To the surprise of no one, Alabama Coach Nick Saban leaves no stone unturned in any aspect of his job, including preparation for an upcoming game. Saban is in the unusual position of preparing for a team that has defeated the Crimson Tide each of the past two season.s
Alabama, ranked first in the nation, takes on No. 17 Ole Miss in Oxford at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday, a game that will be televised by CBS.
On Wednesday, Saban took questions from reporters on the weekly Southeastern Conference teleconference. One question was whether the scouting report on the Rebels would come from Mississippi’s first two games this year – a loss to Florida State and a romp of Wofford – or from examination of the 2014 and 2015 games.
“We do a combination of both,” Saban said. “We try to do a great study on what they’re doing now currently with this team but you also try to develop a scouting report on what they’ve done in the past and what has hurt you in the past.
“The big thing that is very apparent to me in the last couple of years is we’ve given up big plays that have made a big difference in the game. Last year we had three that were really, really big plays And the year over there, we had a couple, especially in the second half, that got them back in the game and got the momentum of the game turned around.
“If there’s anything I’ve seen in the past, it’s that their ability to make big plays against us has had a real huge impact on the outcome.”
Prior to taking questions, Saban said, “We’re obviously very excited to be getting into SEC play and this is a very challenging game for us against a very good Ole Miss team that can present a lot of problems for you on offense as well as defense. Very well coached. This is not only an SEC game but it’s a division game. It’ll be interesting to see how we travel and play on the road in what promises to be a very difficult venue. But we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
As expected, Saban was asked about Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, considered best at his position in the SEC.
Saban said, “First off he’s a really, really good competitor and he does a great job of executing their offense. He’s smart, he’s very instinctive, makes quick decisions about where he throws the ball and he throws the ball very efficiently and effectively. I can’t compare him to other quarterbacks around the country but I certainly think this guy’s a guy that will certainly get a good opportunity at the next level.”
Alabama’s secondary is expected to have its biggest challenge Saturday.
In defeating Southern Cal and Western Kentucky, Saban said, “I think we’ve played pretty well as a defensive team all the way around. In these first games, I don’t think we’ve been challenged like we’ll be challenged this week.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job on the back end. We did give up a couple of explosive plays. I think the key to playing well against a team like Ole Miss with the kind of offense they play, it takes a tremendous amount of disciplined eye control for you to make sure you do your responsibility because every time you don’t, they seem to be able to take advantage of it, especially with their quarterback. This will be the greatest challenge that we’ve had with this group.”
Saban, like most coaches, believes games are often won in the trenches, offensive front against defensive front.
Regarding the Ole Miss defensive line, he said, “This is by far the best front we’ve played against. They’ve got good pass rushers. They’ve got really good quickness up front. They’ve got some bigger guys that can thump and play the run. To me, the basic, fundamental execution that we need to improve on up front --whether it’s steps, footwork, hand placement, finishing blocks, making the right line calls so that we give ourselves the best chance to have a successful play. Pass protection will be critical against this group because of the pass rushers that they have. This is going to be a real test for this group.”
As for the Mississippi offensive line, Saban said, “I think that it’s a very talented group. I think that they do a really good job of executing their offense. I think that Florida State had a guy they had a difficult time blocking, No. 44 (DE DeMarcus Walker), and he really impacted the game a little bit. But this is a very capable group. They probably don’t have quite as much experience as they’ve had in the past, and we’re dealing with some of the same issues with our offensive line. To get them to play together is probably what their coaches are trying to do, and that’s the same thing we’re trying to do.
“They get the ball out quick, and Chad Kelly does a really good job of making quick decisions and getting the ball out. It’s always an issue. On third down, I think you’ve got a little bit better chance to get some rush, especially if they’ve got to throw the ball down the field, which they do a very, very good job of.
“You can’t get frustrated with this. You’ve got to keep pushing the pocket and on the pass plays they’ve got a lot of perimeter plays to get the ball on the perimeter and use their speed well, which now it becomes a perimeter game and it’s a little bit different for the offensive line. It’s a good scheme that they have and it’s going to be challenging for our guys. We’ll have to have all 11 guys doing a good job of playing disciplined football if we're going to have a chance to have any kind of success against them.”