When asked point-blank about McCarron's Heisman chances, Saban was evasive. He mentioned McCarron's name one time in a 300-word response in which he asked rhetorical questions like, "Is that the most important thing you do is how do you play? How do you execute? How do you play?" "We're all for our guys getting recognition and we're pleased and flattered that some of our players are up for awards and have a chance to be recognized for their hard work and effort, but at the same time they all need to understand that you've never really arrived," Saban added flatly.
The University of Alabama hosts Mississippi State on Saturday in what will be a meeting between the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher, Bulldogs junior LaDarius Perkins, and the Crimson Tide's top-ranked rush defense. Something will have to give, and with both teams entering play at 7-0, the inside track to the SEC Western Division is at stake. Here is a look at the matchup from both perspectives.
Outside of Mississippi, LaDarius Perkins is largely anonymous. "Like you said, a lot of people haven't heard of him," Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said of the Mississippi State running back who will challenge the nation's top-ranked defense Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium. "That means he's going to come in with a chip on his shoulder, you know? I like to think we're a good defense this year. He's probably thinking that, too. So this is his chance to showcase what he can do."
"It's always been a great game because they are great at running the ball,'' Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "They have a great offense and a great defense. They have one of those defenses that gets a lot of turnovers, too, and we're right there with them on turnovers. It ought to be a great day.''
Perkins won't necessarily have to face the Alabama defense alone. Backup running backs Derrick Milton, Josh Robinson and Nick Griffin also all had good moments in various roles, while backup quarterback Dak Prescott has rushed for three touchdowns this season in goal-line situations. "They've got a really good scheme that they run the ball with, and lots of multiples in terms of how they present it, how they try to confuse defensive players," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
The real question for the Bulldogs may not be how Perkins plays against the nation's number one rushing defense, but it might be can the other Bulldog backs contribute. In many ways, the lack of contribution from Derrick Milton, Josh Robinson and Nick Griffin could be considered disappointing. Many expected this group to split time on the field, and while Perkins would probably serve as the main running back, few expected him to have 52 more carries than the combined efforts of the backup group. In fact, if you add the carries of Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell to the mix, Perkins still has more carries. In fact, the whole team has only rushed eight more times collectively than Perkins.
You're not going to beat many teams on a day when you only rush for 24 yards. But moving the ball on the ground hasn't been a problem for either team this year. Mississippi State's LaDarius Perkins leads the SEC with 724 yards rushing. Alabama, led by Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, trails only Texas A&M in rushing offense at 219.4 yards per game. Balance will the key for both teams on Saturday, particularly with these secondaries. Alabama is tied with LSU for the conference lead in interceptions with 13, while Mississippi State is third with 12. If either team becomes one-dimensional, those dogs in the defensive backfield will hunt.
And he talked about his role on offense, as the blocking back in short-yardage situations. "That’s a lot of fun," Williams said. "It’s going to get a lot funner if they give me a chance and let me grab the ball, but that looks doubtful. I’ll just keep blocking for now." How are his receiving skills? "Aw, I played rugby … back in Australia," he said. "I’m sure I can catch a ball." He’s been lobbying the coaches for the chance to get the ball. "I tell them every day," Williams said. "Every time I see the coaches, I tell them my hands are ready for the ball. That far away, hopefully I’ll be able to jump that far. I like to think I can."
Essentially, the reporter wanted to know if this Crimson Tide team was capable of winning any kind of game; be it a defensive struggle, a back-and-forth affair or even a shootout. These words were music to Saban's ears. "I think that's the kind of team that we want to have," Saban said. "If you're one-dimensional, one of these days, that dimension won't be working and you're going to need to be able to do other things."
Safety Robert Lester is moving just fine. He rolled his ankle against Tennessee and was limping a bit during Monday's viewing period. We didn't notice much of a limp today.
UA has no control over what decisions come out of Birmingham in regards to scheduling, regardless of what conspiracy theorists elsewhere might choose to believe. The Crimson Tide has Tennessee as its permanent opponent, but that has been the case since the league split into divisions in 1992. In some of those years, Tennessee has been an SEC (or even BCS) champion. UA got four years of facing Peyton Manning and Jamal Lewis and the rest and cannot help that the pendulum has swung dramatically in the other direction. But the luck of the draw did not yield Florida or Georgia as Alabama's other East game. Instead, it was Kentucky. With 2012 just past the halfway point, it is far too early to speculate about who will be good in 2013 and who will not. At best, though, the Wildcats will be in a rebuilding mode. At worst, depending on what happens on various campuses in the next few weeks, fully half of Alabama's SEC schedule will consist of teams with new head coaches.
So when you look at Tennessee’s current roster, it’s unfair to say that Dooley hasn’t made significant progress in upgrading the talent from where he found it in 2010. The problem is that he hasn’t done much with it. His first two seasons were throwaways. They didn’t really count, although the Kentucky loss to end last season and the way Dooley lost his team there at the end were more damaging than anybody will ever know. This was the season that he needed to show real progress, and while the Vols have been competitive for parts of games, they don’t have anything to show for it where it counts -- their record.