“I didn’t play today,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban quipped. “Those good pass rushers that we talk about all the time; we knew that we were going to have to sub really, really fast, so when it was third down and we called ‘Dime Rabbits,’ some of those big guys come barreling off the sidelines. Well, Jonathan Allen barreled right into me one time. The athlete that I am, I was able to keep my feet, but I really couldn’t do anything about (the cut). The players were really concerned, but they know they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Saban was in a good mood after a big, but not beautiful victory against a division rival. “We’re always pleased with a win, especially on the road,” he said. “(Mississippi State quarterback) Dak Prescott is a really tough guy to defend. I know they gained a lot of yards today (393 to Bama’s 379), but our defense did a good job of not allowing a lot of points. We got them stopped… a couple of times inside the red zone, which I think is really important.
“There was only one significant play on special teams (Cyrus Jones’ 69-yard punt return for a score), and we got it.” When queried further, Saban said he had a feeling his punt return team, led by Jones, was close to breaking one as it did Saturday
“Our punt return was very effective the last few games,” he noted. “A couple of very positive returns have been nullified by penalties. Sometimes when you rush, you distort the coverage more than when you try to hold them up, because when you try to hold them up, they read you, and they all just take off running, so it becomes like a kickoff. We were rushing on (Jones’ returns). It was a block. It really got their coverage distorted, and Cyrus made one guy miss. They all were in a bunch, so he was ‘out the gate.’ Hopefully, that will continue to be a weapon for us.”
Saban said, “We didn’t play very well on offense in the first half. I think we played a little better in the second half. It was kind of a weird game… where every touchdown was a big play. I think the way Mississippi plays defense… they give you a lot of negative plays, but sometimes you get a hat on a hat, and you make a big play against them. We certainly did a good job of doing that a few times today.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we can learn from in this game. We got banged up a little bit. (Senior halfback) Kenyan Drake will be out for a couple or three weeks probably. We’re going to fix his arm (Sunday). He’s got a fractured arm. (Freshman defensive back) Minkah Fitzpatrick’s got a sprained knee. He may be out for a week. Reuben Foster (10 stops) hurt his wrist, but he was able to go back in the game. I’m assuming he’ll be OK, but don’t know that for sure.”
Regarding Drake, Saban said, “I know everybody’s going to say, ‘Why is he playing on the kickoff team?’ He’s one of the best cover guys on our team. Skill guys… make up most of your special teams, because those are you ‘matchup guys.’ (Drake) does a great job with it. His role on offense has been not what we thought it might be, even though he was doing more (lately). We had a guy get the same injury that (Drake) did; Alex Watkins a few years ago, and he played in a week. It’s going to be something that they have to repair.
“Playing defensive end’s a little different than running the ball, so I think we’ll just have to see how (the rehab) goes. Hopefully, in a couple or three weeks, we’ll know a lot more.”
Saban was proud of the way his team found a way to pull out the key road win. “I think our team showed a lot of resiliency to keep competing in the game even when things weren’t going very well,” he said. “(State) started out the game and moved the ball, and we didn’t move the ball much. We kept them off the board. The players showed resiliency by being able to stop them in the red zone and on the one-yard line. I thought the defensive line did a really good job; nine sacks but a lot of (four) pressures that really affected the quarterback.
“We thought the one thing that might be in our favor in this game was our defensive line against their offensive line, and we did most of (the pressure) with four guys rushing. We played eight or nine guys up front, but they all did a good job of pushing the pocket, and I think that was a real key to the game. When big guys get tired, their tank usually stays empty. When little guys get tired, five minutes later they’re ready to go back in the game.”
Derrick Henry, despite a slow start, finished with 202 yards on 22 carries and a pair of touchdowns on runs of 74 and 65 yards. Said Saban: “Early, we didn’t run the ball much. Obviously, their game plan was to stop us running the ball. They were going to force the quarterback and receivers to make plays. We dropped about four or five balls on some of those plays today. Those (passes) are not meant to be big plays, but they’re meant to be the same as a run. If you gain five yards on the play, you think it’s a good play. When you drop the ball, that’s not good.
“They had the box loaded most of the time, so we had to get to where we could just run the ball, period, which we did a better job of in the second half, and Derrick (Henry) did a good job of making some big play runs. As long as he is, he does a really good job of picking his way through holes. Once he gets rolling, he’s fast. He’s faster than people think, and faster than he looks. What you can always tell is, he out runs the angles, and that’s when you know somebody’s pretty fast.”
Preparation-wise, Saban said “We started out the week great. We had probably the best practices that we’ve had for any game all season, but it seemed like by the end of the week that our players seemed a little bit tired for whatever reasons. This is a tough preparation when you play against the spread/no huddle . We’re going fast, and everybody’s got to go further, especially on defense, on every play than when they just run a play up the middle.
“I thought we were a little flat going into the game, which is certainly my responsibility. I didn’t do a good enough job of getting these guys to respond the way we need to. What I tried to say to them was, ‘Look guys. You don’t get a gold medal for winning one game. You don’t get a gold medal for beating SOMEBODY. You get a gold medal when you beat EVERYBODY. You guys all think you beat LSU last week, but if we don’t beat Mississippi State, LSU beats us (for the SEC West), because they’ll probably win the division. Every game matters. They’re all important.’”
video provided by A.P. Steadham