Nicked-up Tide to use bye week for healing, improving, prepping for final SEC foes
So it’s a bye week for Alabama.
What does it mean? Well, for one thing, it means the top-ranked Crimson Tide will remain on course for a third-straight trip to the national championship game for another week.
It also means an opportunity for recovery — both mental and physical. Seems like the physical part is especially welcomed right now.
“We’ve got a lot of guys nicked up. We can use the rest,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said following the Tide’s win over Tennessee Saturday.
Fullback Jalston Fowler suffered a concussion during the Tennessee game and will need some recovery time for that. Defensive lineman Brandon Ivory didn’t play at all Saturday for what Saban described simply as ‘medical reasons.’
The good news regarding Ivory’s absence is that the guys who filled in for him Saturday did well enough to impress the Bama boss.
“I thought the guys up front did a good job,” Saban said. “I thought (Darren) Lake played really well. A’Shawn Robinson just keeps getting better and better and better. We moved Ed (Stinson) inside some. Jonathan Allen played some. So all those guys did a nice job for us.”
Even kicker Cade Foster can use some down time. The senior got kicked in the shin during Saturday’s game, struggled a bit following the injury and then got replaced in the game by redshirt freshman Adam Griffith.
Saban said after the game the coaching staff has complete confidence in both kickers.
Health issues aside, what exactly is the state of the team heading into this second and final bye week of the regular season? Hard to find too much to complain about, that’s for sure. Even for a details-oriented guy like Saban.
Alabama has been playing its best ball of late, looking sharp in dominating the likes of Tennessee (45-10), Arkansas (52-0), Kentucky (48-7), Georgia State (45-3) and Ole Miss (25-0).
Alabama has become exactly what Saban has wanted it to become — a well-oiled machine that overpowers its foes week-in and week-out. The challenge now is keeping it going.
“We want our identity to be that every guy is going to try to dominate his space when he plays his position,” Saban explained. “So offense, defense, special teams, that’s the kind of team that we want to have. We want to have a team that plays with a lot of physical toughness, has the mental toughness to overcome adversity in the game and will compete and play for 60 minutes in a game.
“That’s kind of what we try to get our players to buy into, and I think this group has done a really good job of that, especially in about the last month in terms of how they’ve played. And I think it will be important for us to continue to do that.”
What was early on thought to be the team’s Achilles’ Heel — a reconstructed offensive line — has quickly become ancient history. No one’s fretting over Bama’s front five anymore. Not after the performances they’ve produced of late.
After managing just 96 rushing yards against Virginia Tech, Alabama is now averaging a very respectable 210.8 rushing yards per game, and quarterback AJ McCarron hasn’t been sacked in the last four games.
Guess this year’s offensive line — breaking in three new starters this season — just needed a game or two under its belt to work out some kinks.
“They’ve made a lot of improvements since the beginning of the year,” Saban said of the offensive line. “I think the chemistry up front is very good with the group. I also think they trust each other a little bit more. They’ve got some experience playing together which is very important in the offensive line. They have played well. They’ve run-blocked well these last few weeks.
“For the last four weeks, we’ve really played well in the offensive line, and I think that’s important to us, especially with AJ. When he doesn’t get pressured in the pocket, and we get people open, he’s pretty accurate throwing the ball and makes pretty good choices and decisions. So I think it’s a key to us being successful that they continue to improve and play well up front. We’re going to play against some good defensive linemen and some good defensive teams down the road, and we’re going to need to continue to improve.”
So now that the offensive line has rounded into form, what’s there for Alabama fans to worry about now? You gotta get pretty nit-picky to find something, but Alabama did give up 146 yards on kickoffs last Saturday. That’s a not-too-impressive 29.2 yards per return.
Saban acknowledged improvement is needed in kick coverage but pointed out that three freshmen were involved in kick coverage Saturday.
“As they get more experience I’m sure they’re going to get better and better and better at doing that,” the coach said.
Following this Saturday’s bye, Alabama will close out its regular season at home against No. 13 LSU, on the road against Mississippi State, at home against Chattanooga and then on the road again against No. 11 Auburn.
One might think this extra week will be devoted to extra time on LSU — Alabama’s chief rival in the SEC West the past couple of seasons. But that’s not entirely correct.
“I think you can practice too long against one team,” Saban said. “We have two really good other SEC opponents that we’ll have to play at the end of the year, and we’ll spend some time trying to help our players understand some of the different things that they might do. We’ll probably spend one extra day on LSU this week.
“I think anytime you have a little extra time it’s very, very helpful, but I also think the players sort of get into a rhythm in terms of how they prepare for a game — once you do this on Monday, do this on Tuesday, do this on Wednesday. But I think the extra time is going to help us heal up and get healthy, get some rest and maybe be able to improve a little bit in lots of areas we need to improve in.”
Oh, and there’s a birthday to squeeze in this week. Saban turns 62 on Oct. 31. Not that he’s even thinking about that right now. Or that he’ll even give much thought to it when the big day actually rolls around.
“Whatever Ms. Terry has planned is what I’ll be doing on my birthday,” Saban said, smiling.
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