Alabama is coming off perhaps its best performance of the season, a 41-10 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville. But Tennessee is having a woeful season. Next up is LSU, which has been ranked among the nation’s top ten all year. Bama takes on the Fighting Tigers, now ranked 12th after suffering their first loss last week, in Baton Rouge. November 6.
The tough November stretch continues November 13 against Mississippi State, has what should be a breather against Georgia State Thursday, November 18, and closes out the regular season hosting Auburn, ranked third in the polls but first in the BCS rankings, on Friday November 26.
“I think we had that earlier in the year, too,” said Alabama Coach Nick Saban of the difficulty of the finishing schedule. On successive early season Saturdays, Bama went to nationally ranked Arkansas, hosted top ten Florida, and then went to nationally ranked South Carolina (where the Tide suffered its lone loss of the year).
“We’ve got a lot of tough games against a lot of tough teams,” Saban said. “All we can do is what we can control, which is to try to make our team the best we can make our team, and our team to improve and be as prepared as we can to play those games one game at a time. Focus on being the best we can be and getting more guys to do that. That’s what we’ll do.”
To that end, Alabama is practicing three days this week. It started Tuesday and continues through Thursday. On Friday, Bama players will work on their own.
“We got back to work today,” Saban said. “The team took a big step in the right direction in the second half of the Tennessee game. I think we played to a little higher standard, got a little better execution, played physical like we want, played with some toughness, made plays when we needed to make them.
“We certainly haven’t arrived or anything like that. We have a lot of things we can improve on.
“That’s certainly the focus of what we want to do this week with the bye week. Each player has something that he can improve on. We want him to focus on that, whether it be technique, conditioning, better understanding of assignments. Also, having a positive energy to affect your teammates in terms of how you go about what you do, so that we get a chance to improve as a team.
“We’ll also use this time to get a little exposure to future opponents, people that do things different than what we’ve seen to this point. It’s probably good to spend a few periods on doing some things that players haven’t seen before. It always makes them a little bit better to come back to that when game week comes. I think you can start practicing for another team too soon, even though there may be some things that team does you might want to spend a little time on.”
Saban said a judgment of Alabama strengths and weaknesses or areas of improvement to date “is not an absolute. There are varying degrees, even when you talk about improvement. It doesn’t come in huge games or huge steps.” Throughout the discussion, Saban pointed out that he is not satisfied with performance, that there are many areas where there can be improvement.
As to defense, Saban said, “I think we’ve made some improvement on defense throughout the course of the year. We’ve made less mental errors. We’ve probably tackled a little bit better. We’ve not given up quite as many big plays, which is going to be important. We’re playing a little bit better on the perimeter, in terms of run force and things like that.”
He said, “Offensively, it really is more of a question of consistency. At times this year, we have been very good offensively. We’ve had great balance. We’ve been able to run the ball effectively. We’ve been able to take advantage of things in the passing game and make explosive plays. We certainly did that in the last game at Tennessee probably as well as we’ve done it all year.
“It’s not whether we can do it or can’t do it, it’s can we do it all the time to a standard, to a level that is going to be effective.”
Saban also discussed special teams. “We’ve done some good things at times on special teams, but the consistency has not been what it needs to be, play in and play out, down in and down out,” Saban said. “We’ll cover a couple of kicks very well and then suddenly we’ll have a problem. We’ve made some plays on punt return, then we don’t execute as well. It really is a lot about consistency and paying attention to detail, doing what you need to do on a particular play and how many guys buy into that.
From a big picture standpoint, what kind of passion guys have to accomplish or do something to distinguish themselves. How important is that to them? That will say a lot about where he goes from here. Do you want to participate in the rest of the season or do you want to try to become a dominant team? That’s not going to happen just when you go out on the field. You have to do it every day, you have to prepare yourself to do it, and you have to have the right mindset and the passion to do that. That’s something that has to be there for you every day. When the game comes, everybody is going to want to win the game, but not everybody has done all the things they need to do to play effectively enough to play winning football consistently enough to have success. That’s the challenge and that’s what we’re trying to do with our players. We’re trying to get more and more guys to buy into having that kind of competitive attitude.”
Saban said the only players not taking part in practice because of injury are defensive backs Dequan Menzie (groin) and Wesley Neighbors (foot). He said that offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, who has missed two games with a hamstring problem, is back on the field and, hopefully, will be ready for LSU.
Saban said, “ This is not just important for the players from a practice standpoint. It’s important to get treatment, psychologically recover a little bit, physically recover a little bit, get the proper rest, do the right things, get caught up in school a little bit, sort of get ready for the stretch run we have here. We have some great opportunities and tremendous challenges. We’re certainly trying to get ourselves ready to take advantage of it.”