Saban's Biggest Concern Avoided
"We made lot of mistakes; a lot of errors," Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said, "but most important thing is that responded better to adversity in this game than maybe we ever had. Virginia Tech is a very mentally tough team that is very resilient and keeps fighting. That is a trademark of (Virginia Tech Head Coach) Frank Beamer. The thing I was most concerned about is would we be complacent coming off last year, and that didn't happen."
Since finishing the 2008 season 12-2 and earning (losing) trips to both the SEC Championship game and Sugar Bowl, Saban's message has focused like a laser beam on being a tougher team, guarding against complacency, and enduring for a stronger finish. In Atlanta Saturday night, the Tide needed a strong finish to hold off Virginia Tech after the Hokies closed the Tide's lead to three points with 9:22 to play in the game.
"Finishing the fourth quarter the way we did was the key to game," he said. "For them to score and us to respond with a great drive, that's what I mean." Bama's five play, 74-yard touchdown drive put the game out of reach. " We knew we had to earn it in this game and we earned it," Saban said. "I was really proud of way we did that."
Bad News First
As previously noted, and not unexpected, there was plenty of room for improvement in all areas of the game. On quarterback Greg McElroy, who was making his first start, Saban said:
"I think he played better as game went on; his confidence got better. I still would like to see a better sense of urgency in getting up to the line, but it was the first game."
Saban also cited poor kick coverage, incurring personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and blown assignments as miscues that must be addressed. "We made our share of mistakes," he said. "The focus needs to be on improving."
Now the Good News
"We actually played better than what the score is," Saban said. "I think we wore 'em down a little bit. Our backs did a good job of running the ball."
Saban said that Roy Upchurch got cramps quickly after being in the game, but that he was pleased with how he played. He said that Mark Ingram tired towards the end of the game, which is why he was glad to get Trent Richardson in on the final series. Saban also complimented Terry Grant, and said "we've got to find a way to get him the ball."
The defense, Saban said, "definitely did a good job keep quarterback frustrated with good pressure and i think that was a key to the game. He didn't run around too much with us; didn't hurt us around with big throws."
"They just slanted all the time on it and we had tough time sustaining blocks. I thought it would be better."
Saban was asked if he put in the wildcat formation in "offseason" practices, yielding a funny moment considering Rich Rodriguez's perdicament in Michigan, where he's been accused of practicing in excess of NCAA limits.
"We started doing it (wildcat formation) this fall camp," Saban said. "We don't practice in the offseason. We have spring practice and fall camp.
"We don't practice in the offseason."
Saban said he took the team to see the move "Cinderella Man" man, a movie based on a true story about hard-scrabble, depression-era boxer James Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) whose determination drives him to take on, and defeat formidable champ Max Baer.
"I told the team I'd like to see all you guys physically be Max Bayer and psychologically be the Braddock," Saban said. "We were punching them and punching ourselves in first half. It's hard to win when you punch yourself."
Night's Best Moment
Saban also commented on Brandon Deaderick's field time. Deaderick was shot earlier in the week in an attempted robbery but was cleared to play.
"I know Brandon really wanted to play, and our defensive players wanted him to play," Saban said. "It was traumatic when that happened. The fact that he was with us and practiced Thursday and got out there tonight was good thing for him and rest of players. i was trying to figure out way not to play him but we played him."
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