Saban Wants Better Passing

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he was "pleased and proud of how we played today," but he made it clear that he doesn't mean that execution -- particularly in the passing game -- can't be better.

"We have to throw it better," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said following the Crimson Tide's 24-10 victory over Vanderbilt in Nashville Saturday. "We've got to do better in the passing game.

"That should be a strength of our team.

"It's not just the quarterback," Saban said. "It's the blocking, it's the receivers running good routes and catching the ball, it's everyone. It takes 11 guys on a pass play. If one messes up, you have a bad play.

"We really need to work on the passing game so we can have a more balanced attack."

While Saban wants better execution, he liked the "conviction" of his team. In pre-season and into the start of Bama's 2-0 season the coach has talked about his team developing an identity -- and identity of being a physical, aggressive team.

He said, "We played with a lot of conviction and played for the full 60 minutes," he said. "We tried to dominate for 60 minutes, and that's what we're trying to do here.

"Our defense did a good job. Our guys did a good job playing their pass patterns. We played a lot of three-deep zone, and I think we did a good job cutting down on their explosive plays. That's had a lot of those in their last few games."

On the other hand, Saban noted that Alabama didn't have a lot of explosive plays, either, primarily because of the passing game.

"We didn't have a great passing day," he said. "We have the skill players. We have to do better."

The coach said freshman tailback Terry Grant "did an outstanding job, especially in the second half. He did his best running in the second half. He didn't really run that well in the first half.

"We did a good job running the ball. I was also pleased with the way Glen Coffee played, and Jimmy Johns did a good job of what he was supposed to do."

Saban acknowledged that Alabama was fortunate that Vanderbilt had very costly penalties, wiping out a long gain on the first Vandy play of the game and a punt return for a touchdown. "We were very fortunate early in the game," Saban said. "We got a couple of breaks early in the game."

Alabama also made its first big break with a 69-yard punt return by Javier Arenas. "Special teams was an asset for us," Saban said. "It started with the long punt return to start the game."

He pointed out that Alabama used both Arenas and Jonathan Lowe on punt returns, Arenas the up man. That's because Vandy frequently used a rugby-style punt, a low punt designed to hit and bounce downfield. Saban said he wanted men who could handle those kicks and save the "hidden yardage" and that Lowe and Arenas did that.

Saban said, "We had a couple of chances to put the game away and didn't get touchdowns in the red zone. We missed a couple of field goals, but they were long ones and on one we got a bad snap. I thought Leigh Tiffin kicked the ball well."

Saban said that Alabama's defense did a good job, particularly in defending against the Commodores' all-star receiver, Earl Bennett. Bennett had four receptions for 52 yards, his longest 17 yards. "We rotated to him," Saban said. "We did a good job of knowing where he was. We played a lot of three-deep zone because we worried about the quarterback (Chris Nickson) running.

"They have the ability to make plays."

Saban said he thought the defense "lost our composure a little bit when they went no huddle" on the Commodores' lone touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. "It looked like we were playing not to get beat. That's not the way we want to play."

A week earlier Saban had complained about the middle of the defensive front playing "soft." Saturday he said, "We did a better job on the line of scrimmage."

In addition to having chances to put the game away with scores, Saban noted that Alabama had a chance to take the air out of the ball on offense late in the game, but couldn't do it. He pointed to costly penalties forcing Alabama to have to punt back to Vandy. "Some of the penalties were undisciplined," he said, citing pre-snap procedure-type penalties.

Saban said the team would continue to work to improve. "You focus and you concentrate and you'll do it right," he said.

It seemed the sellout crowd of 39,773 was at least 50 per cent Alabama fans, and Saban acknowledged that. "Our fans are great," he said. "It was almost like a home game with all that red out there. Our players appreciate it and I appreciate it."

Saban said Alabama faces a challenge this week in Arkansas. The Tide and Razorbacks will face off at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa at 5:45 p.m. CDT Saturday. The game will be telecast by ESPN.

Arkansas had an open date Saturday. Saban noted that the Hogs have the best running game in the nation, led by tailback Darren McFadden. He also said that when Saban was at LSU, he thought Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt did the best job of any coach in the league with his material.

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