Saban Looks For Tide To Improve

The clock started ticking for the players soon after Alabama's 34-10 romp over Clemson in the season-opener in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta Saturday night. They had 24 hours to enjoy the win over the nation's ninth-ranked team. By the time the team returned to Tuscaloosa, it was the wee hours of Sunday morning. By Monday morning the focus was the future.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said the 24-hour rule that allows players to celebrate a win or mourn a loss doesn't apply to coaches. It's more stringent.

At his regular Monday press briefing, Saban said, "What we have always talked about is basically having a 24-hour rule. I think after 24 hours you need to start forgetting about that game, stop reading the paper and start focusing on the next challenge that you have. It is like what (Usain) Bolt (Jamaica's Olympic Gold Medal winner in the 100 and 200 dashes) said. ‘I don't really run against the other runners, I run against myself. I prepare to be the best that I can be in every race that I run.' That is really the attitude that you would like every player on your team to have. Go do that every game.

"The last game is over and nothing that happened in the last game will help us win the next game and the players need to realize that and understand it. They have to re-center and refocus. Why did the mighty fall – complacency, because people got satisfied and a lot of times that is not helpful to being successful so that is not what we want to be. That is what we have to prove as a team that we can be a consistent team that will compete all the time."

That time to get over it for the coach is a lot shorter. Saban said that he begins to think about the next opponent " as soon as the last game is over. You enjoy it, you sing the fight song in the locker room and before you get in the shower you start to think about how you are going to match the pattern or attack the other team."

Saban pointed out that Alabama had played a good game against Clemson, but not a perfect game. "First things first," he said, "we have got to make the corrections from this game for our players have a chance to improve on the things that they didn't do correctly."

Alabama returned to the practice field Monday to begin preparations for the home opener. The Crimson Tide will host the Tulane Green Wave at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out and will be available on television on a Pay Per View basis only. It will be the first game of the year for Tulane, which is working at Samford University in Birmingham after fleeing New Orleans and the path of Hurricane Gustav Friday.

Saban said, ""We are pleased and proud of the way our players competed in the game. They played hard and were physical. They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and that was probably a real key to the outcome of the game. We won the turnover battle and had a few more explosive plays.

"But the bottom line is there are a lot of things that we can do better and that should be the focus on what we look forward to do. We had some unforced errors on offense that we need to clean up on a discipline standpoint. We certainly could have finished some things a little bit better at times and that is something that we will focus on. Defensively when they did make plays we made some mental errors in terms of who we covered and making adjustments. Those are ongoing things we always want to try and eliminate totally. In another area that we need to do a lot of work in and improve on is special teams. We just didn't do a good job in kickoff coverage. We had some young guys run down the field and we didn't really cover the kicks the way we should have all night. We didn't adjust and make the corrections that we needed to make. We made them sometimes but didn't execute them the way we wanted to. That is certainly something we need to improve on. The number one special team for us (last year) was kickoff coverage.

"The challenge for this team is to improve, show we can play with consistency, and perform well week in and week out. The challenge is to play to our level of capabilities and make a mental, physical and emotional commitment to playing to our capabilities relative to what we do and how we do it. That is something we need to prove we can do. That consistency was not something that we have shown that we can do and certainly something we need to work on if we are going to try and be a team that plays with consistency in terms of the way we compete."

Saban said, "I think we are stronger and more physical. We played 90 plays of offense in the game. I think some guys got a little bit tired towards the end. I think some of that is anxiety sometimes in the first game especially with the younger players. I thought our conditioning was good for the most part and I don't think it affected our performance in any way."

One area Alabama may be making special preparations is in the offensive line. The Crimson Tide lost All-America left tackle Andre Smith in the third quarter against Clemson and he would seem to be "questionable" for the Tulane game. Also on the injured list is wide receiver Earl Alexander, who suffered an ankle injury Saturday night.

The coach said, "Andre Smith has a sprained knee. He is going to be day-to-day and out for a few days. I don't know if he will play in this game or not, it is still up in the air and we probably won't know for a few days relative to how he heals. Earl Alexander has got a sprained ankle that has been kind of a chronic thing that flared up again in the game. He is going to be in a boot for several days and it is undetermined right now whether he will be able to play in this game. There may be a couple guys out there that are in black shirts today but those guys are just sore, beat up or tired. We expect them to be fine for the game."

When Smith went down, Saban moved Mike Johnson from left guard to left tackle and David Ross took Johnson's spot at guard. That had been the plan announced by Saban in event of a lost tackle. Johnson was a starting right tackle for Bama last year.

With Smith questionable, Saban said, "We will practice with Mike Johnson playing tackle for right now and David Ross will play guard. That was the plan going into the game that if we lost a tackle going into the game that we would move Mike back to tackle. David Ross would be the first guy to go in as an inside player and he did very well. He did a good job in camp and that is why we made the decision before the game ever started that he would be the first guy in. Mike played an outstanding game. Probably the best game Mike Johnson has played since we have been here. He has played a lot of good football for us. He was a little more hesitant when he was playing tackle because he wasn't getting as many reps and they (Clemson) do a lot of good stuff and have a lot of good players on defense but we were not disappointed in the job that he did. We were still able to move the ball and I am sure with a week to prepare he would be able to play the positions a lot better."

"(Tulane Coach) Bob Toledo has done a good job wherever he has been coach in whatever he has been responsible for whether it has been as an offensive coordinator or as head coach at other places," said Saban. "I know he will do a great job there and is doing a great job. They played a lot of good football last year. They were very effective running the football, one of the best teams in the country rushing the ball and they have seven or eight starters back on both sides of the ball. Two defensive ends are guys that can cause problems for you. They play hard and are very well coached. They play with toughness and will certainly be a challenging team for us. It is also a challenge for us to continue to do what we need to do so we can play with some consistency."

Saban was asked about the performance of tight end Nick Walker, who had seven receptions (a career high) against Clemson.

He said, "I thought we had a really good plan in terms of some of our play action passes. A couple of those were short yarded situations, one was on the goal line but when we get in empty and we do it sometimes in the game with two tight ends, somebody is going to get mismatched and our tight ends got mismatched a couple times in terms of being the right guy to throwing the ball to and John Parker did a good job of getting them the ball. We flexed Nick out some and had two wide outs on both sides and I think that helped him be able to get open a little more and I don't think anyone had a plan going into the game saying we wanted Nick Walker to catch this many balls. I think sometimes it is what the other team does or where the read takes you and where the ball gets delivered. For the most part other than the short yardage plays they were designed for that particular read where he was the first read. Other plays he was just part of the read and he ended up getting the ball and doing a very good job of catching the ball."

Saban was asked about the importance of the running game affecting the passing game. He said, "Balance is what you are always looking for on offense. We probably ran the ball a little bit better than what we anticipated we might be able to in the game. That was the plan-- to run direct runs at them; and looking at the film, if we had finished some blocks and done some things a little better we probably could have run it more effectively. When you are running the ball you are creating positive down and distance situations for yourself offensively. The defense is out of balance and you are going to get more circumstances where the passing game can be a little easier to execute because you are not getting in those passing downs. I think it is a real critical factor."

One of the newcomer standouts for Alabama was junior college transfer nose tackle Terrence Cody. Saban was asked about his role in shutting down the Clemson offense.

Saban took issue with the statistic that had Clemson with zero rushing yardage. In college football, any yardage that isn't a pass is a rush, meaning when a quarterback is sacked, that play goes into the books as a rushing attempt and minus rushing yardage.

He said, ""They didn't really have zero rushing yards in the game. That is the one thing about college football that is a little messed up. They had 30 yards rushing in the game. That is the running plays when they ran the ball. The sacks should come off the passing yardage like it does in the NFL. So they had 30 yards rushing in my mind. They lost 30 yards passing because of sacks. They could have had 100 yards rushing but if they had a lot of sacks they could have had no yards rushing.

"I think two things contributed to that. I think everyone up front did a good job and Terrence certainly did his job well and was a factor in the game in the middle. We made good adjustments to their formations, we didn't get out-flanked and we did a good job on the line of scrimmage with our front people and out linebackers. That was a real key to being able to stop the run. The second thing was the way the game went and we got ahead a little bit they aborted the run some. Because we stopped them on the run we created more positive down and distance situations for the defense and we were able to play what we wanted to play. It was not our plan to pressure them a lot because of all the screens they threw. They throw a lot in games and that is a way to give up big plays when you apply a lot of pressure and they throw a wide receiver screens. We did pressure several times in the game and did get pressure but all the sacks came off of a four-man rush."

Tulane is located in New Orleans, which has had its second major hurricane in three years. Saban commented on the situation. He said, "First of all we are all hopeful that this storm not going to be what they thought it might be. We have a lot of friends and talked to them over the weekend and invited them to come to Tuscaloosa or go to our house in Georgia if they wanted to get out of that area. We are certainly hopeful that this does not become a major catastrophe relative to any place, anywhere in our country. I think that a football team may have circumstances and situations where you just have to be able to adjust and it is unfortunate that they have to move away from their home facility but I am sure their coaching staff and their players will do it with a lot of maturity and get well prepared for the game. At least it looks like they will have a decent opportunity to do that here which they may not have had there."

He was also asked about any history he had with hurricanes interfering with football.

Saban came to Alabama from the Miami Dolphins. He said, "We had a real difficult hurricane situation in Miami. We lost a game because we changed a game that was supposed to be played on Sunday got moved to Friday and didn't get notice of that until Thursday. We always practiced early at 11 in the morning. Kansas City was the team we were playing and they didn't practice until two in the afternoon. Plus they were in a different time zone so they tell us 11:30 that we are playing a game tomorrow and we had already just about finished practice. That was a tough circumstance. The hurricane came and we had to play the next week. We didn't have power for two weeks but the office had a generator so we were able to go business as usual. In one circumstance we didn't have a chance to make an adjustment and the other circumstance where we could adjust it didn't affect our performance at all."

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