Saban Says Alabama Must Focus On Vols
What does all that mean to Alabama Coach Nick Saban as he prepares the Crimson Tide for Saturday's game against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium?
"N-O-T-H-I-N-G, that's what external factors mean to me! Nothing!," he might proclaim.
Other things that don't matter: Alabama is 7-0 and ranked second in the nation. The Crimson Tide is the only team in the Southeastern Conference that is undefeated and Bama has a 4-0 league record. Tennessee is 3-4 overall, a somewhat disappointing record, and 1-3 against what has been a tough SEC schedule.
Alabama is coming off a 24-20 win over Ole Miss, a game in which the Tide had a disappointing second half, which has been something of a problem much of the season. The Vols are coming off a 34-3 win over Mississippi State, a game in which the score was a bit deceiving.
Alabama and Tennessee will kick off at 7:45 p.m. EDT (6:45 p.m. central time) Saturday with national television coverage by ESPN.
Saban met with sportswriters Monday to discuss the performance against Ole Miss last week, the injury to starting nose tackle Terrence Cody, and the upcoming game against the Vols.
Saban said, "Our players really played hard in the last game. It was a very physical game. We did not execute fundamentally as well at times in the game. Certainly that needs to be our focus as coaches in terms of what we need to do and I am sure our players will want to do the same thing. I think that sometimes when you get affected by external factors, then sometimes you lose sight of that. I think that is critical for our team in terms of the situation that they are in, the people that they have to play and what we need to go do be an effective team. I think that's very, very important. I think when you play with that kind of intensity, physical toughness and focus, it helps your execution and you do the little things right that helps you be successful."
Before and immediately following the game, Saban had said the Rebels were a good, tough squad. He repeated that Monday. "I'm very complimentary of Ole Miss as a team," Saban said. "They battled. They are physical. They are tough. They've got a good scheme, on both sides of the ball, and it's a very challenging game for us. Regardless of their record, they are one of the better teams that we have played."
Saban sees more of the same this week in Knoxville. "That's kind of what we see about this game and that's what we need to do," he said. "I think whether it's the first half, second half or whenever it is, that's what we need to do, and when we don't that we don't play as well. Whenever it is, that's what we need to do.
"Tennessee is obviously a big challenge for us. They have a lot of good players. They have 16 starters back from last year's team. Phillip Fulmer has been there a long time. He has a lot of experience and he has won a lot of games. He is going to get this team playing better and better and better as the season goes on, I am sure of that, and they have made a significant amount of improvement and played very well last week against Mississippi State.
"They have eight starters back on offense. The offensive line is very, very good. They have two receivers back. They have three or four very good runners. Nick Stephens has done a good job since he has played in these last few games at quarterback.
"Defensively, they are in the Top 20 in just about every category nationally that you can be in. They are the second-best defense in the SEC, statistically, in almost every area, whether its yards, points allowed or whatever it is. Eric Berry has five interceptions. They have 14 picks as a defense (ranks number one nationally). They are a ball-hawking bunch that thrives on turnovers. They have some people up front that can rush the pass. They've got good linebackers. This is a good team.
"This team has as good a specialists – punter, kicker, return guys – that we have played against all year long. They do a very good job on special teams.
"So regardless of the record in this game, it doesn't really matter what our (record) is or what their (record) is or anything else. We need to bring our A game. We need to play our best football game of the year and that is certainly what we are going to try to get our players to focus on to do."
Saban said the focus for Alabama is to play with intensity and consistency and to dominate the opponent on every play. He doesn't want Tide players looking at the scoreboard. (Alabama has had big halftime leads in several games this year and allowed the opponent to pull back into the contests in the second halves.)
One interesting Saban observation is that attention to polls (Alabama is second in the nation in all polls) can be a distraction and more to players. "It can be toxic in terms of how players think," the coach said. He said the problem is that players can be worried so much about losing that anxiety sets in and so players are "not competing the way they should and giving themselves the best chance to be successful."
Saban said his team played for a national championship he told the players not to worry about winning the national title, but rather to focus on dominating the player in front of him and that it would be the best opposing player he faced.
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