This week Alabama needs to have full focus on the job at hand, said Coach Nick Saban. That’s because the opponent is Auburn, and the Tigers may be down a bit, but they are not out.
Alabama will go to Auburn Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. CST game that will be televised by CBS. Alabama is 10-1 and ranked second in the nation. Auburn is 7-4 and ranked just outside the nation’s top 25.
“I think the biggest lesson that we probably learned this past week is that you can’t have any lapses in trust when you’re playing against the option team, which means you’ve got to trust that every guy is going to do what he’s supposed to do,” Saban said. “If a guy is supposed to take the dive, he’ll do it so then I can go play the next guy. If you have any lapses in trust or discipline in what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to do it, it can have some pretty serious consequences. I think our players are probably going to learn a lot from that.
“Everybody has a job to do and it’s important to do it, regardless of what kind of offense that you’re playing against.”
Saban saw good in the Tide’s 45-21 over Georgia Southern.
“I think our offense did a really good job in this last game of controlling the ball. It was good that they were able to do that. But that game is over and done with. We have a very, very big game this weekend.”
Saban called the Alabama-Auburn game “one of the greatest rivalries in college football. I certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for Auburn and their team and what they’ve been able to accomplish this year.
“Some of the individual players that they have on their team are really good. (Emory) Blake is a really good receiver. They’ve got two really good running backs, (Michael) Dyer and (Onterio) McCalebb. They have improved as the season has progressed. They’ve got some individual really good players on defense. They’ve been very sound and solid on special teams. This is a big game.
“Our focus is on this game.”
He emphasized that last by saying there is no interest in any other game. Much of the nation is talking about the Southeastern Conference West Division having LSU No. 1 in all standings, Bama No. 2, and Arkansas No. 3. There are several games of importance to the final rankings before conference championship games and, ultimately, BCS games are determined.
“None of those games matter,” Saban said. “Nothing matters except how we play in this game. That’s all that matters.
“In fact, I think I’m going to tell the team today that if they want to watch the LSU-Arkansas game, turn it off and go watch some Auburn film. That game (LSU-Arkansas) means nothing to us either.”
Saban warned reporters at his regular Monday press briefing to not ask about anything but Alabama vs. Auburn.
Since Alabama’s Nov. 5 overtime loss (9-6) to LSU, the Tide has labored to defeat Mississippi State (24-7) and Georgia Southern. Saban was asked about that.
“It’s a tough circumstance for everybody when you lose a tough game,” the Tide coach said. “I think we’ve been a little nicked up the last couple of weeks, and I think we’ve had a lot of players that haven’t been able to participate like they would like to, relative to what they’re capable of. Hopefully, we’ll try to get some of those guys back this week. I do think that our players have handled the situation going to Mississippi State and playing in a tough environment against a pretty decent team, and playing the way we needed to play in that game to be successful. I think that really defined the character of this team to be able to do that.
“Last week, I don’t think we played very well in the first half, but I think we responded the right way. But I’ll be honest with you – it’s tough. You feel like you’ve got everybody focused on what they need to do.
“Georgia Southern was a better team than what everybody thought. Especially the way they execute and run their offense. I’m not talking about us, as coaches, I’m talking about the respect maybe the players had for it. The people, the community, the media, like this is ‘just show up and win the game.’ It’s not that simple.”
Saban certainly doesn’t expect it to be simple against Auburn.
“We’ll kind of see this week,” he said, “because this team has a tremendous opportunity in a big game for us. We weren’t able to finish last year. It’s always tough to play down there. So this is probably as big as of a challenge as we’ve had all year. It will be interesting to see how we respond.”
Saban said he is impressed with Auburn’s defense, even though the Tigers do not rank very high statistically.
“I think they’ve done a really good job all year long,” Saban said. “They had a lot of young guys; they had a lot of guys they had to replace from a year ago. They seem to be getting better, better and better as the year has gone on, and seem to play especially well when they’re playing at home. They had some tough games on the road. A lot of things contribute sometimes when you give up points, and I don’t think that you can always contribute it just to the defense. Field position, turnovers – lots of things contribute to that. But they played really well at times this year, and they’ve become more and more consistent as the year has gone on.”
The Tide coach is well aware of Auburn’s offensive diversity. “First of all,” he said, Gus (Auburn Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn) does a great job with their offense, and they’ve been very, very productive. And he does a very good job of utilizing the players that they have, and roles that they can be productive in. But they have a lot of, whatever you want to call them, gadget, trick plays, crazy formations, whatever you want to call it. And I think the big things is, you got to get your players on defense settled enough to change personnel, when they’re going at a fast pace. They’re doing a lot of things that can disrupt defensive players, and I think the most important thing is that you get lined up and you can play and the players are confident in what they’re playing, and they’re not all running around trying to get lined up and making adjustments that are going to put them in a bad position.”
One of Auburn’s top offensive players is running back Michael Dyer. Saban said, “I think he is an outstanding running back, probably as good as anybody that we’ve played against this year. I think he has played really well. He’s got good change of direction, good burst, he’s got some power, he’s difficult to tackle, he’s got good vision and instincts as a runner, especially in the things that they ask him to do. So I think he’s an outstanding player.”