Saban Upbeat As Tide Awaits LSU

Alabama Coach Nick Saban is upbeat about his Crimson Tide football team, which has not played since Oct. 24 and which plays the nation's ninth-ranked team Saturday. Bama had an open date last weekend, practicing only three days last week.

This week Alabama puts its undefeated record on the line against LSU. Bama is 8-0 and ranked third in the nation. Bama is 5-0 in Southeastern Conference games. LSU is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC games, the lone setback coming at the hands of number one Florida, and is ranked ninth in the nation.

If Alabama wins the Tide clinches the SEC Western Division championship and a date against Florida (which has already won the East) in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on December 5. If LSU wins, the Tigers will be in control, but will still have to avoid a loss in games against Arkansas and Ole Miss to win the title.

Saturday's game from Bryant-Denny Stadium will begin at 2:30 p.m. CST with television coverage by CBS.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban on Wednesday said, "I think we've made huge improvement during this time. I think we've worked hard on the passing game and it shows. I think our players are playing with more confidence now. I think Greg (quarterback Greg McElroy) has done a really good job of getting the ball out of his hand on time. I think we've improved in pass protection. We've worked in every area to improve in every area. "

Saban pointed out that Alabama's running game has been good this year, even when opposing defenses loaded up to stop the run. "That's when we need to be able to take advantage of other things, have more balance in our offense, and that's what we've worked hard on and think have done a good job improving systematically and also in the execution of what we're trying to do," Saban said.

He also noted that Alabama's recent offensive struggles were in part because the Tide has been playing against good defenses. "But," he said, "we're going to have to be able to perform more consistently against better defenses. LSU is one of the better defenses we are going to play against."

Saban said, "Practice is going well this week and the players are working hard to try and prepare, We want to finish the week strong. Tomorrow (Thursday) is a real mental preparation day for us, lots of reps and I've been pleased with the effort and attitude.

"This is a challenging team to prepare for on both sides of the ball. They have lots of good players, especially skill guys on offense, and they utilize them in a lot of different ways and that's always challenging. Defensively they are very good up front, very good in the secondary. They've really got good players in the secondary and have played extremely well all year long, but especially in the last two or three games."

Injuries have been a bit of a concern with starting tight end Colin Peek having been injured in pre-game warm-ups prior to the Tennessee game. On Wednesday Saban said Peek had done a little practice work on both Tuesday and Wednesday. He said Peek, along with back-ups cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and tailback Terry Grant (both of whom have muscle pulls), are "day-to-day."

Michael Williams took over for Peek against Tennessee and Saban said Williams "has gotten all the reps the past two weeks." He said other tight ends have also "done a good job."

He added, "I think we're prepared to go if Colin can't go."

Also on the injury front, Saban said third tailback Roy Upchurch is ready to go and that with Grant's injury that Demetrius Goode, who had been injured, is back working and could be the fourth tailback.

Saban was asked about the recent improvement shown by LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. The Tide coach said Jefferson has improved as he has gotten more experience, and he also shows "a good knowledge and grasp of their offense. He doesn't turn the ball over, doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, had a strong arm, been very accurate, very athletic, makes plays with his feet at times in terms of his running ability, does a really good job of executing what they ask him to do."

Saban also participated in the SEC Head Coaches weekly teleconference on Wednesday and here are some of those comments:

On what has jumped out at you about LSU's offense the last two weeks:

"I think they've had very good balance in their offense. They utilize a lot of their skill players. Russell Shepard has made a big contribution in the last couple of games and I think they have some very good receivers who can make plays down the field. Jordan Jefferson has played more and more consistently throughout the season for them. His pass efficiency is very good. They have the ability to run the ball and create balance, so they are just doing a little better job executing with consistency and I think scoring more points because of it."

On the matchup between Alabama receivers and LSU secondary, particularly Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson:

"LSU's got a really good secondary, very athletic, guys tackle well. They play physical. They all can judge the ball. They have really nice-sized good physical safeties and they play well. It's going to be important for our guys to play well against them. They play a lot of close coverage and our guys are going to have to get away from them and give the quarterback an opportunity to throw the ball, so it's going to be a key matchup in the game no doubt. Hopefully our guys will be ready for it and the things that we do will give them a chance to be successful."

On the importance of open date heading into a game like LSU:

"Regardless of the next game, I really felt like our team was a little bit tired and beat up, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally going into the last game. When you play eight games in a row, and five of them are SEC games, I think that can take its toll on you a little bit. This was a good week for us to get some rest physically, have the players make some choices and decisions to help themselves to be able to come back and get focused, emotionally, physically and mentally be in a better place than they were. I think that's happened for us and I've been pleased with that part of how our players have managed the bye week, in terms of the improvement that they've made and the rest that we've been able to get as well."

On LSU's Kelvin Sheppard:

"He's an outstanding player. He definitely makes a lot of plays, tackles for losses. I would think from watching the tapes, he's probably their top tackler. I think he is very athletic and runs well and he is very instinctive, but I think their defense is really playing well this year. They have a good scheme. They are well coached. The players really play well together. They've got a good secondary. They've got a good front seven. They've got some people who can pass rush, so the combination of the players they have are very effective."

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