At half time of Alabama’s 30-12 Iron Bowl win over Auburn Saturday, most expected an old fashioned Nick Saban “ass-chewing” for players and coaches alike with Bama up only 13-9. Didn’t happen.
“At half time, I guess everybody thought I was going to throw a fit,” Saban said, “but I just really told the guys, ‘Look, guys. All we’ve got to do is go out there and play with some poise and confidence. Trust and believe in how we do things, what we do, and everybody’s got to go do their job. We have too many guys that are making mistakes like not blocking the right guys. We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage in the second half, and control the game.’
“I think our offensive line did a good job of that in the second half. Bo Scarbrough (90 yards, 17 carries) did a good job in the second half. I think all of our backs did. We made adjustments (at the half). We ran the ball more. We ran the tailbacks a lot more. We didn’t run the quarterback (Jalen Hurts) nearly as much. We settled down into some basic things that we do, and allowed our players to execute. I thought they did a really good job.
“We competed a lot better in the second half,” Saban said. “This is a game that really means a lot to a lot of people in this state, and I’m certainly happy for our supporters and our fans… that they can be happy about the victory that we had today. I’m really proud of the way that our guys competed.
“Our guys did a really good job, and I think we controlled the line of scrimmage pretty well. (Auburn) didn’t have a lot of explosive runs. We did a good job of keeping edges on the defense. I think our players did a really good job of playing together as a team, which is really important when you play this kind of (rushing) offense. Everybody’s got to do their job.
“I was really concerned that we’d be able to stop these guys, and I was really proud of the way our (defensive) guys played in the game (while holding Auburn to 182 yards total offense). We gave up a couple of big (passing) plays in the second half, but we actually drew the plays up (at the half) and they hit us on them. We said ‘They’re going to run these plays,’ and they did, and we didn’t defend (two) very well. We were in the best (defense) we could have been in to stop the run, but not the pass. We knew those (deep) shots were coming, and we got them. We’ve coached against that staff for several years, now. There were a lot of difficult adjustments for this game. They do a lot of things on offense that are difficult to adjust to.
“This is a great win, and I want our players to enjoy. We also have a big challenge coming up next week. This (SEC Championship Game) is sort of like being in the playoffs.”
Speaking of playoffs, Saban got the dreaded question of if his team would still make the four-team field if it lost to Florida in Atlanta next week. His response was vintage Saban: “I hate it when you say that,” he opined. “I hate it when they put that on TV, radio, internet, or any kind of communication. Look, I’m really proud of our team, but really, the legacy of the team still lies ahead in terms of what they can accomplish, and what they can do. I don’t want to minimize the fact that it’s a significant fact to have an undefeated (regular) season, but I also think that there is a lot more out there for team, in terms of SEC Championship, which we still hold in very high esteem. I think (winning the SEC game) is a great accomplishment for any team. That’s our next focus. Whatever happens from there, happens from there.
“You can’t really fall in love with what you just did. You’ve got to look to the next challenge. As proud as I am of the team and what they’ve accomplished, I know how important it is for all of them and to us as coaches to try to do the best job that we can to finish the season, and accomplish some other things that are pretty significant as well.”
Saban praised the play of his reserve defensive backs, corner Levi Wallace and safety Deionte Thompson. Wallace came in for an injured Marlon Humphrey, who Saban said could have returned and should be OK. The nature of Humphrey’s injury was not disclosed. Thompson replaced Tony Brown, who was ejected for targeting in the first half.
“Every one of our (backup) guys did a good job today, and I was very pleased with that,” Saban said. “They didn’t give up any of the big plays (Auburn) made.”
Ardarius Stewart had a big game with 127 yards receiving on 10 grabs, including a 38-yard touchdown catch and run on fourth down to put the Tigers away. It was the junior’s second straight 100-plus yard day through the air, as he did the same against Mississippi State before sitting out against Chattanooga.
“(Stewart) played great today,” said Saban. “He’s been very productive for us. He didn’t play in the last game, but he certainly came back and competed well. He’s done the things that we asked him to do, and we’re really pleased with the year he’s had, in total. He’s a guy that’s a really good competitor, and I think it means a lot to him. The example that he sets is beneficial to our unit.”
Saban and his staff will now turn their eyes to the Florida Gators, who they will face in Atlanta next week for the SEC title at the Georgia Dome. “Florida’s got a really good team. They’ve got a really good defensive team, and they’ve got good all-around players. That’s going to be another tough test for us. Hopefully, we can get some guys healthy enough that we’ll have a representative team that will play in that (SEC title) game.”
The 10th-year Tide coach added that he was especially moved pregame when the mom of walk-on running back Lawrence Erekosima showed up for her son’s senior day. She is deployed overseas in the military and her son did not know she was coming. Saban said, “It almost made me cry.”
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Judging by crowd and sideline responses, he was not alone.
Video by A.P. Steadham