Judgment Day Nearer For Tide

Alabama football players may feel that every day is "judgment day," because Crimson Tide practices are intense. In truth, Coach Nick Saban said, the reason to schedule an opening game against a high caliber opponent is to see where Bama is as a team.

Alabama has begun game plan work for its opening game, the highest profile contest of the opening week of college football. A week from Saturday in Atlanta, the Crimson Tide, ranked fifth in the nation in pre-season, will meet Virginia Tech, ranked seventh. Kickoff in the Georgia Dome will be at 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. central time) and will be televised by ABC.

A thunderstorm hit Tuscaloosa Thursday afternoon, forcing Bama to the Hank Crisp Indoor Practice Facility.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban knows that Virginia Tech presents a challenge for his team. He pointed out the strengths of the Hokies, and particularly their outstanding coach, Frank Beamer.

"We schedule games like this because it's kind of a judgment day for all of us, as far as where we are as a team," Saban said. "We've worked hard in the off-season. Everything you do in the off-season really leads up to what you do in the games and everything that you learn and have tried to improve on leads up to what you do in the game. All the practices that you've had leads up to what you do in the game."

Saban sees many benefits of playing a heavyweight opponent to start the season.

"I think the challenge helps you in the off-season program, in fall camp, in spring practice. I think it tells you where your team is, I think it helps prepare your team for conference play when you're going to play some very good teams. Playing at a neutral site is a lot like playing on the road so you do get some experience of making a road trip and the focus that that takes."

Last year Alabama opened the season with a 34-10 win over highly ranked Clemson in this same Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. "It gave our team a lot of confidence," Saban said.

The coach also noted, "I've been with teams that get beat in the first game, and that's exactly what they need. Then they play very, very well the rest of the year."

He said the game will serve as a measuring stick against "the standard we need to be working toward."

Saban said the Tide will begin to establish its identity in the opening game. He said, "What our commitment is to a standard of excellence will certainly be the trademark of this team in terms of how they play and what they do and how they compete, down in, down out, to dominate the other team. That's sort of a mental toughness thing. Play one play at a time--they all last six seconds--and when things get difficult, that's when the guys that can dominate really do show up with a relentless competitive attitude."

He said, "Every time you play somebody, you've got to change how they think. That‘s not easy to do. That's the challenge, that's what makes it fun."

Saban said, "I think it's very important that we have no comfort in where we are. It‘s pre-season. This team has done nothing to establish anything, so it's up to them to prove what they can do, not only in the first game but how we improve throughout the course of the season as well as how we end up at the end of the season in terms of finishing the season."

Saban restated the Alabama goal of "We want to be a team that nobody wants to play. Clearly, to me, that comes from how physical you are, how tough you are, the kind of effort and intensity you play with as well as your ability to execute. And that's certainly something that we want to continue to create as an identity. But every team has to develop that personality and identity based on the intangibles they have, which are very hard to measure until you actually see them compete and handle some of these situations, especially when things don't go right, when things don't go well. How do they overcome adversity? Those are some of the true tests of great competitive teams and that's one of the things our team last year did well. That's why they played well on the road."

It's too early to say if Alabama 2009 will be that type team.

"Until we play games, it's hard to judge or predict," Saban said. "I know this team works hard. We have a lot more guys that go about their business and do things the right way, more like we would want them done, but that whole thing about how committed you are to a standard of excellence and the discipline it takes to execute, the accountability that you have in doing your job and the ability to carry it out in a critical situation in a game, under fire, when the other team has bad intentions, how you manage all that stuff, how you keep your poise, how you internalize bad things happening and overcome them and focus on the next play. Those things you really don't find out until you get out there and play. The guys that have experience manage them a little bit better."

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