Herbstreit mentioned the season-opening 41-14 win at Michigan that could’ve had negative repercussions for Alabama. "There was so much excitement surrounding the Michigan game, and Alabama blew their doors off," Herbstreit said. And from there, the attention didn’t turn to the next game but instead the Nov. 3 game at LSU. Herbstreit said even a 52-0 win over Arkansas didn’t seem to garner much reaction. "That’s a dangerous place for a team to be, but to Alabama’s credit, they’ve been machine-like," Herbstreit said. "I give them a standing ovation for what they’ve done, because in the next two weeks when they go to Missouri, to Tennessee and Mississippi State at home, the media and fans are going to say, ‘Ahh, they’ll win by 30.’ "The players continue to listen to their coach and practice against perfection. The challenge of the game for them is in the mirror."
"The SEC has great players. College football, period, has great players," Alabama safety Robert Lester said when asked what makes the SEC so tough against the pass. "I guess DBs, they want more attention in the SEC and they’ve been working hard to get that attention. As long as they’re going they job, nobody can complain." Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood said working against his teammates in practice give the Crimson Tide a good look for Saturdays. "We have, in my opinion, the best DBs in the country," Norwood said Monday. "We go against them every day. So when we go against them, I’m not going to say other defenses aren’t good or whatever, but it makes it a lot – I don’t want to say easier, but … more comfortable to go against them."
Saban must keep finding ways to stave off a letdown, so maybe he should hire speech consultants to help him stock up on fresh musings over the media. It’s starting to sound like the same old same-old. "The key to the whole thing is consistency in performance," he said, "having a group of players committed to doing the things that they need to do to play the game at a high standard and a high level all the time, regardless of the circumstances or the situation."
"It's kind of hard to adjust practice to a game-like situation," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "The coaches have to -- and we have to demand of ourselves -- to have a fast pace every day in practice this week. We have to do our extra running after practice and get extra work in the weight room and watch film and be ready for everything they do."
"We are playing in a place where no one in our team meeting today has ever been before, including me," Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "We are playing a new opponent that, in my mind, is a very challenging opponent for a lot of reasons."
Shining stars: Alabama: AJ McCarron. The junior has thrown 12 TDs without an INT this season and has thrown 206 straight passes dating to last season without a pick, breaking Brody Croyle's school record of 190. Freshman Amari Cooper is his favorite target, with 17 catches for 222 yards and three scores. Missouri: Kendial Lawrence. With star QB James Franklin out with a sprained knee, redshirt freshman QB Corbin Berkstresser will need a huge game from Lawrence to have any measure of success. Lawrence ranks ninth in the SEC with 81.2 rushing yards per game. He's averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has scored five TDs.
"This is probably one of the most challenging offenses philosophically in terms of no-huddle, lots of different formations, lots of motions, lots of adjustments for the defense to make," Saban said. The Crimson Tide struggled at times against Mississippi, allowing two touchdown drives of 13 and 16 plays apiece. The Rebels rarely gave Alabama time to substitute on defense, which occasionally caused an issue for the Tide. Alabama is working this week to make certain it can handle the long drives if Missouri manages them, too. "We have to do our extra running after practice and get exra work in the weight room and watch film and be ready for everything they do," Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said.
In a parallel dimension not too different from this one, this would be the biggest college football weekend of the season. Imagine if the Missouri administration had decided to cling to its Big 12 roots, its rivalries with Kansas and Oklahoma outweighing the Texas hegemony that sent it scurrying. Imagine if the Southeastern Conference, eager to add a 14th member, had listened more attentively to West Virginia's lobbying. Now imagine that No. 1 Alabama, instead of making a fairly interesting trip to Columbia, Mo., was instead headed to Morgantown, W.Va. That - or a similar pairing of Alabama and Oregon - is the game America is yearning to see, apparently. The matchup of the SEC against one of the high-flying, 50-point-per-game offenses is exactly the sort of debate-settling contest fans love, and that debate is permeating college football right down to the subconscious.
Lacy, who has averaged less than 13 carries per game so far, leads Alabama with a 62.8-yard average. With bruiser Jalston Fowler lost for the season to a knee injury sustained in the Western Kentucky game and Dee Hart out the season after his own knee injury against Ole Miss two weeks ago, Lacy may be asked to carry a bigger load. "If necessary I can do it, but the way the coaches do it they probably have a good rotation for us," Lacy said. That rotation will include two freshman backups, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, who have combined to average more than 80 yards per game. Brent Calloway moved over to running back from his H-back position in practice this week, and coach Nick Saban mentioned backup quarterback Blake Sims as another possible candidate to provide depth. "It's a position they've already played before, so they know what to expect coming into it if that's what they have to do," Lacy said.
McNulty called Alabama "a pretty good team." "They’re big up front," he said. "They’re definitely physical. We’ve got to play our game and focus on fundamentals and be able to lock in and drive and get in the zone." The Tigers will see a 3-4 defense that isn’t common in college football, but that’s what they saw in a 41-20 loss to Georgia on Sept. 8. "Definitely it will help, because with experience comes confidence," McNulty said. "We played Georgia pretty tough. We had a close game with Arizona State. We’re looking forward to having another great game here in Columbia."
Overall, Alabama is sixth in the SEC and 39th in the nation in rushing offense with its average of 188 yards per game. In its past two national championship seasons, the Crimson Tide averaged more than 215 yards per game. "I'm not satisfied," left guard Chance Warmack said. "I tell my teammates that we need to do better and show that instead of just saying it." Lacy said a few "technical things" have hampered the group's performance. "Just because we don’t have a good game every week doesn’t mean we have to get down about it," Lacy said. "Just means we have to go out and prepare and come out every week and help the team out."
"We’ve been emphasizing the younger guys playing all season," senior safety Robert Lester said. "When we get ahead of teams in the previous games, they come in and they do a great job of keeping guys off the board and executing the game plan. So, I mean, those guys are well prepared to play. "Back then, we were telling them times like this, it’s going to come and you need to be ready to play. And they did a great job in the previous games to be ready for games like this."
"It’s a team effort to stop a fast pace offense like that," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Their offense is very conservative with the ball. They try to run down the clock (on each play) and get points. As a team effort, we need to keep their defense on the field and their offense off the field."
Cornerback Deion Belue wore full pads and was running smoothly during the portion of practice open to reporters. We have no idea how much contact he will face over the next hour or two. Nick Saban said Monday that it could be minimal.
"I was never able to be with my dad because he was always out recruiting and coaching other players. That's one of the reasons I came here," Vinnie Sunseri said during an interview Tuesday. "Once he left, it wasn't too, too rough of a decision. It was something I definitely had to sleep on it for a night. Alabama was the place for me." Sunseri made the process sound as if it was mostly introspective. Asked if he had to be "re-recruited," Sunseri shrugged it off. "Coach (Nick) Saban is the reason I stayed here," Sunseri said. "He's one of the best DB coaches out there and I just wanted to learn from the best."
"I went and talked to the team in early December and I said: What I want you to do is I want you to feel the pain you felt when you lost to LSU two weeks ago," Elko said of the Crimson Tide. "I want you to now feel the pain of your brother across the room after that loss. Now I want you to play this game so you don't have to feel that pain again." It is that pain that was missing from Saban's 2010 team, Elko said -- a team he believes may have been Saban's best at Alabama but one that lacked the drive to excel. "What I learned about the 2010 team was, there was nothing. There was no reference. There was no pain," he said. "So what we're trying to focus on now, Coach brought a picture of (Tim) Tebow up after (Florida) lost to Ole Miss (in 2008) and said, 'Look at the pain on his face. Now let's work hard so that you don't have to feel what he's feeling and let's do it before it happens.' "One of the best lessons is remember the pain that you had in the past and work on the discipline so you don't have to feel it again."
Moe was asked to describe the mood on the team now. "You get over it," he said. "You get an opportunity like this. How many people get an opportunity to play a team like Alabama? The way our season is going, it’s our opportunity to be an Iowa State of last year. Somebody does it every year: knock off the No. 1 team. It would definitely be an upset." He still believes Missouri is not a misfit in the SEC. "I’ve got confidence in our guys, but it’s tough to have confidence in a torn MCL, like half our offensive line," Moe said. "It’s hard to have confidence when your quarterback’s sitting on the bench. … We really need to get healthy really bad."