Saban looks for execution against Tennessee

A 21-day layoff for the LSU and Tennessee football teams could mean both units will have a little rust to shake off in the early stages of their game Saturday, but LSU head coach Nick Saban feels his team has made the most of their long string of practice sessions without a game

The Tigers have not played since their Sept. 8 game with Utah State due to the postponement of the Sept. 15 game with Auburn following the terrorist attack on the United States. Despite the lack of live competition, Saban believes his team has maintained a consistent concentration level in practice.

"The focus and intensity was what we wanted it to be for a shell practice," said Saban, referring to the light practice gear the Tigers wore on Wednesday. "We had a good high-tempo practice yesterday, and the players are ready to play a game.

"It's been a long time practicing, a long time preparing. This is our second game we've prepared for without playing a game, so we're definitely looking forward to having an opportunity to play."

Joining the Tigers for Wednesday's workout was senior wide receiver Reggie Robison, who led the team in their stretching exercises wearing his helmet and shoulder pads. A neck injury sustained in August, and subsequent surgery, sidelined Robinson for the season. He is being redshirted and can play next year once he completes his three-month rehabilitation.

"It's tough enough that he's injured and has a significant amount of rehab work to do," Saban said. "I think the absence of being around the players and being a part of the team is the toughest thing that any injured player has to deal with.

"(Reggie) wanted to do something to show his support of the team. He wanted to dress and be a part of leading exercises today. I thought that was a great team thing for him to do, and I think the rest of the players appreciated it a lot because he is a very well respected guy on our team."

Players not dressed out for Wednesday practice were offensive tackle Rodney Reed (twisted ankle) and cornerback Robert Davis (knee). Saban said Davis probably will not play against Tennessee, but that Reed will be ready for the game. The same goes for the two players wearing no-contact jerseys on Wednesday, offensive tackle Brad Smalling (neck) and safety Lionel Thomas (neck).

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, whose team has also been off for the past two weeks, is looking to lead his team in a payback win following LSU's 38-31 overtime win in Baton Rouge last season. One of the players Fulmer recognized as key in the Tigers' victory was quarterback Rohan Davey, and he has used the extra practice time to prepare for him and the rest of LSU's weapons.

"The guy who makes it happen for them is Rohan Davey, who's just an exceptional player as we found out the hard way last year," said Fulmer. "They give you a lot of formation problems. Matching up with their speed is difficult at times. Their misdirection passing game makes you have to be disciplined and work at getting matched up the way you want to.

Although Davey shoulders the responsibility of being a team leader for the Tigers, Saban says his quarterback doesn't feel as though the burden is entirely on him to win the game on his own.

"I don't think he things of it that way," said Saban. "Ro's got the maturity to know what his role is, how he affects everybody else. I don't think he tries to make plays outside the system and do crazy things with the ball. His decisions and judgments are good."

Saban recognizes the Volunteers will try to affect the decisions Davey makes with consistent pressure, primarily with the strong rush from the defensive line and supporting linebackers. Giving Davey adequate protection and time to make reads will be crucial to the Tigers' success, says Saban. He credits Tennessee's pass rush with creating turnover opportunities and getting the defense off the field quickly.

The Tigers' defense will make its own attempt to pressure Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen. The older brother of LSU freshman quarterback Rick Clausen has taken the helm for the Vols in his sophomore season and led them to a 2-0 start. 

"I don't think there's any question about your ability to affect the quarterback is always going to be important," said Saban. "The number one thing for us is to be physical because they're going to try to win the line of scrimmage and run the football. They're going to try to make big plays passing the ball.

"When it gets to be a passing down, we need to be able to affect the quarterback with four guys rushing and not always have to put ourselves in some compromising position to pressure him. If (Clausen) has time to operate, he's a very effective passer. I think to disrupt him in the game is going to be a real key for us."

A focus for Saban during the practice week has been instilling the necessary attitude in his players for them to be successful in a hostile environment like Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, where over 107,000 fans will be on hand for the Southeastern Conference contest Saturday night.

Saban says he is trying to get his players to take "Boo me" approach to playing in front of an unfriendly crowd and using the negative reinforcement to fuel their competitive fire.

"You've got to get almost belligerent in terms of how you feel because you're in somebody else's house," Saban explained. "They want to beat you up in front of their momma and girlfriend, and you've got to want to beat them up in front of their momma and girlfriend. It's about as simple as that."

Asked if he noticed any of his players with the "brook trout look," the blank facial expressions that stood out to him during last year's lost to Florida, Saban said he had not.

"Not so far, but I'll be right in their face if there is one," remarked Saban. "I can promise you I won't have one."

A victory against Tennessee is what fans hope the Tigers bring back to Baton Rouge, but Saban says he will measure his squad based upon the quality of its performance and not necessarily the final score.

"More important than whether we win this game to me is how well we play on the road and we take a step in becoming a more dominant team. To go in a place that's going to be difficult to play in and to be able to make our mark as a dominant team…is going to send a signal that we can play well on the road."

Saban deals with layoff: In addition to the Tigers dealing with what will be a 21-day layoff from competition, Saban says he has not previously encountered a situation where he cannot go through his usual game-to-game preparations.

"It's been hard for me, it really has," he said. "I can't sleep at night. I'm anxious about getting into things, wondering about what kind of team we have, what kind of character we have as a team, what kind of character we have competitively, how we're going to respond in situations.

"As a coach, you use the games, not as a barometer, but to give you feedback on where you are. You're always trying to get better and practice the things that you need to improve on. With all this time to practice and no feedback on where you are, it's made it a little more difficult to try and get a feeling for what needs to be done."

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