Bama Is Playing Physical Football

When Nick Saban was introduced to the media in January, 2007, he said that he wanted the Alabama football team he was now coaching to be a team that other teams did not want to play. Those who had seen the LSU teams of Saban knew what he was promising.

Had it not been for the interception controversy, most of the talk from Alabama's 24-15 win over LSU last Saturday might have centered on the number of LSU players strewn on the field, some injured too badly to return, one key performer lost for the season. This wasn't the result of some illegal chop block or something like that.

Saban promised a physical team and he has delivered. One reason LSU wasn't able to gain enough yardage to make a first down (much less the pie in the sky touchdown the Fighting Tigers partisans seem to believe was automatic) was that quarterback Jordan Jefferson and tailback Charles Scott had been put out of the game. A blitz by freshman linebacker Nico Johnson sidelined Jefferson. Scott suffered a season-ending broken collarbone when he was tackled by Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson.

At one point the game was delayed while LSU trainers attended to three Tigers down on the field.

"One of the things we emphasize is being a physical team," Saban said. "Playing physical, being aggressive, being relentless in how you compete. Having the physical and mental toughness to persevere that.

"It takes a long time to wear a guy down. It takes a long time to dominate somebody. It starts on the first play, but it takes a lot of plays to get it done."

Saban expects another physical game Saturday when the Crimson Tide goes to Mississippi State. Bama, 9-0 and ranked among the nation's top three teams. Mississippi State has a misleading 4-5 record, including four losses at home. All four of those losses were to ranked teams (LSU, Georgia Tech, Houston and number one Florida) and were by an average of eight points.

Alabama is 6-0 in Southeastern Conference games and has clinched the Western Division championship and the berth in the SEC Championship Game against Florida at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on December 5.

Saturday's game in Starkville kicks off at 5 p.m. CST and will be televised by ESPN.

Saban said, "Mississippi State is a very good team, a very challenging team, a very different kind of offense to prepare for. Our players are working hard on it, but we have a ways to go. They are very aggressive and play hard on defense. This is a good team and they've really played well this year and are very much improved and have done a really good job."

The Bulldogs of new Coach Dan Mullen have one particularly potent weapon in tailback Anthony Dixon, a 6-1, 235-pound senior.

Saban said Dixon "is a big, physical runner, very strong, really playing well this year. Competes well in the game, plays with a lot of toughness, people don't like to tackle him because of his size and his downhill style--kind of a North-South guy who has speed. I've seen him first hand a couple of times and he's given us problems in the past. We certainly need to do a good job at tackling, playing our gaps, and not getting downfield where he gets even more difficult to tackle when he gets up a head of steam. He's played fantastic. They've done a good job with their offense and they're doing a good job running the ball."

While Alabama has been hazardous to the football health of opponents, the Crimson Tide is reasonably healthy three-fourths of the way through regular season play.

Saban said, "I don't thing we're as healthy as we were last year, because we lost more guys for the season. I don't think we lost anybody for the season last year, especially a starter. I don't know how many games we've had missed by a starter this year, maybe 20 or 30. And last year we had maybe five. Those guys never come back, and that affects the depth on your team and sometimes the wear and tear a little bit. For right now, I think other than (tgailback) Terry Grant we have a pretty good chance to get everybody back for this game. I think (tight end) Colin Peek is getting better, he's practicing more, he looks more comfortable and confident in what he's doing, but that's still a day-to-day decision. For the players we have available, I think we're pretty healthy, but we've lost a few good players and that's affected us to some degree."

Saban said that he has been pleased with the way the Tide has prepared for the game. But he sounded a little warning. "I think when you reach this point in the season--it's kind of ending one season and starting another--it's all about what you want to accomplish and how committed are you to it and what does it mean to you so you can continue to do the things you need to do, (both) individually and collectively as a team," Saban said. "The things you can do better individually as a player to help your unit and the team, as well as things we need to do as a team to continue to improve and get better, so we can play better football in this last quarter of the season."

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