Alabama Coach Nick Saban knows that his No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide football team will be challenged by Ole Miss. He sees it as an opportunity.
Alabama will meet Mississippi in Oxford at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in a game that will be televised by CBS.
As has been repeated over and over, the Rebels have two consecutive wins over Alabama. The Crimson Tide, in spite of those losses, has won back-to-back Southeastern Conference championships and one national championship. It is the national titles for which Bama teams are remembered, and the Tide has four in the last seven years under Saban.
Can the 2016 team achieve that level?
Following Wednesday’s practice, Saban said, “Great players, great teams, they're respected, they're revered, remembered by what they've accomplished and what they've done. That comes from their commitment to excellence and the standard that they have in terms of everything that they do. This is not something that you can buy, you can't borrow, you can't find it anywhere, it has to come from within you.
“I think every team has to prove that they have that. This will be a great opportunity for us to see.
“I believe that we have it, but it comes from within you and we have to try and get it out of our guys. That's what it's going to take in this game on the road against a very good team.”
The preparation bodes well for Alabama. Saban said, "We've had a better week of practice. Players have been more focused.
“This is a difficult preparation, trying to get the scout team to do no-huddle for the offense and trying to work out some of the bugs and some of the mistakes that we need to get corrected from a week ago in terms of our ability to execute with any kind of consistency, which this week will be compounded a bit by the fact that we're playing on the road, compounded by the fact that we'll have to deal with noise and also the fact that it's going to take greater focus and concentration to be able to go out there and execute play in and play out.
“This team will be tested by a very good team. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Freeze (Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze) and the job he's done with his team in terms of the quality of players they have as well as how well they're coached.”
The big question concerns whether Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is ready for his first starting job on the road in a key Southeastern Conference game. Saban gives him a thumbs up.
"The one thing that I like about Jalen is that he's got a good disposition about playing the next play,” Saban said. “We're going through a learning curve with him to get him to be confident and understand and make choices and decisions that are going to be beneficial to him and the offense. It's going to be a work in progress, but the thing that I like about him is that he doesn't get frustrated. He doesn't get all discombobulated. He has a lot of poise. I think he has a lot of inner confidence. He believes that he can do it. It's important to him. He wants to do it. We have to trust that that's going to help him develop and do the kind of things that he needs to do. We're going to support him to do everything in this game that he needs to do.”
The coach added, “And if Blake (Barnett) has to play, we're going to support him as well."
As has often been pointed out, a quarterback is often only as good as the men around him. No one questions Alabama’s receiving corps, but there have been questions about a rebuilt offensive line. In the first two games, the starting five in the offensive line have been the same – left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Lester Cotton, center Bradley Bozeman, right guard Ross Pierschbacher, and right tackle Jonah Williams.
Only Robinson is a starter at the same position he played last year. Pierschbacher was a starter at left guard in all 15 Bama games last year, then spent all spring and most of fall camp at center before going to right guard and allowing Bradley Bozeman to move to center. Alphonse “Shank” Taylor was the starting right guard in all 15 games last year, but was demoted in the spring ans suspended for Alabama’s season-opening game. Last week he replaced Pierschbacher in the second half against Western Kentucky.
Saban was asked if there has been a shakeup in the starting offensive line lineup.
The coach said, "Last week we played Shank half the game at right guard. [This week]we practiced Ross back at left guard, Shank at right guard, Lester Cotton at left guard, and we feel confident in all three of those players. Obviously, Shank and Ross have more experience because they started for a whole season and I think that experience may be beneficial to them in this game, but we have not decided who we're starting at both positions yet."
Although Robinson is an All-America candidate as he begins his third year as a starter at left tackle, he has an unsettling summer after an arrest in his hometown of Monroe, La. The charges involving drugs and having an unregistered, stolen gun were dropped, it was, nevertheless, a distraction.
Saban was asked about Robinson, but turned it into a general question about the tackles. He said, "I think our two tackles have played very well. I think Cam has played well. He was the player of the week in the first week I think, and Jonah has played very well. I think that we really have to do a better job inside. That's where the inexperience has been. Guys are playing new positions and hopefully it's going to be real important that we can do that in this game."
Another issue (with media and fans, at least) is the seemingly slow start by tailback Bo Scarbrough, who had widely been expected to move into the starting spot held by Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry last year. Scarbrough ranks third in rushing after two games with 16 carries for 55 yards (3.4 yards per carry) with two touchdowns, but a long run of only 9 yards.
"I don't think he really has any issues,” Saban said. “I think you all create an expectation to people that there's no basis for. You do that for a lot of guys. It puts a lot of pressure on them, creates a lot of anxiety for them. What we're trying to do here is get guys to develop and be able to comfortable and develop and gain the knowledge and experience that they need to go out there and play with confidence, play fast. We think Bo has a lot of potential and we're going to keep working with him so he can be a very productive player for us. So I don't think he has any issues. I think he has issues created to the expectation that you created for him. But that's not what we're all about here."
Saban also said, “We don't have any injuries to talk about.” Which is not really the same as “We don’t have any injuries.”