Players Work Hard For Arkansas Game

Nick Saban has that Dirty Harry "Do you feel lucky?" swagger, but the question as he began his briefing with sportswriters Wednesday afternoon involved whether a found penny was lucky. Saban discovered it on the lectern in the media room as he was about to begin his discussion.

"It was heads up," he said, slipping the coin into his pocket. "That's supposed to mean good luck, isn't it?"

A lucky penny would rank way down in importance as Nick Saban prepares his Alabama football team for its first Southeastern Conference game of the year. Bama will go to Arkansas to meet the Razorbacks at 11:30 a.m. CDT Saturday, a game that will be telecast on the SEC's Raycom network.

Alabama, 3-0, is ranked ninth in the nation. Arkansas, 2-0, did not play last week; its game at Texas was postponed due to Hurricane Ike. The Razorbacks have narrow home wins against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe.

Saban said that Alabama practices have gone well this week. He said, "We've made some progress. The players are working hard."

The coach said it is "very challenging for us to go on the road and play our first SEC game. It's similar to last year when we went to Vanderbilt."

He said Arkansas is "very good."

Saban said that Razorback Stadium will be a "difficult environment," and said it will be important that his players "focus on the game and not get affected by external factors, the noise the crowd or the circumstances in the game and focus on the next play."

He used as an example the play of former basketball great Michael Jordan, who was always able to focus on the moment in games and was never distracted by surroundings or situations.

"If you're going to be a good team, you have to have that kind of mindset, especially in this league," Saban said.

On the injury front, Alabama looks to be in excellent shape. Saban said that senior right guard Marlon Davis has practiced this week and is expected to be available Saturday. Davis missed last week's game after suffering a hamstring injury against Tulane in the second game of the year. Saban said there were no other injury issues.

Besides the penny, Saban found himself looking at a lot of videotape in preparation for Arkansas. The new coach of the Razorbacks, Bobby Petrino, went to Arkansas from Atlanta of the NFL. Prior to that he was head coach at Louisville.

Saban and his staff have looked at tapes from Petrino's days at all three spots. "I don't know how we got them," Saban said, "but we did."

He said that what Arkansas is doing now is similar offensively to what Louisville and Atlanta did under Petrino. "Teams have different strengths in personnel and he features those strengths very well," Saban said.

Saban participated in the SEC Head Coaches weekly teleconference on Wednesday and here are some of his comments from that call:

On difference in Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino's offense, particularly passing game, as other SEC teams:

"It's different in some ways, but it's a quality passing game. It's very well thought out. It's very sound, in terms of how they protect the quarterback, how the quarterback re-directs the protections, the routes they run and how they utilize their personnel. It's similar to what he did at Louisville and he also did a lot of the same concepts at Atlanta. He is an outstanding offensive coach. His brother, Paul, is an outstanding coach as well. He does a great job with the quarterback, in terms of coaching. A guy doing the right things, and they are certainly playing well offensively right now throwing for over 300 yards a game and one of the nationally-ranked teams offensively."

On Antoine Caldwell:

"He has played very well. He played very well in last week's game, especially. His leadership is critical. I think that is one of the biggest differences in our team is guys like Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Johnson and some of the other players are starting to emerge as leaders and affect other people in a positive way. I don't think there is anything more critical to team chemistry than that."

On strength of SEC with five teams in this week's Associated Press Top 10:

"I think it's an outstanding league, and I think there are a lot of reasons for it. There is a lot of passion and tradition at the schools. There are a lot of good high school football prospects in the southeast, which is certainly an advantage in terms of quality of players. I think the coaches in the SEC right now are as strong as they've ever been, in terms of knowledge, experience and track records. Those guys all know how to recruit and have a reputation for getting good players. I just think there are a lot of reasons for it, but it is very strong right now from top to bottom. I think that is good for the competition in the league and you better bring you're A-game every week, that's all I can tell you."

On number of first-year players on your team and how you will handle first road game:

"Well I think, hopefully our game in Atlanta, which was not truly a road game, it was half of a road game and it certainly gave some of those guys experience of what it's like to play away from home, even though it might not be considered a total road game. I think the biggest thing with young players is that if they can stay focused on that task and don't get affected by external factors, which when you play on the road, the crowd and the momentum of the game can affect guys and that the thing we try to teach them. They have to stay focused on the next play and do their job and affect the game with what they can control, which is how they play. None of that other stuff really matters. You preach that, but sometimes guys have to experience it actually and hopefully their experience in Atlanta will help a little bit in this game."

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