Preparation Ranks Above Location
Alabama will be home Saturday when the Crimson Tide has its Southeastern Conference opener, hosting the Arkansas Razorbacks. Alabama is 3-0 and ranked third in the nation. Arkansas is 1-1 and coming off a difficult loss, 52-41 at the hands of Georgia on the Razorbacks' home field last Saturday. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television by CBS.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "This being the opener in the SEC for us--obviously a great atmosphere, nationally televised game. playing at home. I know our fans and our supporters will make for a great atmosphere for our players and hopefully make it difficult for those guys (Arkansas) with the noise they make when they have it."
But Saban is a realist.
Asked if the home field advantage had improved at Alabama since 2007, the Tide coach said, "I have no idea. I don't know what a home field advantage really is. You would always like to play well at home, but I think it's just as important to prepare well and be prepared to play at home and be excited to play at home. I think sometimes players can think just because we're playing at home, ‘that's going to get me ready to play,' and that doesn't happen. That still goes back to preparation how you get ready to play. You still have to be a competitor, you still have to prepare yourself to play well. Hopefully everyone understands that so they can take advantage of playing at home."
Saban didn't leave it there. He went to the obvious next step.
"Now, when we have a road game, you're going to ask me about playing on the road,," he said. "So if it's a big advantage to play at home, it must be a tremendous disadvantage to play on the road. But if you're ever really going to be any good, you've got to be able to win on the road. Which means you have to have great focus and concentration in what you're doing; not be affected by external factors like the crowd so you can maintain your level of intensity throughout the game and not move with the ebb and flow of momentum that can favor the other team when you're playing on the road."
Saban said, "As much as I appreciate our home crowd, our stadium, our venue, and the great job that they do in their part of this team for helping to create a wonderful atmosphere for our players to compete in, I don't want our players to ever rely on them, think that's going to be an advantage to them, because the advantage is getting your tail ready to play, working like you need to do, studying so you don't make mistakes, go out there and execute and do what you need to do to take care of business.
"That's the plan in a parking lot, in the street, at night, early in the day...."
Saban emphasized the importance of preparation throughout his comments to sportswriters Wednesday. He said Alabama has a tough assignment in preparing for Arkansas.
Asked about the offense of Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino, Saban said, "It's really a pro-style offense, what you see pretty much every week in the NFL." Both Saban and Petrino left successful college jobs for short stints in the NFL before returning to college coaching in their current jobs.
"It's really well designed, a good scheme," Saban said. "He knows how to take advantage of whatever the defense is doing, does a really good job of teaching it, players and they do a good job of executing it. It's not the style. It's the way the players execute it. It's a great system. They do a great job of teaching it. and he always has And that's what makes him a very good coach, and particularly a very good offensive coach.
"You have to be equal to the task relative to what you're trying to do defensively to try to stop it. Because if you're sloppy in what you do they are going to beat you because they know what to do and they are going to react the right way. You've got to do things correctly and with discipline or you're going to have issues and problems."
Saban said the Tide has had "a good week; hard week. The players have worked hard. It's been hot outside. This kind of offense (Alabama is facing) is a lot of passes, a lot of running, a lot of covering. I've been pleased with the effort.
"Preparation is what great competitors have to know is what gets them ready to take advantage of opportunities, and absolute preparation will also affect their performance. Guys who are great competitors understand that.
"So it's going to be important that we're well prepared, and that's why you practice so that guys have the opportunity to prepare. I've been pleased with the effort that we've been giving in trying to get that done this week.
All the work you do is for this – the off-season program, the weight lifting, the 110s in the summertime – all that stuff is to play your best in your conference and especially in your division. So that's what I hope our players are looking for."
The coach was asked if he could see intensity picking up with the first SEC game of the year approaching.
"That's what we're hoping for, that's what we want to happen, that's what you assume will happen," Saban said. "I think the focus and attention to detail has been good, and think that's probably a sign there's a little more of that. We're pretty business-oriented in terms of how we go about in what we're going to do each day, what we're going to accomplish, whether it's third down in red area today or first and ten, second and long, goalline yesterday, and clean it up tomorrow. Every game you play is a big game, and every game in the league is a big game. I would hope that we'd go out the rest of the week and be ready on Saturday."
On the injury front, Saban said that All-America wide receiver Julio Jones, out for the past game and a half with a bruised knee, had practiced and "didn't have any issues." Tailback Roy Upchurch, out about the same amount of time with a high ankle sprain, "is probably not 100 per cent and is day-to-day." He said tailback Demetrius Goode, who suffered a hyper-extended knee last week, had returned to practice. Freshman cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had his foot stepped on and bruised late in Tuesday's practice and was held out but is expected to return Thursday.
Prior to practice, Saban participated in the weekly SEC teleconference. Here are some of his comments: "Arkansas certainly has an outstanding team. Bobby (Petrino) has done a fantastic job of improving their team in every way. They're probably one of the best passing teams in the country, systematically, as well as the players that they have. Ryan Mallett has done a fantastic job for them and their defense is much improved. They've got good team speed and play well on special teams. This is going to be a challenging game for us and the first game in our division as well as our conference."
On progress of your defense after three games:
"I think we've got a lot of areas to improve on. I think we've played the run fairly well for the most part. We've probably given up more big plays than we like and we've got to be more consistent on third down. We need to improve in our ability to get turnovers. We've done a lot of good things. I just think we want to continue to improve in every phase of it. We are going to be much more challenged in so many more ways in some of the games we have coming up, including this game with Arkansas. It will be interesting to see how we respond."
On importance of third-down conversions in this game:
"You always have to do a good job on third down. They have a lot of capabilities.. They are a very good passing team and I think some of your third-down conversion rate is how well you do on the other downs and what third-down situation you're in. If you end up getting a lot of third-and-longs, then you're going to have more difficulty, probably converting on third down. There is no reason that the way they throw the ball and the capability they have from the skill standpoint and the quarterback standpoint; we definitely respect what their ability would be on third down."
On strength of SEC Western Division with three teams ranked in AP top-7:
"I think it speaks volumes for the quality of our division. Obviously, Ole Miss and LSU are getting that recognition, but I think everybody on our side has played well. Auburn is undefeated. Arkansas is, we feel, as good as anybody, in terms of what they might be able to accomplish this year with the numbers they have put up, especially in how they've been able to score points and I think they are much improved on defense. I think from top to bottom, our division is really strong."
On Arkansas' defense:
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for their capabilities and I think they have improved dramatically defensively. I think their players understand what they are doing and I think they improved through the course of last year as we watched later in the year last year. We have a tremendous amount of respect of the capabilities of Arkansas' defense and sometimes the style of the game dictates a lot of big plays in the game. I think they are much improved and played very well in the first game and are very capable of being a very good defensive team."
On Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett:
"I think he understands their system. He is throwing the ball to the right place. He throwing it on time and he gets it out of his hand and he seems to do a good job of executing their offense overall, whether they have some check with me's, he gets them in the right play. I think he has done a good job all the way around. It seems like the players believe in him and he is a good leader for them. I think he is an outstanding quarterback and he certainly has a lot of arm talent, has been accurate and has made a tremendous amount of plays in the first two games."
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