"We just have to practice at that tempo. We have to train yourself throughout the week to get that type of cardio out on the field," said defensive end Damion Square. "You have to be disciplined as a player to understand what they're bringing to the game and make sure you're physically fit to play out and be available for your team and that not be a factor." The no-huddle offense thrives on rhythm, and maintains a fast pace that is meant to prevent defensive substitutions. The Crimson Tide substitutes frequently on defense, moving from its regular defense to nickel and dime sets that are more effective in passing situations. Linebacker Nico Johnson, however, said the defense is prepared to face anything in the event that it gets caught with the wrong personnel on the field. "When something like that happens, we have an emergency call, whether we're in regular, nickel or dime rabbit. When that happens, we just go to that call, and the call coach puts in for that week pretty much can work for any formation," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter. We just have to adjust. That's about it. We practiced it about five times today."
We're constantly trying to teach our players to play the next play and to not be worried about the scoreboard or about the circumstances of the game, because those are external factors," Saban said Monday. "We try to focus on what we need to do to execute the very next play. Whether you're ahead in the game or behind in the game, it really doesn't matter. "That's something that we're constantly trying to instill in our players from a competitive standpoint, but if they've never been in the situation, you don't know how they're going to respond."
Even though he isn’t listed as a starter, Mosley plays a lot in the Tide’s defensive schemes that feature five or six defensive backs. That’s because he is good in pass coverage and making tackles in the open field. So, if Alabama opens the game in one of those formations, Mosley actually will get credit for a "start," which has happened three times this season. "He’s very athletic, fast, very instinctive," Saban said. "He’s really a playmaker type of guy as well. ... With all the spread-out formations that we’ve played against to this point, he’s had a lot of opportunities to make plays, and he’s made a lot of plays."
The junior from Theodore leads Alabama with 29 tackles, picking up no fewer than five in each of the Crimson Tide’s first four games of the season. He’s one of six players to intercept a pass, but he’s the only one to return it for a touchdown -- a season-opening feat that tied him for the program record with three for his career. He’s deflected two other passes and is one of seven different players to force a fumble. Alabama’s coaches have named Mosley as one of the defense’s players of the week after all four games. "I’m just trying to stay on the field as much as possible," Mosley said. "When I do, I’m just trying to make plays when I can, just to help the team, just to keep the defense going and the team going."
LB C.J. Mosley/Alabama -- Cornerback Dee Milliner leads the SEC in passes defended, but no one on the nation's most heralded defense has been more consistent than Mosley, who plays primarily in nickel and dime packages yet has been named the Tide's defensive player of the game four times on four straight Saturdays.
"I’m here to do my job, eliminate as many mental errors as possible, communicating with the other players, putting them into position to make plays," Lester said. "Teams game plan to go away from certain players. That’s out of my hands. But there are other players on the field, and if they are in the right spot, they’ll make the plays."
1. AJ McCarron, Alabama, Jr.: Yes, he’s playing behind an NFL offensive line, but his command of that offense has been as good as it gets. McCarron leads the SEC and is fourth nationally in passing efficiency, and he’s thrown 176 straight passes without an interception going back to last season. He also has 10 touchdown passes. The misnomer about McCarron is that he’s merely a manager of a Tide offense that’s so much better physically than everybody else. The reality is that McCarron’s arm strength ranks up there with anybody in the league and he’s the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama.
"They're deeper than any team we have faced, particularly on the O-line and D-line and obviously other places too," Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. "Their defensive line, they can go three deep with very, very talented kids. They're able to keep them fresh and that allows them to play with a high motor all the time. I know (Saban) requires that of his kids. When you're able to play that many people and not have a significant drop-off, I think that even helps more. They have tremendous depth and tremendous talent."
"Dee, we all know he's a small guy," Lacy said. "But he plays like he's 6-2, 230 pounds. If a defensive lineman comes through and he has to block him, mostly likely he's not going to cut him. "He's going to try to hit him right in the facemask. That says a lot about him and his character."
Hugh Freeze's Rebels have surpassed last year's win total and enter this game with nothing to lose. Can their offense, which averages 37 points, have any success against Alabama? "They're the gold standard in football right now," Freeze said. "Being a competitor, you want to play in those environments. It will be a fun environment to play in. We'll get to see where we are in the next step of our journey.'
Alabama coach Nick Saban was quick to praise Freeze, saying the Rebels were "a much, much, much improved team." Most of his compliments were given to Freeze's no-huddle offense, but he also was impressed with the team's defensive speed. "They forced a bunch of turnovers last week," Saban said. "This is a team that's completely different." Saban's offense will present a straightforward challenge on Saturday. The Crimson Tide has the bigger, faster players. Running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon - who have combined for 486 yards and six touchdowns - will try to run over the Rebels. Quarterback A.J. McCarron - who has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions - will be aiming for receivers like Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones, who will try to run past the Rebels. There will be very few secrets. "No tricks or anything like that," Ole Miss cornerback Charles Sawyer said. "If it's a run it's a run and if it's a pass then it's a pass. That's how they play."
"Ole Miss is really a much improved team," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Monday. "The offensive numbers that they've been able to put up against everyone that they've played have been very impressive ... They are playing hard, playing with a lot of spirit. They've got some really good skilled players."
Alabama has played 11 true freshmen through the first four games. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban doesn’t have plans to add to that list, but, as he said Monday, you never know. It’s not an easy call. Alabama has developed its depth enough that redshirting players, particularly linemen, is fairly routine. That was not the case for his first couple of recruiting classes, of course. "We’re trying to make these decisions based on the fact, is a guy going to get to play enough to help him develop as a player, (versus) losing a year of eligibility for playing him just a little bit," Saban said.
McCarron is closing in on Crimson Tide history. After his 25 attempts against the Owls, McCarron has now gone 176 passes without throwing an interception, 14 behind Brodie Croyle's program record of 190. McCarron has done it by being an equal-opportunity passer. So far this season he has thrown touchdown passes to six different players, including an 85-yarder on the fourth play Saturday, the longest of McCarron's career and tied for the fifth longest in Alabama history. He currently ranks first in the SEC and fourth nationally with a 188.6 efficiency rating.
Nose guard Brandon Ivory (ankle) and wide receiver Kevin Norwood (foot) are both back on the practice field and participating after sitting out Monday's session that was open to reporters. Ivory has been labeled as questionable by coach Nick Saban. The Alabama coach hasn't mentioned Norwood's injury, even though the junior wide receiver sat out most of Saturday's win against Florida Atlantic.
"You want to hold down the middle of the field in any situation, running or passing," Square said. "You want to protect everything from the inside out. I try to do that to the best of my ability. Be a team player and help other guys get great pass rushing situations and those guys do the same thing for me. "A lot of teams give us a lot of play-action looks, so you really want to be stout in the middle of the field, just in case it is a run situation on third and long. We've been seeing a lot of that this year."
What sort of column would this be if the Alabama-Auburn game ever ended with the sort of controversy that accompanied the conclusion of the NFL Monday Night game between Green Bay and Seattle? It's a trick question, of course. If an Alabama-Auburn game ever ended on a Hail Mary pass into a mob of receivers and defenders with offensive pass interference going unnoticed and a mad scramble resulting in a touchdown that probably should have been an interception instead, there would be no columns. Regardless of which side was the beneficiary, there would only be a long wait in an underground shelter, waiting for the riots to subside.
We may not know precisely how good Bama is even by the end of the season. Only two teams on the slate, past or future, are currently ranked: Mississippi State and LSU. Among them, only LSU seems a lock to finish the year ranked. Michigan might find its way back into the top 25, but it might not. Texas A&M might get there, but we still don't know much about that team either. Tennessee and Missouri out of the East don't figure to end up ranked the way things are looking. It's very possible that, by the standard of the poll of the day, a hypothetical Bama appearance in Atlanta would be only the second game the Tide played against a ranked team all year.
There is a lot to see in Tuscaloosa, of course, from the hand- and footprints of former captains near the quad, to Foster Auditorium, which is known for something other than football. Our tour wrapped up at Egan's, an old bar on University Boulevard that has resisted the expansion and modernization that has afflicted other places near campus. It is old-school, smokey (even at noon), filled with memorabilia from long-lost Tuscaloosa businesses and, as a nice bonus, SB Nation-friendly. It is the one place I am guaranteed to revisit the next time I am in town, at least as long as I can take a two-hour shower afterwards. Alabama does history right. Of that, there is no doubt. It celebrates gridiron success and appears to openly acknowledge its racial history in a way that other places might not. Alabama fans still scare the hell out of me, but not as much as the team does, I guess.
Discipline, a trademark of Saban-coached teams, is another key reason the Tide ended Florida State's two-week run atop the index. Alabama has committed just two turnovers all season and has been whistled for only 18 penalties in four games. The Seminoles - ranked fourth in the AP poll - slipped to third in the index despite a 49-31 victory over Clemson (No. 17 AP, No. 50 UPS) on Saturday in which they committed two turnovers and 11 penalties while rolling up 667 yards of total offense.