Don't Expect Bama To Be Burned By WKU

There has been a lot of talk about injuries this week. The big question is whether Alabama players still have a little sting in their fingers. You know -- from touching the hot stove.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said after last week's lethargic 20-6 win over Tulane that Bama's players were like children in one respect. He said you can tell children a stove is hot, but they still have to touch it to find out for themselves. And he said he hoped that now maybe Alabama's players would listen to him.

The suspicion here is that Tide players this week have been all ears.

What went wrong in week two? After all, isn't it an adage that a football team makes its greatest progress between its first game and its second game? And Alabama probably wasn't looking ahead to this week's opponent, Western Kentucky. No disrespect to the Hilltoppers, but the same week that Alabama was getting a dose of overconfidence from its 34-10 pounding of ninth-ranked Clemson, Western Kentucky was taking it on the chin from erstwhile basketball power Indiana.

There are explanations for Bama's underwhelming performance against the Green Wave last week, including Tulane having some good players and a good plan. But the 24-hour rule has long been in effect. (We know that Bama players are permitted to celebrate a win for 24 hours or rue a loss for 24 hours before turning attention to the next game. We wonder if any celebrated following the conquest of Tulane?)

Following the win over Tulane, Saban was forthright. Preparation for the game had been less than stellar. He hinted this week that perhaps practice is still not up to his expectations, but it is dangerous to try to read too much into his pronouncements. Players, on the other hand, have reported that practices have been demanding and that improvement has been made.

"They've been hard on us," Antoine Caldwell said of Tide coaching this week. He said that work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was "about as hard as we've had."

A game like the one Alabama played against Tulane has some benefits. First of all, it is one of those two or three games a year that a team can have, when it doesn't play up to potential, and yet it was a win. At the end of the year it will be only a part of the overall number in the "W" column.

It is also important to have a game to get the attention of the team. That's what Saban meant about touching the stove. And since it was done without a loss, there is no permanent damage, provided the team rebounds.

Over the years coaches have espoused various thoughts on a team being "up" for games. Former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings said that with no more games than there are on a schedule in a year there is no reason a player shouldn't be up for every one of them. Before him, Coach Paul Bryant said that he expected his team to be ready to play all the big games – those were easy and he didn't have to do anything to get the players emotionally ready to play them – but that the work involved getting them ready to play those games they were supposed to win. Tennessee's famed Bob Neyland thought there would be at least two games a year his team wouldn't be ready for, and he hoped they came against teams the Vols could beat regardless.

One thing is sure. Every team that plays Alabama will be "up." Fortunately, it looks as though Saban is putting together a Crimson Tide that can handle the A Game of most opponents.

But Saban doesn't want to scrape by. He doesn't want his players to have singed fingertips.

He wants to dominate. And he has probably made that clear to Alabama as the Tide prepares to host the Hilltoppers at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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