Walker said the University has not had discussions about reducing the number of tickets given to students and that the lower bowl does not let in more students than there are seats. "Alabama could play the Steelers in the Super Bowl at Bryant-Denny Stadium and the upper deck of the student section wouldn’t fill up," said Tommy Deas, sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News. "There are certainly enthusiastic football fans among the student body at Alabama. But there’s not as many of them as there are tickets, apparently." The lack of attendance is part of a general trend of apathy among UA students, which also includes leaving early during blowout games. For a school whose victories have come at an average margin of 31 points per game, it’s easy to see why students could become lethargic toward sitting through a blowout game. Still, a half-empty student section is not exactly aesthetically pleasing for outsiders, Deas said. "I thought for awhile that maybe the library was closing early so they were rushing to go get their studying in, but I’ve since decided that was not the case," he said. "You hear a different excuse every week. People were saying that [there weren’t enough exciting home games], and then undefeated Mississippi State comes in and the upper deck’s about half-filled or two-thirds-filled."
"I think whenever you have a good running game, it keeps a pass rusher like that off balance," Alabama tight end Michael Williams said. "He can't get up the field as fast if he's got to worry about the run. It's going to be critical that we have a good running game, and run the ball early, and be very physical in the game. I feel like if we do that, it will slow his pass rush down." Alabama, which averages 214 yards per game on the ground, can also use the run to create more short-yardage situations that will keep the Georgia defense guessing. When it's third-and-long, the Bulldogs can blitz with impunity. On third-and-short, however, Alabama can run or pass. "I think that the more important thing is not creating situations because you have balance and you can run the ball effectively, as well as be able to pass it effectively where you don't create the down-and-distance situations where everybody can pin their ears back and come on," UA coach Nick Saban said. "That's where guys that are really good pass rushers can take advantage of the situation that you are in."
With so many similarities between the two teams, the outcome could come down to quarterback play. Georgia’s Murray and Alabama’s McCarron are No. 1 and 2 in the nation in passing efficiency. Murray has thrown for 3,201 yards, 30 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, and McCarron has thrown for 2,507 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Murray has the statistics, and McCarron has the hardware — a national championship. But who has the advantage? "McCarron has the edge, because he’s performed better than Murray on the big stage," said the "ESPN College Gameday" analyst Desmond Howard during a phone interview.
When you’re playing for Nick Saban, the future consists of the next play, the next practice, the next game. And basking in anything you’ve done previously is as foreign to him as snow plows are to folks in the Florida Keys. That said, the nine scholarship seniors on this Alabama football team understand unequivocally what’s at stake this Saturday against Georgia in the SEC championship game. Yes, it would be the Crimson Tide’s first SEC title since 2009 if they can win, but the real prize would come a little more than a month later -- a shot at their third national championship in the past four years. "Our goal was to accomplish something legendary that nobody else has, and we still have a chance to do that," said senior center Barrett Jones, whose versatility and team-first attitude has epitomized this senior class.
Saturday’s SEC Championship, also this season’s only national semifinal, will come down to No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, but there’s a deeper matchup. In a season that has seen Notre Dame return to relevance and could see a freshman win the Heisman Trophy, it has come down to Nick Saban-led Alabama versus history. If history holds, then Bowl Championship Series era, set to end with a four-team playoff starting in 2014, will escape without a repeat champion. If Alabama wins its next two games, which odds makers say the Crimson Tide will, then the BCS era won’t finish unbeaten. Also, if Alabama wins its next two games, then the Tide will do something in the Saban era that it didn’t do even under Bear Bryant — win three national titles in four years.
McCarron was asked if he could relate to the situation Black is currently experiencing. "it’s hard to tell what it would have felt like because it didn’t happen," McCarron said, "but it would have been fun." McCarron said he's liked what he's seen from Black in practice this week. "Sometimes he’s not real sure, but I think that’s just getting in the motion of everything," McCarron said. "He looks good. He’s flying around, playing fast, which I like to see, and he’s giving 100 percent. That’s all you can ask."
Rinaldi asked Saban to divulge when he gets nervous. - "I do the most worrying, which I guess is a form of being nervous, when you're trying to solve all the problems, which is Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Whether it's in the kicking game, whether it's on offense, whether it's on defense, whether it's coverage rules, whatever it is that you're trying to resolve. You never feel comfortable until you make the decisions about what you need to and then you teach the players and they understand the concepts of what you're trying to do and you feel comfortable that they're doing it. "I guess when you look at it that way, I'm worrying all the time."
"The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his playmaking ability," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He's a really good rusher. He's physical. He's instinctive." This is the player on whom offensive game plans hinge. "You certainly have to have a plan to help the players that have to block him so that hopefully he can't just get in one-on-one situations where it's a difficult circumstance for somebody," Saban said.
Burnette and center David Andrews probably will work together to block Jesse Williams, Alabama's 320-pound senior nose guard. "He's one of the tougher guys in the country I've seen to block one-on-one," Burnette said. "It's going to take a lot of technique, a lot of discipline and focus on my part." Burnette has not seen the YouTube clip of Williams bench-pressing 600 pounds last summer. "I heard about it," the 322-pound Burnette said. "That's impressive. I don't think I've ever witnessed somebody bench pressing 600 pounds before." It was noted that lifting 600 pounds would be like lifting two offensive linemen at once. "Hopefully he doesn't have a chance to pick up two offensive linemen in this game," Burnette said.
No, when it comes right down to it, it's this simple fact that drives the emotion against Saban: We never saw the Saban that Alabama has saluted for the past six seasons. We're Cleveland to Bill Belichick. We're Atlanta to Joe Torre. We're the area that put up with the personal flaws many great talents have but never witnessed the great talent. Instead, we saw the frailty. The insecurity. The self-questioning of a man who, according to several sources, feared being fired by the Dolphins after his second season in 2006. So he returned to college, where he can win without a star quarterback. And he's won. And won. And by all accounts is expected to hold a national trophy up in Sun Life Stadium. That's why there's such mixed feelings for Saban. We saw the lout. We just never saw the lout who won enough to make his personality irrelevant.
Alabama has built a reputation under Nick Saban as a smashmouth team that relies on its defense and running game. While that is true to a large degree, this team is still adept at throwing the ball down the field. In fact, Alabama as a team ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency thanks to the work of quarterback A.J. McCarron. The junior averages 9.46 yards per attempt (second-best in the nation) and has thrown 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Tide, however, will be without one of their primary targets for the remainder of the season. Junior Kenny Bell, second on the team with 431 receiving yards, was sidelined with a broken leg in the win over Auburn on Saturday. McCarron still has quality targets at his disposal, most notably Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, but Bell, who averaged 25.4 yards per reception, was Alabama’s top deep threat. The running game is powered by true freshman T.J. Yeldon and junior Eddie Lacy, who both rank among the top five in the league (min. 100 carries) in yards per attempt. Lacy leads the team with 1,001 yards and 14 touchdowns; Yeldon is second with 847 yards and 10 TDs. And it’s on the ground where Alabama figures to have the most success attacking the Georgia defense. The Bulldogs rank 67th nationally in rushing defense (164.4 ypg) and have given up 190 yards or more in six of their 12 games. Alabama is versatile enough to beat Georgia on the ground or through the air, but it would be a surprise if Lacy and Yeldon each don’t get at least 12-to-15 carries.