Saban Pleased With Tide Practices
Following practice, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban called LSU "one of the best teams in the country" as his team continues to work towards this week's game.
"This is obviously a great opportunity for our players," Saban said on Wednesday. "We are certainly excited about playing a great football team in LSU, arguably one of the best teams in the country. It has been our goal in our practices and preparation to get the details right so that we have the best opportunity to be successful. We have a great stadium to play in here at Bryant-Denny and it's a nationally televised game, so it's a great stage for two good teams. Arguably, they have a great team; one of the best teams in the country. They are well-coached. Les Miles has done a great job there developing the players that they have."
LSU ranks first, second or third in the SEC in most every major statistical category. On defense, the Tigers lead the league in rushing (71.36), total defense (232.25), scoring defense (15.38) and turnover margin (+1.88). On offense, LSU is second in rushing (287.83), third in total offense (450.68) and fourth in scoring (40.25) this season. Punter Patrick Fisher leads the SEC with a 44.13 average this season, while placekicker Colt David leads the league in scoring with 10.5 points per game.
"They certainly play and do a lot of things that are difficult to prepare for and certainly their speed and skill and speed on defense are something that is difficult to manage from a planning standpoint," Saban said. "They have a great defensive team. Offensively they do a great job of both running and throwing and their balance makes it very difficult to try and defend both. They can beat you both ways. Matt Flynn has done a very good job and had a great game last game against Auburn, throwing for over 300 yards. They are outstanding on special teams because they have such great skill guys, great kicker, great punter and great return people. They win the turnover margin. The get the turnovers and they don't give it up too easily. So, this will be a great opportunity for our team to play against a great football team."
He said the Tide will have to be sound in all areas and will have to have balance on offense with some success running the football. LSU has an exceptional defensive team, he said.
Saban said Alabama's preparation had gone well. "We've gotten a little bit better each day," he said. "I think having a few of days off has rejuvenated the players physically and emotionally and practice and intensity has been pretty good."
Alabama had an open date last Saturday, a week after having its best game of the year, a 41-17 win over Tennessee. LSU also had a bye last week.
Saban said, "I think the big thing is having the right mindset for a game like this. We talked about how important it was to play a complete game against Tennessee and I think the players need to believe in the things it took to do that – the kind of effort, the kind of focus, the kind of play-in and play-out focus it took to play the way we did, to eliminate mistakes, to play a good game beginning, middle, and end, and to finish the way we did. I think confidence comes from details and detail preparation is something we work on throughout the year and I think we have more and more guys getting that.
"We're going to have a tremendous effort from 105 guys on our team. It's something every player should look forward to as a competitor."
Saban also said Wednesday that strongside linebacker Zeke Knight and kick returner Jonathan Lowe have practiced this week and should play on Saturday. The coach said that freshman middle linebacker Rolando McClain has had some work at Knight's outside spot as a possible fill-in. He said that Lowe had been working at tailback when he suffered his turned ankle a few weeks ago. Asked who the third tailback would be in Glen Coffee's suspension continues, Saban said it could be Lowe or Jimmy Johns working behind starter Terry Grant and backup Roy Upchurch.
Coffee is one of five Alabama players who missed the Tennessee game and who have not been announced as cleared to play against LSU. The University reported they were being held out during an investigation involving improper receipt of textbooks by athlete.
Also out are starting offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis and back-up defensive backs Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson, who are members of special teams.
Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore and Compliance Director Chris King went to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis Tuesday to provide an update on the investigation.
Saban said he was not trying to withhold information, but that he didn't have any. He said "the administration" was handling the situation and he felt sure they would report developments.
Saban said preparation assumed the players would not be available. "You hope for the best and prepare for the worst," he said.
The coach said that some offensive linemen are playing more than one position – Mike Johnson playing both right tackle and right guard, Chris Capps playing both tackle spots – and that younger players are being worked in the rotation, citing guards Taylor Pharr and David Ross.
Asked about the progress of nose tackle Brian Motley, Saban said he is recovering from an early ankle injury. The coach noted that "big men" sometimes recover less quickly from ankle injuries and noted that defensive end Bobby Greenwood had also suffered with a bad ankle. He said he thought the off time had helped men with those type injuries get better.
Saban said he was not concerned about the status of backup LSU quarterback Ryan Perilloux, who may be suspended for the game. Saban said starting quarterback Matt Flynn can also run, just as Perilloux can also pass. They run the same offense, Saban said, although they feature different things depending on which man is at quarterback.
Alabama and LSU meet on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports, with Verne Lundquist (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter) calling the action.
Saban also had these comments on the SEC Head Football Coaches Teleconference Wednesday morning.
On game-planning for LSU's speed
"I don't know. I'd like to ask you that question. If you're running a race and the other guy is faster than you, how do you game plan for that? You just have to do a better job of keeping leverage, try to stay in position and understand that it's important to do things correctly technique-wise, so you give yourself the best opportunity to be in position. They do a good job of utilizing some of their skill guys and using that speed. That's something that we've got to be aware of. We've got to leverage and keep people in the right places and the contain element of the defense is real important when you're going against a team like them because they stretch the field so many different ways, horizontally and vertically. So, you practice against it. We are fortunate here that we have a couple of fast guys on the show team that can give us a little bit of a look from a speed standpoint, but you really can't emulate the kind of speed they have in practice."
On Jacob Hester
"That guy is probably as good an all-around football player there is. They put him at fullback, he blocks. He gets people on the ground. He catches passes. He has great hands. He has tremendous toughness as a runner. He is elusive. He has enough speed to make big runs, if he gets the opportunity too. Guys like that are almost like throwback football players, in a day an age where we have a lot of specialists that do certain things well, you try and feature those guys. This is a guy that is probably as well-rounded and does everything in a football game, and plays special teams too. Now he is on punt returns, doing all kinds of stuff in there. He does it well and does it fast. This guy is a throwback football player. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the way he plays the game and how he competes."\
On running and passing strategy; wanting to run more and eat up clock against LSU
"Well they have an outstanding defense, so that is easier said than done. If you don't keep them off-balance and create different situations, whether it's running it or throwing it; that is the best way to possess the ball against them. People think you have to run the ball and be conservative, but they are difficult to block up front and I think you have to use all the resources that you have and use your skill players to be able to move the chains as well. A 5 or 7 or 9-yard pass is just as good as a 5-yard run when it comes to possessing the ball. I think we will have to do both and create that balance. I think philosophically, two or three weeks ago, we were going to need to do a little bit more and the quarterback as responded well. I think we have played better offensively because we have had better balance in the last couple of games."
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