Saban cautious of letdown week

In the aftermath of last Saturday's upset of No. 7 Georgia, the 7th-ranked Tigers prepare for their second road trip of the 2003 season. <br><br> LSU's trek up to Starkville, Miss. on Saturday is expected to play out much the way the Tigers journey to Tucson did – in a blowout. Mississippi State is challenging Vanderbilt as the worst team in the SEC. Losses to Conference USA members Tulane and Houston in consecutive weeks have left the Bulldogs reeling.

However, LSU head coach Nick Saban is well aware of history. Saban is not taking Mississippi State lightly, especially due to the Tigers knack for enduring letdown losses in the wake of huge victories.


"You can look at history and you can look at big wins, you can look at a lot of things and there are two things that can happen," Saban said. "You can be relieved by the fact that you just won a big game so now you say ‘Hey we just won a big game so now we can relax and take it easy and we don't have to work as hard to practice and prepare as well for the team we play this week or any of that stuff."


Two Saban teams have lost after a couple of exciting victories, but nowhere near as close to the letdown endured following the Tigers 28-21 win over No. 1 Florida in 1998. LSU fell to lowly Ole Miss 35-21 just seven days later.


"That happened after we beat Tennessee here three years ago," Saban said. "We got thumped the next week and then went and won at Kentucky. The most important thing is that players focus and concentrate and have a conviction and commitment toward doing the things that we need to do to get better. Like I have talked about before, you have to have a high standard of expectation to be able to continue to do that when good things happen or sometimes you get a little relieved."


While Saban an the Tigers focus is shifting toward the Mississippi State Bulldogs, many people are still buzzing about last Saturday's win over the other Bulldogs.


"After watching the film I think that what I said after the game is probably still pretty true today," Saban said. "We competed extremely well in the game, played hard, and played with a lot of toughness. We never hung our head anytime relative to any circumstance or situation."


And several times during Saturday's win, LSU could have hung its head and gave in. A 93-yard touchdown pass from David Greene to Tyson Browning energized the a Georgia squad that trailed most of the game. Just as it looked the Tigers were putting the game on ice, the Bulldogs responded tying the score.


"The defense had a lot of tough situations in the first half with bad field positions," Saban said. "Our offense had some tough circumstances late in the game and overcame it and made plays when they had to. I think that above all that I say I want you to know that I respect our players a tremendous amount for doing that."


Georgia had the ball inside LSU's 30 five times during the first half and came away with just three points. All-SEC kicker Billy Bennett missed three field goals and the Bulldogs offense turned the ball over three times, including a pair of interceptions by arguably the league's best passer in Greene.


"Obviously they (Georgia) are a good football team so they contribute to that to some degree, but when you drop balls, don't run the routes the right way, don't read the coverages right, bust on defense and don't play them right due to lack of communication or whatever, you feel like there are a lot of things that you need to fix or work on to improve," Saban said.


Despite winning on Saturday and receiving an outstanding effort from his defense, Saban did not think the Tigers played particularly well.


"We feel very fortunate and very good about the fact that we beat a good football team, but we don't necessarily feel like we had our "A" game the whole time in doing it in terms of how we executed," he said. "I think that our commitment to improving and fixing those things and using this game as experience and an opportunity to get better is going to be a real key to the future of this team."


Senior cornerback Corey Webster was named the defensive player of the week recording nine tackles and the game clinching interception.


"The players of the week, Corey Webster was obviously SEC Player of the Week, was also player of the week for us as well as Chad Lavalais," Saban said. "He (Lavalais) did an excellent job of pushing and pressuring. (Andrew) Whitworth and Eric Edwards on offense both had outstanding games and Justin Vincent was the outstanding special teams player."


As for injuries, Marquise Hill and Adrian Mayes both missed practice on Monday. Hill has a twisted ankle and Mayes has a sprained wrist. Eric Alexander and Michael Clayton were in red jerseys (non-contact) on Monday. Saban said Alexander has an AC sprain and Michael Clayton suffered a thigh bruise in the game.


As for Saturday's opponent, the Bulldogs enter the game against LSU with the nation's second worst defensive unit. However, Saban and his team respect what Mississippi State can do offensively.


"Mississippi State is a team that certainly needs to be respected," Saban said. "Their offensive team has put up almost 33 points a game and over 450 yards of offense a game. Kevin Fant has thrown for almost 300 yards a game. They have excellent running backs and outstanding skill people. They make a lot of big plays in games and I think they are a pretty good offensive football team."


A lack of experience on defense under a new coordinator is the reason for the Bulldog's defensive woes.


"Defensively they have six freshman or sophomores starting out of 11 guys," Saban said. "They are young on defense and I am sure are going to make improvement as young players do as the season goes on."


In the end though, Saban is not exactly worried about who his team is facing on Saturday but more that it is just the next game after beating Georgia. He stressed the point that success isn't just winning, but how you deal with it.


"I can sit here an give you the scenarios that happen every week," he said. "I think Toledo beat Pitt and Marshall beat Kansas State, Northern Illinois beat Alabama. So even though everybody likes to just assume things that is not the way it is. That is not the way it is in college football every week and it is not the way that it is in our league and I think everybody needs to understand that including our players."

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