Stuart McNair

Alabama will take short break for Christmas before returning to practice in Dallas

Alabama Coach Nick Saban hopes that his team will have had enough practice, but not too much practice, in preparation for Cotton Bowl game against Michigan State in College Football Playoff semifinals Dec. 31

On Dec. 5, Alabama defeated Florida to win the Southeastern Conference championship and earn the second seed in the College Football Playoff. A half dozen or so bowl games have been played, but the Crimson Tide still has 10 days to go before facing Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31, a semifinal game in the playoff for the national championship. Just under four weeks is quite a layoff for a team that played 13 games in 14 weeks to reach this point.

Alabama returned to practice last week and will work early Tuesday before a three-day Christmas break. The Tide will reassemble and travel to Dallas Dec. 26 and have what Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban called “pretty much a normal week for game preparation.”

Following Monday’s practice, Saban said, “This has been a good week. We had good work today. We were fortunate to be able to go outside a couple of days,  which I think the players probably welcomed a little bit. {They] get a little tired of practicing in the indoor facility all the time. But we got a couple of good days work outside.

“Each day this week, these last three practices and tomorrow, we try to take something that Michigan State does and expose our players to it, and so far that's going pretty well. It kind of keeps their attention every day. It gives us something to focus on and work on.

“I've been pleased with the work ethic, the way we've kind of gone about the focus that we have.”

Alabama is in good shape on the injury front. Saban said a few players had missed a little work, but that he expected everyone to be ready to go Tuesday and when the team gets to Dallas.

He said, “We’re kind of pleased with where we are right now.”

That’s not because of what he’s seen of Michigan State, champion of the Big 10 and, like Alabama, bringing a 12-1 record to the Cotton Bowl.

Saban said, “The more we look at Michigan State, we have a tremendous amount of respect for their team. Their quarterback is really a good player. They've got good skill guys. They've got great balance on offense. Their defensive front guys really play well. Hard to block. They run well, they play with really great toughness as a team.

“I think our players really respect the team that they're going to play and are really focused on what they have to do to have a chance to be successful at it.”

Both the Tide and the Spartans have had the same amount of time between conference championship games and the Cotton Bowl. Saban was asked how he prevents rust with a long layoff.

“I’ve kind of been full circle on it,” he said. “We used to probably practice too much when I was at Michigan State, and we didn't do very well in bowl games. We tried to carry the momentum of the season to the game and practice two or three days here, take some days off; practice two or three days; and just keep practicing. And by the time we got to the game, everybody was sick of practicing.

“And then we sort of took the approach that worked a lot better, that it's kind of a one-game season and we just take off and when we start practicing, we practice. That worked really well for us for a long time. The last two years, that hasn't worked too well. This year we're sort of staying with the one-game theory but trying to get the players to be a little bit more focused and understand the purpose of why we're doing what we're doing. And that's worked out pretty well so far.”

Saban added, “The layoff is what it is. The days off are what they are. We try to pick a number of days that we feel like we need relative to the number of days the players have off to get them back where they were when we stopped playing. I feel good about how that’s worked out so far. Now, they’re gonna have three days off after tomorrow. We’re going to come back and have four.

“I’m hopeful that we didn’t practice too much and we practiced enough to get them where they need to be.

“But until you actually play the game, I don’t think you know for sure whether you did that or not.”

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