"Everybody thinks, 'Why are we even talking about it?' I don't get it. I really don't," Saban said. "What p----- me off about it -- excuse my language -- is I think it all affects our players. I'm over there every day trying to get them to focus on what they need to do and all they hear about is they don't need to be focusing." Saban said Alabama coaches have had to "get after" the players "pretty good" this week. "I feel if they really wanted to be a really, really good team, they’d be out there working on their deficits and wanting to get better as a team and wouldn’t be thinking about something someone’s writing in the newspaper or what they’re hearing on ESPN," he said.
Play-action passes have been a big part of the offense in the past, but as Alabama built a 31-0 second-quarter lead on its way to a 41-14 victory, the Crimson Tide appeared to be taking misdirection to a new level under the direction of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. "Obviously that’s going to be a big part of our offense this year," center Barrett Jones said. "That’s why we have to work hard to execute it." Tide cornerback Dee Milliner sees this potent stuff at every practice. "The play-action, you can see we’ve got the speed at receiver," he said, "so if you bite on anything, they’re over the top of your head."
"I think more than anything, you can't buy into all the things you hear on TV and you hear everybody talk about, because a lot of the folks that talk about it really haven't watched a lot of film or are just going off on what other folks are saying," he said. "The game is played on the field, not on paper, and I think a lot of the time teams lose before they even go into the game because they buy into all that. "We talk about it, we talk about it every year. I don't think I have to talk about it as much now because our guys are not intimidated anymore."
Don’t expect crowd noise of 101,000-plus fans to bother the Toppers, as they’ve faced similar atmospheres last year in Tiger Stadium against LSU and two years ago in Memorial Stadium against Nebraska. Also, don’t expect WKU to be fazed by the mystique of the 14-time national champs they’re lining up against. Bear Bryant, Shaun Alexander and Mark Ingram were all great coaches or players, but none of them will be donning houndstooth hats or those awesome helmets with the number on the side come Saturday. No, if anything does in the Toppers, it’ll be the size, strength and speed of the Crimson Tide, a team WKU Head Coach WIllie Taggart joked would become the NFL’s next expansion team. "They’re some big, big individuals — look like some mutants," Taggart said. "Those guys are huge."
"We feel like we can compete with anybody," quarterback Kawaun Jakes said. "They're human just like us. We just got to go out with confidence, play against ourselves, play together, play as one, one heartbeat. Just go out there and compete. It's my last go around and we want everyone to play like it's their last go-around. No matter who it is, we're just going to play together and play to win."
"I'll tell you what, we're gonna play hard -- I'll tell you what, we're gonna freaking win this game," Smith said of Saturday's meeting with the Crimson Tide. "Truly, we got a great defense, great linebackers -- so watch this game, we're gonna win." Smith should rest assured that if the Hilltoppers come anywhere close to winning the game, people will be watching. But why would he be willing to make such a bold statement? The Hazel Green, Ala., native -- one of three interviewed by Bishop about returning to their home state -- said that he grew up an Auburn fan and always has rooted against the Tide. "We really don't like Alabama. Anything about Alabama," he said. "Dad, he didn't like Alabama. Momma didn't like Alabama, so I didn't like Alabama."
The Hilltoppers dominated Austin Peay 49-10 last week in their first game. The team’s quarterback, senior and fourth-year starter Kawaun Jakes, threw for a career-high 296 yards and four touchdowns, completing 18-of-23 passes in addition to scoring a touchdown on the ground. Each of Jakes’ four touchdown passes went to different receivers. Western Kentucky’s 596 yards of total offense was the team’s highest total since 2005. The running game was led by Antonio Andrews, who accounted for 228 all-purpose yards. WKU’s defense held Austin Peay to 154 total yards of offense and just 11 yards passing. The Hilltoppers have won eight of their last nine games dating back to last season.
The last time the Alabama defense saw an offense that features a two tight end set was in, well, August. Given the schematic similarities the WKU and UA offenses share, this week shouldn't be a tough prep from an assignment standpoint for the Crimson Tide defense. Hubbard and jack linebacker Xzavier Dickson will find themselves working against Doyle and Gorski in the run game and they'll likely be asked to help in pass coverage more than usual. Like UA tight end Michael Williams, Doyle will flex out on occasion and work the corner and seam routes, which will bring Alabama's safeties into the picture.
''We had total faith, trust and confidence in T.J.,'' Saban said. ''If Eddie couldn't have gone, T.J. was going to start. Eddie played well in pre-game and in practice for two or three days, so we played Eddie.'' Lacy also thrived as Richardson's backup last season and has averaged 7.1 yards a carry the past two seasons. However, he was limited the past two weeks of preseason camp by the ankle injury. Yeldon proved a capable understudy, as Williams quickly figured out in the spring. ''We saw he had the hips, he had the speed, he had the agility to make big plays in this league,'' Williams said. ''And we saw (Saturday) night he got off to a good start and we're looking forward to him doing that the rest of the year.''
The biggest question this summer involved Jones, even though he was the Outland Trophy winner last year as the nation's top interior lineman. He spent last season at left tackle, while dependable William Vlachos handled the center spot. But Vlachos graduated, and Jones moved to center. Jones said it's an adjustment, especially if he needs to lower his head and look back, which he has to do when Alabama runs a silent snap count. "You put your head down and you're seeing one thing, and then you lift it back up and it's different," Jones said. "It's something you have to get used to." And while Kouandjio was a top prospect, this is only his second season on campus. On top of that, he injured his knee in the eighth game of last season and required surgery. But Jones showered him with compliments for his efforts against Michigan. "I was pleased," Jones said. "Obviously, we all can make improvements, but I think he stepped out pretty well. He was calm and looked pretty good out there."
Saban has said publicly several times that he likes college football’s helmet rule, which is aimed at avoiding helmets coming off during the action. Tide players say Saban emphasizes having a helmet that fits properly and buckling all four buckles. "He wants us to stay on the field," Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said. "If your helmet comes off, you have to come off for a play, and he doesn’t want the rule to force a player to come out for a play in case something goes wrong. He’s on it very tight."
Mandell averaged 47 yards on his four punts against the Wolverines, a nearly 8-yard increase from his totals as a sophomore. More importantly, he pinned two punts inside the Michigan 10-yard line, both of which preceded an Alabama touchdown on the next offensive possession. "It’s just whatever the team needs," Mandell said. "If the team needs it to be inside the 20, it’s inside the 20, just no touchback, and if it needs to be a regular punt as far and as high as I can and not outkick my coverage."
"Anytime you make a 51-yard field goal that’s probably good for a guy," Saban said. "The important thing for Cade is, he’s in a difficult circumstance because he only kicks the long ones. So his, you know, sort of, make percentage may not be as good as somebody else’s. But he’s also taking the more difficult shots. So he’s got to stay focused on: ‘This is how I would kick a short one; I want to execute the same way.’ He seems to be able to do that a little better and has been really consistent in practice."
"You see how he works day in and day out, every day," says strength coach Scott Cochran. "And then you see how exhausted you would be, or you are, at that time and he's still going hard, he's still attacking. It doesn't matter whether he was up all night or had to take a recruiting trip and come back. He doesn't have a tired side. He doesn't have a down side. And I'm the strength coach, so you think I can have one? No way!"
Egan's is referred to by Bama fans as a Tuscaloosa's best "dive bar" so I was surprised at the frequency it was mentioned as a go-to for game day. Located on the Strip, it seems many fans go here to see a plethora of people from different walks of life all with one common interest: Football.
Why does Kamara like Alabama? "They produce high-quality players – all those guys that went in the NFL Draft last year, and you saw the game against Michigan. They put a high-quality product on the field, and that’s what I like about Alabama." What about UGA? "There’s opportunity at Georgia. And it’s the same way as Alabama, they put a good product on the field. They’re good people in Athens. Coach [Mark Richt] is a good guy. I get along with the coaches, and they produce."
This past basketball season, we had to debate about whether or not Kentucky could defeat the Charlotte Bobcats. One week into football season, some are debating whether or not Alabama could play with an NFL team following its demolition of Michigan. Calhoun believes the Crimson Tide would have more than a puncher's chance. "Hands down, I think the most talented team in all of football right now is Alabama," Calhoun said, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. "That includes the New England Patriots. They're close to there."