Nick Saban said winning can be like getting a cold. If you're winning but making mistakes, it can cost you.
"Some people think winning cures everything, but I also think you have to focus on the symptoms of what you need to do to improve," said Alabama's head coach, his team 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play.
"It's no different than when you start to get a cold. If you do nothing about it, you'll surely get the flu. But if you try to take care of yourself, do something about it, rest, do the right things and make adjustments in what you're doing, maybe you minimize your chances of getting sick. Certainly, that's what we want to do with our team to maximize our potential to continue to get better, to continue to improve, not only the knowledge and understanding, but get the right people on the field that have the ability to execute what we need to do and have the right motivation and the right discipline to carry it out when we get to a game."
Much like the common cold. Sort of.
The Crimson Tide has been one of the nation's most impressive teams so far. But Saban wants them to be better. He said Ole Miss is potentially their biggest challenge to date.
"Ole Miss is probably the best team we've played to this point, all the way around," said Saban, whose team beat the Rebels 24-20 last year in Tuscaloosa. "They have a lot of experience, a lot of good players, and a very good defensive team. Houston Nutt does a great job coaching any team that he has coached and we have had some great games in the past.
"Their defensive team is very highly ranked. They've got a very good front, a couple of dominant up front guys and couple of good pass rushers and play well in the secondary. Offensively, they've got a very, very, very good quarterback. They get the ball to (Dexter) McCluster, who is probably as dynamic a player as there is in this league. (Shay) Hodge is a very good receiver. They've got good runners. Their offensive line has done a good job. They are very sound and solid in the kicking game.
"So to me, this is the best all-around team that we have played. I think our team needs to be focused on what we need to do to improve and play the kind of winning football it's going to take on the road to beat a good football team like this."
Alabama appears to be able to push through to the end of games and dominate their opponents late, much like Crimson Tide teams have done through the years. Saban says there are reasons for that, and it starts much earlier in the year.
"I think that's why you do it," he said of the off-season programs teams use, "so you can perform to your maximum capabilities for 60 minutes in a game and you have the strength and physical stamina to be able to sustain the kind of relentless competitive effort that is our expectation for how our players play. It takes a lot of mental toughness to do that as well. If you wear a player down, everybody wants to play hard in the beginning of the game. It takes a long time to wear a player down, so you have to have a tremendous amount of mental toughness to be able to do that, to sustain it yourself. Those are the types of things that you actually build in an off-season program, probably as much the mental toughness and the physical and conditioning. What we did last winter probably doesn't carry over a lot right now, but it increases the capacity and the expectation of a player. It also mentally creates the toughness that they need to be able to persevere through difficult situations, physically and emotionally."
Saban likes much of what he's seen from his offense so far through five games.
"I think we've had good balance offensively. I think we have been efficient in throwing the ball, which is important. We have been effective enough running it and I think the balance that we've created has probably been the key to our success and think it's going to be a key to future success that we continue to do that. If we can do both things equally well it will keep people off-balance and we have a multiple number of guys that are contributing to do that and making plays. We have several backs that have done a really good job. Greg (McElroy) has done a really good job. Our skill players have done a good job and our offensive line has given them all a chance to do a good job. I think it's really a team thing and everybody is involved in it. I think our continued improvement is going to be important as we go down the road here."
Saban said Ole Miss will indeed be a tough test in Oxford.
"They're very capable. They have a lot of good players. They're well-coached," he said. "I've been playing against Houston Nutt teams for many years now. They're difficult to prepare for. They always do a good job of running the ball. They have a lot of things that they do that make it difficult to prepare for them. I think that's all a part of good coaching.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Houston Nutt has done any place that he's coached. I've always felt like he's one of the best coaches in our league and probably in the country."
Saban: 'Probably the best team we've played'
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