The complaints were scarce and the compliments flowed freely when Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban took the podium following his top-ranked Alabama team’s 51-3 home win over Mississippi State Saturday.
“I was really pleased with the way we got started today,” Saban said. “It’s been a long time since we scored a touchdown in the first quarter. We always worry about a little ‘relief syndrome’ after that (LSU) game last week, but I was really pleased with the way our players came out and really started fast.
“We didn’t finish the first drive, but we moved the ball effectively and really did a good job.
“Jalen (Hurts) had a really good day today. One of the things we’ve been wanting to do is try to develop some confidence in the passing game. He was able to do that very well today. That was really a positive for us. Jalen also had something that’s never been done here before: 100 yards rushing and 300 yards passing (in one game), so that’s something we can be proud of.”
Hurts ran for 100 yards and threw for 347 while completing 28-of-37 passes. He threw four touchdown passes and one interception and rushed for a 4-yard touchdown.
Sophomore tailback Bo Scarbrough was held out, but Saban said he was “almost ready to return” to action. There were no new injuries of note Saturday, but Saban said experimentation continues at right guard, where Korren Kirven started and both Josh Casher and Lester Cotton saw action. Saban said Cotton was in a black injury jersey much of the week and missed practice time as a result.
When asked about midweek conversations he had with Hurts about improving the passing game, Saban took the opportunity to clear things up politically. “You guys… I didn’t say ‘stuff he was missing in the passing game.’ I said we just took some plays and looked at them and said, ‘What were we supposed to do here, and what did we do (against LSU)?’ We had a lot of positive self talk, but we’ve also got to learn lessons about more specific things to execute the offense, and that’s what we talked about. (Saban told a booster group Friday that the conversations centered around reads on running plays.)”
And then it was on to clarify Saban’s interesting statement this week that he didn’t realize that Tuesday was election day:
He said, “I never said I didn’t vote (Tuesday). But now that’s like a big story all over the country. I got an absentee ballot because Tuesday’s our biggest work day and game plan day, and I forgot it was Election Day until I got home at 11 o’clock at night. I don’t know how all these things get sort of twisted around. I guess it makes a better story.”
And then back to the conversation with his quarterback:
“We really didn’t talk about the passing game. I told (Hurts) one of the things we wanted to do this week was … we wanted to focus more on better preparation, and maybe some extra meeting time., so he felt a little more confident in his understanding of the expectation of what he needed to do to help us, and I think that paid off (Saturday). Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that .
“I think (Hurts) did a good job. I think on the interception he threw, the receiver was supposed to go underneath, which is what (Hurts) expected him to do, but the (defender) cut the receiver off, so when you’re throwing those long balls, you’ve got to anticipate. It looked like a bad throw, but really it was a combination of not getting things accomplished in the route running like he anticipated.
“I thought (Hurts) made a lot of good throws today, and I thought the explosive plays were huge in the game.”
Asked about the performance of junior corner Anthony Averett, Saban said, “I thought he did a really good job. I thought our guys kept their receivers cut off, which is what we coach (them) to do. We got called for a couple of pass interference penalties today where I thought the guys were in really good position, but it is what it is. We just have to do a better job. But I thought Anthony did a good job. He didn’t give up any plays. We gave up a big play playing ‘Cover Two’ where we didn’t jam people up like we need to, but there’s a lot of things we can improve on. There’s a lot of work that we have to do. We’re going to continue to try to get better and improve. We need everybody to play their position a little bit better.”
Queried about the way his defense slowed down State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald after Fitzgerald’s impressive performance last week against Texas A&M, Saban said, “I thought the defensive staff did a really good job in preparation. I think a lot of plays that they run, we run, and are similar plays to what Jalen (Hurts) runs in practice. We always practice against each other, so we kind of see and know things that make it more difficult to run those plays.
“It takes a tremendous amount of discipline defensively for everybody to play their responsibility. A lot of these plays are very similar to old option football, where somebody had the dive, somebody had the quarterback, and somebody had the pitch. When people don’t stay focused and do their job, that’s when big plays come out. When you add the run/pass options and the zone read, where the quarterback carries the ball, and for them to run ‘sliders’ where the guy comes back and blocks the guy that has the quarterback, everybody’s got to do their job, because you don’t have two people. You have one (to cover), and I thought our players did a really good job of that today.”
Fitzgerald completed only 10-33 passes with 1 interception for 145 yards and had 11 rushes for 15 net yards. He came into the game as the fifth-leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference.
About true freshman Trevon Diggs’ late jet sweep touchdown, Saban said, “Trevon’s been a really good player for us all year long, and he contributed in spots early on when we were down on defensive backs. He played both ways, and that probably inhibited his growth as a receiver. Now that he’s played there for four or five weeks, he’s making really good progress and doing a nice job for us. We’re gaining more and more confidence in his ability to contribute. It probably did a lot for his confidence today to score a touchdown.”
Speaking of touchdowns, junior receiver Ardarius Stewart caught three of them, tying a school single game record. Said Saban: “(Stewart) did a nice job. He’s a very explosive player who’s gone through some injuries and battled some things this year. He missed a couple of games, but I think he’s back healthy now. He and Calvin Ridley and O.J. Howard are guys that we need to get the ball to and they need to make explosive plays. We were able to get that done today.
“(Stewart) is fast, and he’s got really good hands. I know he had a drop today, which he’s probably very disappointed in, but I thought he had a fantastic day today.” Stewart gained 156 on eight grabs, including a 67-yard score on a jet sweep, which, like a Utah pass, is considered a pass play.
Saban was also pleased with the consistency shown by senior kicker Adam Griffith, who made all three field goal attempts from 30, 28 and 39 yards Saturday. However, some weren’t pretty. “Adam’s kicked the ball very well in practice,” Saban noted. “I know he kicked a couple of low ones today, which is really not his style. He usually kicks the ball and it gets up there quickly. That’s one of the things that we really like about the way he kicks. The field was a little bit soft today, and I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but he did line drive a couple even though he made them.
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“We have a lot of confidence in (Griffith). We just have to continue to encourage him with his plant foot and his technique, and believe in him and trust in him so that he can be consistent and make some of these field goals.”
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