dominant on offense in terms of their ability to run and throw the ball and their defense has played extremely well. The thing that's most important right now when you get down the stretch, can you stay focused on playing your best football? I'm talking about every day in practice, in preparation. Sometimes you get bored with all these things, but teams that can keep their energy and enthusiasm up and stay focused on doing things the right way and continuing to create good habits and not bad habits goes a long ways for being able to execute when the game comes.”

Will Saban and Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart load the box to try and slow down LSU Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette? Maybe, but there’s more to it than that, according to Saban. “I think that you have to mix it up a little bit because if you always put extra guys in the box they’re probably going to hurt you with the pass, and obviously the more guys you put into the box if (Fournette) breaks the line of scrimmage you’re going to have fewer guys to squeeze him, be able to tackle him, and get hopefully two guys with leverage on him so that you have a better chance to get him on the ground. So I think it’s a combination of those things, but I still think it goes back to whatever you’re playing everyone has to be disciplined in their eye control and their leverage on what they key, how they react and respond, and what kind of leverage they keep on the ball. 

“Eye control is important,” he said. “Everyone has keys – to key run-pass – and you have to do a good job with discipline and eye control so that if everyone releases and you read run-pass, you’re going to play pass defense if that’s your job. If you’ve got run support and they block, you do run support.  So everybody’s got to be disciplined in keying what they’re supposed to, and not looking at the wrong things. If you start looking at the quarterback and watching him fake the ball, that’s when you get fooled and someone pops out of the group behind you. They have some really good play-action passes and I think we have a lot of respect for their quarterback (Brandon Harris) and their receivers, and their ability to throw the ball. I think it’s just as important to stop those plays as it is the running game.”

Cary Clark contributed to this report.

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