Stuart McNair

Grind of pre-Peach Bowl conversation is winding down

Alabama’s Nick Saban calls Washington Tide’s biggest game

ATLANTA -- They’ve been practicing all week. They’ve been through the interview grind. Alabama Coach Nick Saban and his players are ready to face Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl National Semifinal. They’ve faced each other and the media enough.

“This is a quality experience, a great opportunity to play in a big game,” Saban said at the bowl’s Media Day Thursday at the Georgia Dome. “The biggest game we've played all year, no doubt, as a playoff game. I think our players are looking forward to it, and we're certainly looking forward to the challenges that the University of Washington brings and this game brings for our players.”

After 77-old Kansas Coach Bill Snyder beat Texas A&M last night, the 65-year old Saban was asked  if he’d still be coaching at Sndyer’s age. His response was vintage Saban.

“I can’t guarantee I’ll be alive at 77,” he said, “but I want to do the  best I can for as long as I can.”

Back to current season topics, f reshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a hot topic all season. Thursday, Saban was asked about the 18-year old’s development since arriving a year ago. “I think Jalen has grown in probably all areas as a player,” Saban noted. “Certainly, his leadership, his command and understanding of the offense. We're a little more diverse now than we were early on when he played. We had to focus a lot on quarterback runs and only certain types of passes.

“As the season has gone on, we have tried to develop him as a passer in terms of reading, being more comfortable in the pocket. I think he's made significant progress in those areas. It will be certainly important in this game because of their ball-hawking type secondary and the way they break on the ball and that he does a really good job with his eyes as well as understanding where to go with the ball.”

Saban said the Huskies present challenges on both sides of the ball. “I think that this is, by far, the best all-around team that we've played all year long,” Saban said. “They score 44.5 points a game on offense. They've got a really good quarterback. They've got really good skill players on offense at the receiver and running back positions. They've got lots of speed. They make a lot of explosive plays, very well-designed concepts offensively in terms of what they do and how they execute it extremely well.

“When you go on the other side of the ball, they're one of the top defensive teams in the country in terms of points allowed, number one in takeaway ratio, turnover ratio for the whole season. They play smart. They're very physical. They don't make a lot of mistakes on defense. And they're a good tackling team. So all these things contribute to the success that they have. Their two inside players are really physical guys that you know, create some issues for you inside. This is a really, really good all-around team.  

“When you get to special teams, because they have good skill players on offense, they have good returners and they have good specialists and they do a good job in all phases of the game. You don't have to watch much (tape) to see how challenging a team this is to prepare for and to play against and to have success against.”

An interesting answer came when Saban was asked what he thought about Media Day itself.

“I love seeing you all,” he said, seemingly seriously. “I think you do a significant amount of positive things for our players in terms of providing interest for fans, as well as a lot of positive self-gratification for the things that they do, and we certainly appreciate that. No doubt. So I love all of you.”

Back to the game itself, outside linebacker Tim Williams (20.5 career sacks) said being at Alabama four years has more than prepared him for the type of pressure a national semifinal presents. “The pressure of winning a national championship probably doesn't equal up to the pressure that (Coach Nick) Saban puts on us every day in practice to be great,” he said “We trust in ‘the process,’ knowing that we do this in a certain way, that's it's a million -- not a million, but a couple teams he's coached before that won a championship that done the same thing. The blueprint is right there, so all we got to do is trust in the process.”

Williams said Saban taught him to “Always be what you feel. Can't be thinking about, you know, other things, external sources that they're going to distract you from your main mission, your main goal.

“(Saban) always preaches to us that these big games we are having, going undefeated, so the pressure is right there every game. And just the way he's just calm but always disciplined. That's the main thing. He's a general.”

Sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley (66 catches, 727 yards, seven TD’s) said the team’s preparation has been sound, thanks to Saban’s staff. “They just want to make sure we know what we're doing, make sure we're dominating and make sure there's no mess-ups from some of the easy things we do so we can go into the game and know all our stuff and dominate the game,” he said.

Senior tight end O.J. Howard said part of that “dominating” Ridley discussed comes to fruition when Bama opponents start to lag in the fourth quarter of big games. “It's mostly about how do you feel when you think your opponent's done playing,” he said of the “domination” goal. “It's mostly about when they give up, you can kind of tell. They don't want to come off the ball as hard anymore. You know you’ve got the upside on them.”

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No. 1 Alabama (13-0, 8-0 SEC) hopes to get that “upside” against No. 4 Washington (12-1, 8-1, PAC-12) when the teams tee it up at 2:00 p.m. CT Saturday with a trip to the Jan. 9 title game in Tampa on the line. ESPN will televise the contest. Alabama is favored by two touchdowns.

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