This is the week, of course, that Alabama Coach Nick Saban and LSU Coach Les Miles have to be as good as advertised. They are preparing themselves for what has been the most important game in the Southeastern Conference -- if not the nation -- for about the last half decade.
The Crimson Tide (8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC) is ranked first in the nation as Bama goes for its third consecutive national championship. LSU is 7-2, 3-2 in the conference, with two three-point road losses, and is ranked 10th in the nation. They will meet at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday with kickoff at 7 p.m. CST and national television coverage by CBS.
Saban didn’t reserve his compliments for just Miles. He pointed out (correctly) that LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger began his meteoric rise as an effective passer against Alabama last year. Saban noted that LSU’s Jeremy Hill is the SEC’s leading rusher, only 78 yards from 1,000 yards. He called the Tigers receiving duo of Odell Beckham, Jr., and Jarvis Landry the best in the conference. He pointed out that the Tigers lead the nation in third down conversions at 58 per cent.
“This is by far the most explosive, most talented offensive team that we’ve faced all year long,” Saban said.
And, no, he probably hasn’t forgotten the 42 points Texas A&M hung on Bama. The Alabama defense has given up only 26 points in the six games it has played since leaving College Station.
Saban said the LSU defense is another great one. “They play hard, they play with toughness, and they always have good players.”
The overall team speed plays into their explosiveness and their excellence on special teams, the Alabama coach continued.
“Les Miles has done a fabulous job in my opinion of having a consistently really good football team for a long time at LSU, and this team is no different,” Saban concluded.
As for his own team, Saban said there had been progress during the open date week last week. He also said that some players who had been “a little nicked up” had a chance to get healthy.
One area that Alabama works on every week, but could be perhaps more thorough with an off-week, is self-scouting. Saban said the self-analysis is on tendencies on offense, defense, and special teams. He called it “really important, because to understand what the other team really knows about you based on what you do, I think is really important. Now I think to go and try to change everything that you do is probably not really smart either. To do things that complement those things that they players sort of adjust to probably is a smart thing to do to try and not give the other team an advantage. We have the same opportunity to know what our tendencies are as they do, so we certainly do everything we can to take advantage of that and I'm sure they do the same thing.”
To the surprise of no one, Saban puts this week’s game in the same box with all others, saying preparation is the same for every opponent.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for this team, but we’ve had a tremendous amount of respect for every team we play,” he said. “If there was a better way to do it, we would already have been trying to do it that way.”