Saban Wants Tide To Continue Good Play

Alabama and Auburn are quite different, and that's particularly true for the Crimson Tide and Tigers football teams this year. Bama is one of the nation's surprise success stories, Auburn among college football's most under-achieving teams in 2008.



The two most notable factors in the direction of the Alabama and Auburn football teams have probably been offensive consistency (or lack thereof) and the injury situation. Both teams have very good defensive teams, explosiveness in the kicking game, and excellent coaching.

In part because of the open date each team enjoyed prior to Saturday's game, Auburn may have been able to negate a couple of the perceived disadvantages for the Tigers. Auburn got some injured players back for their last game against Georgia, and those players should be even further along for Alabama. And another week of work in an offense installed at mid-season should help Auburn quarterback Kodi Burns, who was made the starter with the offensive change.

Alabama hosts Auburn at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium with CBS televising the game. Alabama is 11-0 and ranked first in the nation. The Tide is 7-0 in Southeastern Conference games and headed to the SEC Championship Game at the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta on December 6. Auburn is 5-6 overall and 2-5 in SEC games. The pre-season favorites to win the SEC Western Division need a win Saturday to be bowl eligible.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban had his regular Monday press briefing Monday. He didn't get into a quarterback comparison when asked about Bama having a three-year starting senior with three years of experience in the Alabama-Auburn game and Auburn a newcomer. But Saban did have good things to say about Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson.

Saban said, "John Parker's experience, not just in this game, but in every game" is a positive because Wilson has developed poise and leadership "that comes with knowledge and experience. It has been a benefit and I hope it continues."

Wilson is one of nine scholarshipped seniors on this Crimson Tide team, fewest in the nation among major college teams There are also four senior walk-ons.

Saban said, "A lot of those guys have had outstanding careers here. It's certainly an honor for them and for us to have them represent themselves and their families in their last game.

"We have a great group of seniors. They have done a fantastic job. I think, regardless of what happens in the future this senior class is going to be, in my mind, the group that sort of turned it around. They bought in. They believed in it. They changed their ways and they affected other people to do that, as well as made a really significant contribution, in terms of what their role was to the success of the team. How they've impacted other people probably goes unnoticed to some degree. Whether it's Antoine Caldwell, Rashad (Johnson), Travis (McCall), Bobby Greenwood or John Parker (Wilson), the team means something to them and they have invested a lot in this team and this team's success, not only in how they have performed and played, but how they served their teammates and supported them. Their commitment, the perseverance and the work they have shown has gone a long way in having a huge impact on the change that has been made here in two years."

On the injury front, Alabama continues to have almost everyone healthy, as has been the case throughout the season. Saban said, "From an injury standpoint, we don't have any new injuries to report. Everybody will be practicing today, except (senior back-up receiver Will) Oakley (shoulder surgery last week), which we have talked about. I don't foresee guys having problems. We have a couple of guys that need to prove to themselves that they are healthy enough to play and that would (running back) Roy Upchurch and (receiver Earl) Alexander, but they have been cleared to practice and go full speed."

As he has on several occasions during the season, Saban gave credit to his players for their hard work in the off-season and to the strength and conditioning staff, headed up by Scott Cochran. And, as he also has many times this season, he gave his wooden lectern a couple of raps, and said the Crimson Tide had been fortunate.

Much has been made of Auburn having a six-game winning streak in the series. Saban said that it would have no affect on Saturday.

"It's only a psychological factor if you let it be. It's not to me and it shouldn't be to our players. It's the same old thing, when Notre Dame wears their green shirts. If that's a psychological factor to you, then it's a psychological factor. If green shirts make you play better, then I guess it's a factor, but other than that it's not a factor, unless it's a factor to you and you let affect you. I am sure this game will get decided based on what happens on this field at this time and how the players play. They need to understand that and know that and focus and play well."

In opening comments prior to Monday's practice, Saban said, "We have reported back and we're ready to go. We had a productive week last week, in terms of getting some rest, getting healthy and also getting some good practice in and making some improvement fundamentally. We practiced a little bit extra for our upcoming opponents and now we're ready to get back into a normal practice week and get prepared for a game.

"I think when you play a game like this; it's like having a one-game season. It doesn't matter what you've done before this or what's coming up next. It's all about this game. It's all about Alabama and Auburn. It's not about where you're ranked or what you're record is or any BCS or any of that stuff. It's really about this game and this week. I think the thing the players need to focus on is what they need to do to play well and not think about all the things surrounding the game. The game will get decided by what happens on the field and how you prepare and how you focus on that to play well and do your job with discipline, toughness, effort and intensity, all those things that have benefited our team well all year long, will be the keys to any success that we have in this game or any other games we play. I think it's important that our players stay focused on that.

"Auburn has a really good team, in my opinion. They've lost four games in the SEC by five points or less. They are a very well-coached team. They are an outstanding defensive team and one of the highest ranked teams in our league, in scoring defense. Their front is very, very good. They've got some dominant players up front. They are physical. They can play the run. They've got some pass-rushers that can affect the quarterback. They are outstanding. Offensively, they've got good runners and good offensive line. Kodi Burns has gotten better and better each game that he has played. They've got very good receivers, mostly the same guys we played against a year ago. They're outstanding on special teams and one of the best kickoff return teams in the country. They are good on punt returns and play well on (special) teams. This is a team that we have a tremendous amount of respect for and know that we going to have to play as good a football as we have played all year to have success against."

Saban said it's not just another game. "I think it's a great rivalry," he said. "It's something that we have a tremendous amount of respect for, in terms of what we learned last year in participating. These are two good teams and two good programs. A lot of the players know each other. It's a game that's about the players and hopefully we can get our team in a position to play excellent football in the game and that's what we want to try and do. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the rivalry, because we respect both schools and the tradition that both schools have and the support and passion the fans bring."

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