Alabama Has Plenty Of Challenges This Week

Alabama Coach Nick Saban seemed to be in a good mood when he held his regular Monday media get-together. But he made it clear that he understands the challenge Alabama faces this week. In fact, there are several challenges.

To be sure, Alabama's defense faces the challenge of Darren McFadden, the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He's the starting tailback for the Arkansas Razorbacks. And if he couldn't play, Arkansas would still have a Heisman Trophy candidate because fellow Razorback junior Felix Jones is considered to be just about as good as McFadden.

So who does Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban use to emulate McFadden and Jones when Alabama practices this week?

"If we had someone who could do what he does, we'd be playing him," Saban said. He then added that Alabama would use fast players, even if they are not running backs, to play the role of the Arkansas tailback in practice.

While stopping McFadden would rank as a specific goal, it is well documented that Alabama's Saban is not goal-oriented. He is process-oriented.

What Saban wants is for Alabama to have a good week of preparation. He wants his team to "focus on the task at hand" and for each player to take responsibility for playing to the best of his ability, working to be able to handle assignments, and, thereby, "help our team get better."

No one would say that Alabama is a great team, but the Crimson Tide is 2-0 and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference games. This will be the first SEC game for Arkansas, which had an open date after defeating Troy, 46-26, in the season-opener.

Bama and the Razorbacks will meet at 5:45 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. ESPN will televise the game.

Saban noted that Arkansas is one of five teams on Alabama's schedule that has a bye before playing the Crimson Tide. Saban acknowledged that some think having an open date is an advantage, but said he didn't have any statistical evidence to suggest it was or was not advantageous.

He pointed out that if a team is playing in a good rhythm, it can hurt that rhythm to have a week off. He said his preference is to have the bye week five or six week into the season.

He said that he thought Bama made progress last week in the running game, in the goalline offense, and in having 11 "explosive" plays. (An explosive play is a run of 12 yards or more or a pass play of 16 yards or more, and a good guess is that a 69-yard punt return, like Javier Arenas had, qualifies.)

Saban said Bama needs to improve in the passing game, in the red zone, and in being able "to take the air out of the ball" when trying to kill the clock at the end of the game.

He said the defense didn't give up as many big plays, but said Bama needed to do a better job on takeaways. He pointed out that Tide defenders had their hands on three fumbles and two potential pass interceptions and came up without the ball in Alabama's 24-10 win over Vanderbilt last week.

Saban said that offensive tackle Andre Smith and tight end Travis McCall had an excellent game as blockers, which is why Terry Grant is the SEC Freshman of the Week for his running. On defense the coach praised defensive ends Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood.

He also noted Arenas good kick return work for a second consecutive week.

Saban said back-up tailback Jimmy Johns had suffered an ankle turn and would be "day-to-day," and added that another back-up tailback, Glen Coffee, had a slight shoulder injury and would probably be protected in practice Monday.

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