Next Tide Game Really Is Big

Unquestionably, the game in the Southeast and one of the key games in the nation this week is LSU meeting Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa Saturday. From a Bama perspective, it would be the biggest game on the Crimson Tide schedule no matter the opponent.

Stop me if you've heard this one. "It's the biggest game because it's the next one."

Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it isn't true. It is the biggest game because it's the next one. It's also the biggest game because Alabama and LSU are both ranked among the nation's top ten teams. The winner of this game likely will win the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship. (In fact, a Crimson Tide win does clinch it for Alabama.) The SEC Championship Game winner has been sent to the BCS National Championship Game more often than not, and can expect that result this year.

Alabama is 8-0 overall and 5-0 in SEC play and ranked third in the nation. LSU is 7-1overall and 4-1 in SEC games and ranked ninth in the nation. CBS will televise the game nationally with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CST.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban doesn't send mixed messages. And Monday he was clear that his message to the players does not change in the homestretch.

"We focus on the same things all the time, in terms of what it takes to play winning football," Saban said. "That's what you want the players to focus on. I know it's a results world, but great competitors don't focus on the results. They focus on what they need to do to get the results. Sometimes that's difficult to do with a lot of the external things that we live with, but that's the most important thing to playing you're best. Maybe we were affected by that a little bit in the last couple of games. It takes away you're aggressiveness. I've said it before, you want to be aggressive and have high-achievement motivation in what you're doing, not lots of anxiety. Low anxiety, high-achievement motivation is the best way to get results. That's what we're always trying to promote and the best way to do that is to focus on the things you need to do to have success."

Saban coached at LSU from 2000 through 2004 before spending a couple of years at the helm of the Miami Dolphins. He was very successful with the Bengal Tigers, a 48-16 overall record and the national championship in 2003.

With "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" kind of logic, many LSU partisans despise Saban rather than appreciating that he rebuilt their football program. Even current LSU Coach Les Miles got in on the rhetoric with a fiery speech to Tigers' fans after Saban came to Alabama.

Saban's Alabama teams are 1-1 against LSU. The Tigers had won five straight before Bama won in overtime in Baton Rouge last year.

Saban emphasized that the game is not about him. He said, "I'm not going to insult anybody here, in terms of talking about this game, but like every other game that we play this year, this is the most important game we've played all year long, because it is the game that we play this week. It's our goal to put our team in a good position to be able to play the best football that they can play. I think it's important that you focus on playing good ball. Joe Girardi (New York Yankees manager) said ‘to close out the series, I want to play good baseball.' What gives you the best chance to close out the series? Play the best baseball you can play and keep playing the best you can play. Put your players in position to do it, be aggressive, be positive, play with good effort and toughness and do a great job of executing. That's got to be the focus of what we need to do, not focus on the result, but focus on the process of things that you need to do to play the best football you can, individually and collectively, and that's what we all need to do.

"The game is about the players. There are a lot of good players. These are two very good teams that have good players on both sides and there is a lot to talk about in terms of what's going to happen on the field.

"Les Miles has done a fantastic job in the five years he has been as LSU. They always play with toughness. They play with great effort. They are well-coached on both sides of the ball as well as special teams. Offensively, they've done a really good job. The quarterback has done a good job for them. (Charles) Scott's a good runner. They've got lots of skill players, two really, really good wide receivers. The offensive line has three starters back. They've got lots of good players. Defensively, they are third or fourth in the league and one of the top 15, top 10 in the country in lots of categories. They've got lots of good players and great skill players in the return game. This is an outstanding football team.

"We have a lot of good leadership on our team. We have lots of good players on our team. Our focus needs to be on us playing our best football of the year, and that's certainly what we're going to try and coach to get our players to do."

Saban touched on a number of subjects in his Monday press briefing:

On how much the off-week helped the team:

"I think that when you play eight games in a row, everybody is a little tired emotionally, mentally and physically. It's been my experience when you play more than six games in a row, without getting some rest, it gets to be a little strain on the players to continue make progress. So I think that the bye week did everybody a lot of good, in terms of getting some rest, physically, mentally and emotionally in every way, in terms of finishing the season.

"I was really pleased with the progress and effort that we had last week during the bye week. I think we made some improvement as a team. We had good focus on what we were doing. We did have the opportunity to work on some of the future opponents that we have, and some of the issues they might bring. We were able to work to some degree, at some time, against a little bit of what LSU does. I think the most important thing is we wanted to improve in areas we felt like we needed to make progress in, and I felt really good about what we were able to accomplish.

On pass protection from offensive line and the challenge the LSU defense presents:

"I think that our passing game needs to improve. I think that it starts with the protection. I think that in the last few weeks we've gotten a little more pressure than what we got earlier in the season. LSU obviously has some very good pass rushers. Number 84 (Rahim Alem) being one that is a pretty significant guy on the edge. I think that if we are going to improve in the passing game that every part of that needs to improve. Everything needs to improve and it certainly starts up front because that's what I think can affect the quarterback the most, in terms of him feeling like he has the time to make good choices and decisions in the passing game and getting the ball to the right place."

On why your team has not gotten the ball downfield more in the passing game:

"Well, I think first of all to get it down the field you've got to throw it down the field and we probably haven't done that as frequently as we need too. I think we have to be more aggressive in that part of what we're doing. I think we have the plays to do it. I think we have to have confidence in the players to be able to go execute those plays and give them an opportunity to make plays. I think that's one of the things when I say be aggressive, that's one of things that we certainly want to be able to do."

On what John Chavis has brought to LSU defense:

"They do what he does, and he is a very good coach. He was a great coach at Tennessee for a long time, and one of the best defensive coordinators in the SEC, in terms of full body of work over a period of time. Certainly, they are very well coached on defense. They have made a tremendous amount of improvement, in terms of almost every statistical category that they have, and I think it's due to the scheme that they play, the soundness, they are very well coached and the job he has done there. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and what he is able to do. I think the improvement is probably the most telling tale of what I am trying to say."

On the work you did with pass rush during the bye week:

"We continue to work guys in different positions. I think we got to work with a lot of the young players a little more than we normally do in the bye week. Courtney (Upshaw) is doing a better job. Chavis (Williams) did a good job when he was in there. Jerrell Harris, it was a good week for him just to go back and work on fundamentals and assignments and things that can help him improve as a player with all the time that he missed. I think all those players are better for it. I don't think we're ready to announce any changes in any of those things, but I think all those players will have a chance to make a contribution in some way."

On the status of tight end Colin Peek, who missed the Tennessee game with a sprained knee:

"Colin ran in the (therapeutic) pool yesterday and he is going to run today, so it will be day-to-day to see how he can do. Hopefully, he will be able to so some functional things on Tuesday and if everything goes well, we're hopeful he will be able to play in the game and contribute in the game. There are two other guys that have been bothered for quite some time with muscle pulls, Terry Grant and Dre Kirkpatrick, and they are kind of day-to-day as well. We tried to rest them some last week, this has been an ongoing thing with both guys and we are going to try to continue to see how they respond with the pulls that they have."

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