Tide Players Talk About Keeping Focus

Here we are again. Just like last year, the Alabama football team stands 10-0 with two regular season games to play. Just like last year last year, Alabama figures to be a heavy favorite in its last two games. Just like last year, Florida awaits the Tide in the SEC Championship Game. Just like last year, Nick Saban abhors questions that don't pertain to Bama's next opponents.

The chorus of questions about Alabama's national championship worthiness will grow loudest here in the next week or two; perhaps even as loud as the headache-inducing combination of Starkville's new state-of-the-art speaker system and 50,000 cowbells -- undoubtedly refurbished with new clappers in homage of new MSU Coach Dan Mullen -- that were blaring at Davis Wade Stadium in the first quarter Saturday night.

The clanging of the cowbells dropped off in the second quarter Saturday night after the Alabama defense held Mississippi State to four yards in four drives and Bama's offense scored twice to give the Tide a 14-0 lead, but the national championship questions won't stop until the Tide beats Florida on December 5, or else loses to either Chattanooga or Auburn in the next two weeks.

Mark Barron, who had two interceptions Saturday night, was asked if Alabama was national-championship calibler ("In my opinion? Yeah," he said.); so was Mark Ingram ("I think we are, but we gotta take it one game at a time.").

How will the Tide deal with the back slaps as the walk around campus? The constant stream of ESPN highlight reels featuring themselves? The growing chorus of premature national championship hype that will surround them?

"I think one of the ways to keep it grounded is to understand we're in the same spot now that we were in last year and we didn't accomplish any of our goals," Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said. "We have two games left against two good opponents, one of which is our rival."

Tide receiver Marquis Maze: "We're not worried about Florida or anything like that. We just stayed focused on the next game and then we'll focus on the next game after that. We don't get bothered by distractions, we just fight hard each week."

Javier Arenas, who has grown accustomed to the spotlight, sang much the same tune.

"We mean to stay consistent, professional really," he said. "We don't want to get complacent and not play to the level we know we can. that's been coach's mantra since he got here and we've adopted that."

On the heels of a dominating 31-3 victory over Mississippi State, Tide players think they need to improve. In particular, the Tide passing game has improved over the last two weeks.

"We're still waiting on our best game on offense," Maze said. "The big plays and one-play drives are great, but long drives is what gets the defense rest. We are still really learning each other but I think we're getting there."

Maze was a focal point of the offense against State, making four catches and gaining seven yards on a sweep from the receiver position. He warned there are more out-of-the-ordinary plays to come.

"We practiced different plays all week," he said. "We really haven't even opened up all the plays that we practiced this week."

Darius Hanks, who had three catches including a 45-yard touchdown, said, "We feel like we've got a huge point to prove. When I see those safeties come come up I'm licking my chops. Almost every play they were coming up in the box -- zero -- no safety back there."

Hanks said "it was frustrating" the past few weeks when the passing game has struggled, but things seem to be on the upswing. "Greg was really confident in the pocket tonight and wasn't rushing anything. He's a great leader."

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