Saban Didn't Read Book On Rivalry

Alabama Coach Nick Saban didn't have to read a book to know that the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry is an intense one. Nor does he think any external motivation is needed for the players to perform in the game. The Crimson Tide coach is also pleased with his team's preparation.

In his Wednesday meeting with media, Alabama Coach Nick Saban touched on his football team's situation, as well as on comments from his Monday press conference and on the tragedy of the Siran Stacy (reported elsewhere on this site).

The Alabama football team practiced for two hours in full gear Wednesday afternoon as preparations continue for Saturday's regular season finale against Auburn.

The Crimson Tide worked on red-zone offense, red-zone defense and third-down situations during Wednesday's session. Although a light rain fell through the early portion of practice, Bama did not work in the indoor facility.

The Crimson Tide and Tigers will meet for the 72nd time on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium and kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (CST). The game will be televised nationally by ESPN with Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline reporter). Alabama has lost three consecutive games and is 6-5 overall. Auburn is 7-4 overall. Both teams have 4-3 Southeastern Conference records

Saban said, "We have had pretty spirited work this week and the players have certainly responded and worked hard and hopefully it will carry over in our performance in the game. What we're striving for in a game like this are the things that always make a team great. – believe in each other, trust and respect, and believe in yourself. There's a collective responsibility that everybody assumes that everybody can execute their jobs so you give your best chance to be successful.

"For that to happen it's got to be important to you, you've got to care about it, have a burning desire to want to do it, have a pride in performance that's going to make you do all the things you need to do to get that done.

"When you do all those things you usually positively affect other people. And your teammates collectively make a team stronger. "

We're certainly going to need that kind of collective effort to play against a very good team on the road in a rivalry like this we have a tremendous amount of respect for. The work has been good, the preparation has been good, the players have worked hard."

Saban indicated the only regular not expected to be ready to play Saturday is kick return specialist and nickel defensive back Javier Arenas, who suffered a high ankle sprain in last week's loss to ULM.

Linebacker and special teams player Demarcus Waldrop has had more work each day. Although he is still listed as "day-to-day," Saban is hopeful he will be able to participate Saturday.

Five players who have not been involved in Alabama's last four games will be back in action Saturday, though Saban was not specific as to how much. He said that offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis "bring experience and depth," and said both had been working during their suspensions He said several combinations are possible and that the final decisions on which players will start or play has not been made.

In addition to tailback Glen Coffee coming back from suspension, the Tide will also get Roy Upchurch back from injury. Saban said that would help because top tailback Terry Grant has been nursing an injury. "We've been beaten up at running back," he said.

Also returning from the four-game suspension while Alabama investigated "improper receipt of textbooks" were special teams players and back-up defensive backs Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson.

Asked if he had read any books to understand the Alabama-Auburn game, Saban said, "I don't think you have to read a book to figure out what this game means to the people of the state of Alabama. I have tremendous respect for this game and the tradition of this game. I get all I need to know from being around the people in this state. It is important to both sides. I haven't read a book about it, but I don't think that's necessary to get a feel for it.

"I know the game is important to both sides. I have a lot of respect forour fans and want to do whatever we can for our fans. What's happened in the past, we have no control over. We have to do what we can to change the future."

Saban also said he didn't emphasize trying to motivate the team with newspaper clippings, etc.

"I haven't seen anything or read anything (that would provide such motivation)," he said. "I think someone would have brought it to my attention .

"Really those kind of things to get ready to play this game…all those things I talked about before…trust and believing in each other, respect for each other, trust in each other, collective responsibility, burning desire to do well, pride in performance…if we need some guy to get us fired up by something he said in the paper, we're missing the boat…or I'm missing the boat at least."

In answer to a question, Saban was very complimentary of the Auburn team and of its head coach, Tommy Tuberville. He said Auburn had good players who were well-coached, noting the staff has been there for a long time and established its program and tradition.

He was particularly complimentary of Auburn having made great improvement since the beginning of the season, a trait he said that is important to a coach.

"It's a little bit disappointing we haven't been able to sustain like we'd like," Saban said of Alabama's three-game losing streak. "I hope we'll be able to bounce back from that."

Asked if the game was particularly important to him personally, Saban said, "I think everything is important. I think every game we have played this year is important. We're trying to establish an identity as a football team. How you do that on a consistent basis speaks volumes of your character. How you play in big games also speaks volumes. Do you have the strength of character to overcome good football teams, on the road, in the rain. Talk about strength of personality, strong people, that's the identity you want to develop as a football team. That doesn't get done in one game. It doesn't get done against Auburn. It doesn't get done against Tennessee. It's a full body of work on how you do things over time.

"How we've performed lately is not where we need to do. This is the last opportunity to establish an identity for this team."

There is a slight possibility of rain in the forecast for Saturday's game. Saban was asked if that was the reason Bama worked in a light rain Wednesday.

He said, "I believe that playing inclement weather, which I've had my share of coaching up north especially, is really a mindset. It goes back to that mental toughness issue. How do you let external things affect you? Whether it's raining or cold or whatever it goes back to that. Do you let these things bother you or can you go out and perform in adverse circumstances and have a maturity about you that is important to having a good football team. We haven't had an opportunity to play in bad weather, so I don't know how our guys will respond to that."

He told a story of his first LSU team going to Arkansas and the weather being cold and rainy. " I couldn't see any of our players under their capes," he said. "We damn near had to throw them out of the locker room at halftime. We were tied so we had a chance. Our guys weren't used to that cold, rainy weather. It was miserable.

"I hope our team is stronger than that and we need to be stronger than that."

He said, "We haven't had much opportunity to practice in bad weather. We've only gone inside one day and that was last week. I got a bad forecast that we were going to have bad thunderstorms.

"When I was the weather coach at Ohio State, every day Coach Earl Bruce asked me about the weather and I always said ‘Fair and warmer,' because I figured ‘fair:' could be anything. Here they give me weather updates every 10 minutes.

"So as soon as they told me today it wasn't going to rain, I decided to go outside., But we would have gone outside today even if it had rained more because we haven't had an opportunity to practice in the rain all year long."

Prior to the regular Wednesday evening meeting with reporters, Saban took part in the regular Wednesday teleconference with all Southeastern Conference coaches. Among his comments:

"We are really working hard to re-establish some fundamental qualities of playing great team football," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "We haven't done that in the last couple of weeks. To have trust, collective responsibility, everybody caring and having pride in their performance, especially in a big rivalry game that we have a tremendous amount of respect for in Auburn, who has a very good football team and has had a great season this year. We have a lot of respect for this rivalry and would always like to represent our part of it in a first-class way and do a great job in preparing our team to play the best they can play, or they have played all year long, in this game and I am sure the other team will do the same. "

"They have only had two losses in the last eight games and they have a great defensive team and run the ball effectively and play very well as a team. They have good special teams. They are a very well-coached team. This will be a tremendous challenge for us and something that we are certainly looking forward to and to be part of such a great rivalry."

On blocking schemes on the offensive line:

"I thought our offensive line played very well through a number of games this year, probably through the Tennessee game. We've just had so many combinations of people, the continuity has not been the same and I think that has been reflected a little bit in the performance. If you are going to run the ball, you can zone block, you can man block or gap block. When you pass protect, you can slide the protection or man the protection. We do all of those things, really. It's not one simple way that you do it. You try and mix it up so one team can't get a bead on what you are doing. That makes you more susceptible to the blitz. In most cases, because the quarterback has got his hand on the ball, they can always blitz one more and sometimes overload a side, which you got to be able to handle that. Sometimes the quarterback has to handle it as well as the offensive line."

On Auburn's pass rush:

"I don't think there is any question any time a team can affect the quarterback is not good. I think it's critical that we do a great job. I think the best way you can do that is create balance in what you're doing, so that you don't get behind in the down and distance and you don't give them those situations where they have the pass mode on their mind and they are rushing and making it most difficult for you to block, whether it's a four-man rush or a pressure."

On changing culture and mindset of football players, both on and off the field:

"Well that's one of the things that we have certainly tried to do here and I have been very pleased with the way the players have responded. I don't know if we just ran out of gas in the last couple of weeks. We haven't played as well. We have more injuries and more guys not playing than we have had. We just have to get that fixed and have more consistency in what we are doing. As I said on Monday, the concept of recovery and response sometimes occurs when adversity occurs. You get positive change, togetherness and sense of spirit and sometimes a true spirit and unity become evident when things don't go well. Hopefully, our players will respond to that in a positive way and play a lot better this week in this big game that we have."

Saban discussed Thanksgiving for his team following Wednesday's practice. He said, "We'll eat turkey at some point. We have to have practice." He said he had respect for family and holidays are time for families. He said if players living "within an hour or two" of Tuscaloosa would be able to go home following Thursday's practice, which has moved up an hour. Other players will go to coaches' homes for Thanksgiving.

"We still have work to do," Saban said.

He said on Friday there would be a turkey dinner for the entire team.

Alabama will work out in Tuscaloosa Friday, then bus to Montgomery to spend the night before busing to Auburn for Saturday's game

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