Five quick hits from Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s Monday press conference:
1. Alabama controls its post-season destiny now that Kansas State and Oregon have been upset. The Crimson Tide is now ranked No. 2 in the BCS, but it’s Iron Bowl week and the only thing Nick Saban wants to talk about—in a press conference, at practice, in the locker room—is Auburn.
He made that very clear Monday morning.
“I just want to make everybody understand here that we’re not in any conversations about anything other than the game that we’re playing,” he said. “Unless we win the next game, we don’t have another game. Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we’re dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn.
“The Iron Bowl is a big deal. It’s a legendary game that people remember for a long, long time and still talk about games that happened in the past, had huge impacts and effects on the future of what happened.”
If the Tide beat the Tigers Saturday, they’ll play Georgia in the SEC Championship game the next week. But there will be no overlooking Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC).
“I think Auburn is playing their best football of the year,” Saban said.
2. It’s seemed that there has been a rotation at punt return between Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones over last part of the season—both have been effective, but both have also muffed a few plays here and there.
“There’s no rotation at all,” Saban said. “Christion Jones is our punt return guy. We wanted to try to get Cyrus more experience at doing it. We didn’t take Christion out because he misplayed a ball.
“The No. 1 thing when you’re in punt return is possession of the ball. We get the ball back, let’s just get the ball back. You don’t always have to try to make a great play, just make a smart play.”
3. Saban’s close friend Derek Dooley was fired as Tennessee’s head coach last week and Gene Chizik is on the hot seat at Auburn. The Alabama coach was asked how he feels about his profession being a ‘What have you done for me lately’ type of gig.
“I think it is what it is,” he said. “There’s a lot of attention to what we do. I think there’s a high expectation for what we do.
“Derek Dooley is a good friend. He’s been very, very loyal for seven years working on our staff. Regardless of what he did or didn’t do at Tennessee, he’s still someone who is a professional colleague and a good friend who we would love to help in any way we can.
“I personally think Gene Chizik has done a really good job. All I know is playing against him, it’s always a tough game.
“I think that the standard that everybody wants all of us to play to is not something that is a continuum. It’s a process that’s constantly evolving … I fully understand that two years from now if we don’t continue to have a good team, then I’ll be in the same seat that other people are in now. It’s the nature of the beast.”
4. After forcing 23 turnovers in its first eight games of the season, Alabama has only had one takeaway in the last three. Saban was asked how the team accounts for that.
“If I knew the explanation, and we could fix it, we would,” he said. “We’re doing the same things now that we did in the first part of the season and we’re not getting turnovers. We’ve continued to emphasize it … Turnover ratio is paramount to being successful. It’s one of the leading stats in winning and losing. We haven’t done ourselves any favors the last couple of games.”
The Crimson Tide has forced a total of 24 turnovers through 11 games and has scored 134 points off them. At one point, they were the nation’s No. 1 team in turnover margin. Alabama is currently tied at No. 12 with Oregon State and Iowa with a plus-12 margin.
5. With all the easy ways to get distracted over the next five days—Thanksgiving, the thoughts of potential trips to the SEC and national championship games—Saban was asked if he enjoys Iron Bowl week.
”I enjoy coaching,” he said, smiling. “I enjoy the challenges. I enjoy working with the players, trying to prepare them. I look forward to the opportunity we’ve created for ourselves. It’s what great competitors really enjoy doing. That’s what you work for, to have an opportunity to win a division, win a big rivalry game. That’s what we work for, that’s what’s fun.”
--Freshman running back Kenyan Drake, who was suspended last week for the Western Carolina game after violating team rules, will be available this week.
--Cornerback John Fulton (turf toe) will practice a little this afternoon, but Saban did not say whether or not he thought he’d be available Saturday.
--All other players nursing nagging injuries (Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood), will practice, per Saban.
--Saban was asked if he could comment on Alabama trying to schedule Colorado State as a future non-conference opponent, but he wouldn’t budge.
“When we sign a contract to play a game, we’ll announce it,” he said in an irritated tone. “That’s up to our administration. Whenever that happens, I think that’s up to them, it’s not up to me. We’re still looking for a game next year. I will confirm that.”
--Saban said this of senior linebacker Nico Johnson: “He’s never ever showed a negative attitude or complained in any way, shape or form. He’s always been the consummate team guy.”
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