Stuart McNair

Coach Nick Saban says Alabama focus is on improvement

What No. 1 Alabama has done to date doesn’t matter

This isn’t THE week. That comes next week when Alabama has its final road trip of the regular season, going to LSU. In recent years, the Alabama-LSU game has had the biggest influence on both the Southeastern Conference and national championships.

No. 1 Alabama (8-0 overall and 5-0 in SEC games) and No. 19 LSU (5-2, 3-1) will meet in Tiger Stadium at 7 p.m. CDT Nov. 5 with CBS televising the game.

Both teams have open dates this week.

Alabama returned to the practice field Tuesday and will also practice Wednesday and Thursday before getting a short break.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said following Tuesday’s work, “I think the most important thing about a week like this is we've got to have grit to keep doing the things that you need to do until you get it done. The thing that we need to focus on right now is improvement. The errors that we continue to make in games are correctible things that would be very beneficial to us that we need to eliminate. Hopefully we do that by repetitions. I always tell the players, ‘You don't do something until you get it right; you do it and do it and do it until you can't get it wrong.’

“Some of it is focus, some of it is discipline, some of it is attention to detail. We had eight penalties in [Alabama’s 33-14 win over Texas A&M Saturday] that were false starts, offsides on defense -- unforced errors, I call them, and things that we need to do a better job of…so that we don't help the other team.

“I think that the key thing for us right now is you can't fall in love with what you've done. You've got to focus on the future and the challenges that you have. There's nothing that you've done in the past that's going to help you in the future other than the experience that you got, the learning experiences that you got to try to help you get better.”

So far, so good. Saban said, “The practice was good today. I was happy with the players in terms of what they were able to do.”

Saban listed some areas where he thinks the Tide can make improvement in the off week. He said, “I think that there's specific things that we look at, whether it's how we play the run statistically against a certain front, how we play a coverage statistically versus certain formations. What our efficiency is in the red zone. What our efficiency offensively is in the red zone.

“You can take just about everything that you have and you break it down and look at it and try to figure out how you can improve it, how you can coach it better.

“I think that one of the things that we have as a goal this week is to try to work hard on the passing game, be a little more efficient getting the ball to our explosive guys down the field, which to me is not just about the quarterback. It's about the protection. It's about the route runners. It's about quarterback reads. It's about timing. It's about a lot of things that need to come together.

“But we analyze every running play that we have, what's our average, what's our efficiency. There's a difference between average and efficiency, because if you have one 75-yard play and then 10 zero plays, it's not very good efficiency but it's still a pretty good average. We kind of break it down both ways, see if it's something that we're coaching that we need to do better or how can we do what we're doing in a better way.

It has been well-documented that Saban addressed the issue of defending the proliferation of fast-paced offensive teams by recruiting more of what he calls “quick-twitch” players. That’s to say, in many instances, smaller players.

That’s not what’s needed against LSU.

Saban said, “We probably don't have as many big guys as we've had in the past, because we were built in the past for teams like LSU who were I-formation, run downhill, very physical offensive line. We're going to have to do a really good job with our guys up front. I think we've got some guys that can hang in there and play that type of game. Some of them played last year.

“It'll be a challenge for us, but I think it all starts with the interior people holding the point and the linebackers doing a good job of reading the play. You've got to do a good job of tackling. You've got to do a good job of playing team defense when you play against a team like LSU, who's very good at running the ball and has got two great backs.

“This will be a big challenge for us. Last year, we had enough speed that we could play the spread teams and we had enough big guys that we could do the other thing. This year we don't have quite as much depth in that regard, but I still think we've got guys that can play it.”

LSU has changed head coaches since the start of the season, the Tigers firing longtime head coach Les Miles after a quirky loss to Auburn and elevating longtime defensive coach Ed Orgeron to head coach.

Saban said that is an issue in preparation.

“We're going to look at what they did prior to and after the coaching change, but we have a lot of respect for their players, their coaches, for Coach Orgeron and what he's done in the past and how they've played since he's been the coach.

“And they have played really, really well.

“This is going to be a really tough game for us. They're probably playing as well as anybody in our league. It's a little different style that we have to play against that we haven't played against a lot this year. That in and of itself is a really difficult preparation. They are doing some things differently but it's not really stuff that we have never seen before.

“But they have really good players. That's the biggest problem. They've got really good receivers. The quarterback is playing well for them. They've got two really, really good runners. The tight ends can block really well and are athletic and they've got a really good offensive line.

“Their defense is one of the best in our league. They're well coached. They play a new scheme on defense this year. That hasn't changed at all.

“It's a good team.”

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