Saban Hopes Tide Gets the Message

Will it take a loss next week against Tennessee to re-focus the Alabama football team for the rest of the season, or can Nick Saban find a way get the message through before it's too late?

That appeared the question Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban was grappling with during the post-game press conference Saturday night after the Tide's 20-6 win over South Carolina. The Crimson Tide win was powered by a typically stingy defense and a 246-yard rushing performance by Mark Ingram; but the Tide's passing game was woeful and 10 penalties for 113 yards, many of them on special teams, was another black mark on the night's performance.

"I don't want you to think I'm disappointed," Saban said, "but there are lessons to be learned from playing a game like this."

Saban, who about once a week mentions athletes like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James as intended role models for his players, had a movie shipped in Thursday about LeBron James' high school team, he said. That team won the state championship James' freshman and sophomore year, but lost his junior year "because they became arrogant, lost focus, lost their way, didn't pay attention to detail, didn't respect their coaches," Saban said.

"No one on our team has done that," Saban said, meaning that no one had disrespected the coaches, "but I just wanted them to see what can happen when you lose focus. Everyone wants to win when you walk through the tunnel, but it's the preparation that makes the difference. You hope you don't have to be punished to learn lessons."

"There's an old saying that success breeds success," Saban said. "I'm not sure that's right. Sometimes they get a little relieved when things are going well and they don't pay attention to detail."

Saban called Ingram's performance Saturday, the third-best rushing performance in Alabama football history, "as fine a job as anybody I've ever been around; that includes Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and some really good ones. If we had a whole team of guys that played like that the sky would be the limit."

Ingram led the game-clinching touchdown drive with rushing attempts on all six plays, five of which came out of the Tide's wildcat formation with Ingram taking the direct snap.

"To take air out of the ball there with a really good drive was phenomenal," he said.

Saban attributed Javier Arenas' absence in Saturday night's game to a rib punch suffered late in practice on Wednesday. Saban said Arenas went through the squad's walk-through on Thursday and thought he was going to be fine for Saturday's game.

"He went out in pre-game warm-up and couldn't move, said he was really sore," Saban said. "We hope it's nothing serious and he's not out for an extended period of time."

About the troubled passing game and quarterback Greg McElroy's struggles, Saban said, "the absence of explosive plays and inability to pass the ball in the last two games is definitely something we have to get corrected. Greg's confidence, reading guys and throwing to right place, that's what he's done best, and the last two games he hasn't had same confidence in where to go with the ball and what to do with it. We need to get that back."

Despite zero catches for receiver Julio Jones, Saban said, "he played a really good game. He was physical, had good returns, had that play (where he stripped the ball from a South Carolina defensive back after an interception); when you're not throwing the ball well it's hard to get the ball to your skill guys and we have too many skill guys not to get them the ball."

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