“I’m really pleased with the way our guys came out and played today, because we’ve been really lackluster in games like this, especially this time of year,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban began. “I told them, ‘If you’re not inspired to play every play that you play, you’re kind of cheating yourself, because of who you are, and how you compete.’ I was pleased with how we went out there, and executed well. Charleston Sothern’s) guys really play well, and they believe in what they do, and they do it well. I thought our guys did a better job (against) the option, which is hard to simulate.
“We got to play a lot of players (73 in all) on both sides of the ball. That’s something that we really needed to do in this game, to get those guys some experience, and to get those (backups) ready to play down the road. “
Saturday was Senior Day at Bryant-Denny, with an announced crowd of 100,611 on hand to help Saban say goodbye. “I thought it was great to recognize our seniors,” he said. “They’ve made a tremendous contribution to our program, not only on the field, but the ways they’ve represented off the field and in the classroom, and the kind of ambassadors they’ve been for the University and the program.”
Among the backups who saw significant action were running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. Saban, as always, had a plan. “We wanted to get those guys in the game, and get them to play as early and as often as we could,” he said. “We didn’t play Derrick (Henry) that much, but I think it was more important to get the other guys the experience.
“We were just kind of going by the scoreboard (on when to sub for Henry). We were going to play Damien (Harris) early, and sort of roll him in, so he played early some. When we got ahead by 21 or 28 or so, we made sure to sit some of the (starters) down, and made sure we gave some of the other guys ample opportunities to develop.”
Likely playing his final Bryant-Denny game, Henry had two touchdowns and 96 total yards. “He’s had a good year,” Saban said. “It wasn’t his fault that we didn’t give him a lot of opportunities today, but he did score (two) touchdowns. He’s been a very productive player for us. He works hard, he’s got a great attitude, and he cares a lot about the team. He’s a great competitor, and hopefully he’ll be able to continue and finish the year like we’d all like to finish the year, by continuing to be productive and continue to improve”
Korren Kirven, rather than Dominick Jackson, started at right tackle. Saban explained, “Korren (Kirven) did a really good job. He has developed very nicely at tackle. We had enough confidence to play him at tackle, and leave Brandon Green to play some tight end (though Greene later played right tackle). It was good experience for (Kirven). He was a defensive player that we moved over in the spring, and he has really done a nice job. He’s been at left tackle, but we moved him over to right.
“Dominick (Jackson’s) hurt his ankle in the Tennessee game. He was able to play against LSU, and he was able to play against Mississippi State, but he struggled this week to be able to practice as much as we thought he needed to. We felt like it would be better that we not play him today, and hopefully have a chance to get him healthy for (Auburn).”
Perhaps the man who made the most of his Senior Day was cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones, who took two punts back for scores for a total of 115 yards and picked off a pitch and nearly scored a third time. Said Saban: “We’ve had issues and problems in the past of trying to get those balls fielded when they rugby punt. We really wanted to do a good job of holding the guys up at the line, which I think we did. We had two guys (Jones and Richard Mullaney) back there deep to keep the ball from rolling so much, and they both did a good job of that. One ball actually hit (Maurice Smith). I saw the bean bag go down (signaling a free ball), and Cyrus (Jones) picked it up and ran for a touchdown. On the other (touchdown return), he did a really good job of getting a good hop, fielding the ball. Cyrus has got really good running skills. He was a receiver when he first came here. The last two weeks we’ve made some really big plays in the punt return game, and I think that’s something we want to continue to build on.”
Asked how all three phases (offense, defense and special teams) have begun to “hit their stride” in the three weeks since the bye week, Saban said, “You’re only as good as your last play. I like the progress of the team, but we’ve got to continue to be able to execute and play with consistency. We’ve got a big challenge playing on the road in a rivalry game (at Auburn), one of the best rivalries in the country, next week. We’ve got to just keep trying to improve and focus on getting better.
“I don’t think anybody thought after the Ole Miss game that this team would be in the position that its in right now, which is a tribute to the good job that the coaches have done, and the hard work the players have done to improve and do the things that allow us to play winning football on a more consistent basis.”
Saban then fielded a pair of questions about next week’s Iron Bowl. The first was about how his defense matches up with Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn’s quick paced offense. “I’m not prepared to (answer) that right now, because I haven’t watched them yet,” Saban noted. “As coaches, we tried to do a good job (preparing for) this game for our players as any other game.
“Tomorrow, we’ll start working on that game. I think it’s important that our defense play as well as they’ve been playing against what I know is a very difficult offense to defend, so that they all do what they need to do to defend it, do a good job of tackling, and everybody playing their responsibility. That’s always a challenge, every time we play this (type) offense.
Asked about the efficency of his first offensive unit Saturday, Saban was understandably pleased with a group that put five touchdowns on the board in the first half. “We wanted to try to throw the ball a little bit, and work on the passing game some,” he said. “We didn’t get to do it as much as we’d liked. When we did do it, I thought the players did a good job of executing. That’s probably something that from a protection stand point, from a route-running standpoint, and from just a consistency standpoint, we need to be able do that, so we can have a balance offensively that we need when we play a good defensive team, like we will (next) week.”
Asked about preparing for rivalry games, Saban said, “I think you’ve got to focus on trying to play your best. Don’t get affected by some of the emotional aspects that sometimes surround these kind of (rivalry) games. Focus on what you need to do to execute and do your job well. Everybody on the team’s got to be responsible to do that, and have the right mind set to play the kind of game that these games are when it comes to physical, tough fights. You’ve got to expect that in these kind of games, but I also have seen these kind of games where guys get so wired emotionally that they don’t do a good job of executing, or they run out of gas at some point in the game. I really do think you’ve got to just focus on execution and playing your best football. Have the expectation that it’s going to be a really tough game, and you’re going to have to fight for fifteen rounds.”
Video provided by A.P. Steadham