Tide Good, But Saban Wants Better

Nick Saban has an Alabama team doing a lot of good things. That's why the Crimson Tide is 5-0 and ranked third in the nation, and considered by some to be the best college football team in the country.

But Nick Saban isn't satisfied with his Alabama football team, which is one reason many consider him to be the best college football coach in America.

Alabama is coming off a 38-20 win over Kentucky in Lexington, and Monday Saban said "there were a lot of good things in the game." He said Tide players "played hard and competed in the game. It's always good to win on the road in this league."

Saban said, "Some people think winning cures everything and I am certainly happy that we were able to win, but I also think you have to focus on the symptoms of what you need to do to improve. It's no different than when you start to get a cold. If you do nothing about it, you'll surely get the flu. But if you try to take care of yourself, do something about it, rest, do the right things and make adjustments in what you're doing, maybe you minimize your chances of getting sick.

"Certainly, that's what we want to do with our team to maximize our potential to continue to get better to continue to improve, not only the knowledge and understanding, but get the right people on the field that have the ability to execute what we need to do and have the right motivation and the right discipline to carry it out when we get to a game."

Saban said Alabama's success has been due to a number of things, including turnover ratio (particularly the 4-0 margin last week), long offensive drives, fourth quarter dominance, and offensive balance.

Here are Saban's comments on various issues.

On the number of giveaways and takeaways:

"I think when I mentioned turnovers I sort of talked about the turnover ratio; the fact that we didn't have any, which is outstanding and the fact that we got four. The difference in that and the difference that made in the game is probably really significant. I think we've done an outstanding job of taking care of the ball and I think that's really important to play winning football and we certainly need to continue to do that, especially when we are playing on the road."

On the number of 90-yard drives in last three games and how that affects the defense:

"Well, I think when defenses play long drives it can have an effect on them. I thought, and maybe this is reversing your question to some degree, but Kentucky had a long drive against us early in the game. I don't know exactly how many plays - 14, 15, 16 or 17 - I don't know how many it was. It affected us a little bit in the game. We had gone three and out several plays on offense, several series on offense, and were on the field a lot in the first quarter and it affected us in the game and it may have affected the way we played the rest of the game. I think when you have those kinds of drives it does take something out of the defense, physically and emotionally. Those are great drives. There is a lot of discipline and execution to make those kinds of drives. I was really proud of what our offensive team has done in all three of those to get that kind of execution, but this one was big on the road."

On fourth quarter dominance relating to your off-season program:

"I think that's why you do it, so you can perform to your maximum capabilities for 60 minutes in a game and you have the strength and physical stamina to be able to sustain the kind of relentless competitive effort that is our expectation for how our players play. It takes a lot of mental toughness to do that as well. If you wear a player down, everybody wants to play hard in the beginning of the game, it takes a long time to wear a player down, so you have to have a tremendous amount of mental toughness to be able to do that, to sustain it yourself. Those are the types of things that you actually build in an off-season program, probably as much the mental toughness and the physical and conditioning. What we did last winter probably doesn't carry over a lot right now, but it increases the capacity and the expectation of a player, but it also mentally creates the toughness that they need to be able to persevere difficult situations, physically and emotionally."

On offensive production in five games:

"I think we've had good balance offensively. I think we have been efficient in throwing the ball, which is important. We have been effective enough running it and I think the balance that we've created has probably been the key to our success and think it's going to be a key to future success that we continue to do that. If we can do both things equally well it will keep people off-balance and we have a multiple number of guys that are contributing to do that and making plays. We have several backs that have done a really good job. Greg (McElroy) has done a really good job. Our skill players have done a good job and our offensive line has given them all a chance to do a good job. I think it's really a team thing and everybody is involved in it. I think our continued improvement is going to be important as we go down the road here."

On passing game utilizing a number of players and taking what defense gives you:

"I think it's totally taking what the defense gives you. There is an old saying, if you take what the defense gives, they will eventually give you the game. So, if the people aren't open or they are dropping deep in zone and taking the vertical throws away and you drop the ball down to the check down and the guy gains six, eight 10 yards, that's a positive play. We have good guys and that's just another opportunity to get them the ball in space. I think the tight end is probably the best mismatched player on the field. I've always said that, in terms of who is covering him, where he lines up and how he gets defended. All these things are positives in my opinion. The quarterback makes good decisions and gets the ball in the right places and he's got the patience to do it and that's one of the reasons we have not turned it over a lot is we're not putting the ball where it shouldn't be going."

Against Kentucky, Saban said, "I think we played better in the second half offensively and maybe not as well defensively in the second half. "

Saban reiterated, "We also have a lot of things to work on. We need to continue to clean up penalties, even though we only had six or seven in the game and they were very costly, especially when these penalties are undisciplined-like penalties. We had a couple of illegal formations, jumping off sides, especially when we were in bad field position.

"Defensively, we did not stop the run as well as we would have liked to. We didn't create the situations that we wanted to create. We have to get back to striking people up front and getting off blocks, playing gap-discipline and tackling people better. We had a couple of opportunities to stop them in the red area and we didn't do it.

"The kicking game, even though there were some good things with kickoff returns, I thought that was a lot better. We didn't punt the ball particularly well and we didn't do a very good job of covering some of those punts, although I do think the wind was a big factor in that regard."

Saban has always been high on Houston Nutt, who is coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. Alabama goes to Oxford Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. CDT game that will be televised by CBS. Bama has a current five-game winning streak against the Rebels, who were ranked fourth in the nation before losing at South Carolina a couple of weeks ago.

Saban said Mississippi "is probably the best team we have played to this point, all the way around. They have a lot of experience, a lot of good players, and a very good defensive team. Houston Nutt does a great job coaching any team that he has coached and we have had some great games in the past.

"Their defensive team is very highly ranked. They've got a very good front, a couple of dominant up front guys and couple of good pass rushers and play well in the secondary.

"Offensively, they've got a very, very, very good quarterback. They get the ball to (Dexter) McCluster, who is probably as dynamic a player as there is in this league. (Shay) Hodge is a very good receiver. They've got good runners. Their offensive line has done a good job.

"They are very sound and solid in the kicking game. So to me, this is the best all-around team that we have played.

"I think our team needs to be focused on what we need to do to improve and play the kind of winning football it's going to take on the road to beat a good football team like this."

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