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Pre-Package: Alabama needs to play to win, instead of playing not to lose

The only thing the prevent prevents is victory, amirite?

Texas A&M v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We launch the weekly press blitz with some unfortunate news regarding this week’s opponent: 18-year-old MSU freshman OL, Sam Westmoreland died “suddenly” and an investigation is open into his passing. At that age, and with that language, it is almost certainly early mortality associated with the big three for young men: suicide, violence/accident, or an overdose.

Send some good vibes their way, and rest in peace, Sam.

Mike Leach, the most interesting man in college football, has a message for his team this week. And it is remarkably similar to Saban’s “play to a standard” canard: take care of your business. You can only control the guy in your uniform, so do it the best you can.

It’s tempting in situations like these to put the mind’s eye on the coming circumstances. A strong foe awaits. A loud environment will look to rattle MSU.

All that is true. However, State head coach Mike Leach doesn’t want his bunch considering any of it. Leach is adamant the Dawgs shouldn’t be looking down Highway 82 at the Crimson Tide. Instead, they need to be looking square in the mirror.

“If they’re sitting there looking [at the opponent] and paying attention to that, they’re looking at the wrong thing,” Leach said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “They need to be looking at themselves and how well they’re playing and competing with themselves and play the best that they can play.”

Manage your own business. Sweep your own front porch.

The complete video presser is here.

Leach’s opposite, Nick Saban, also needs to be challenging some guys to look in the mirror and take accountability for their play...and their actions.

Not to go full Nega-Gump, but there’s not really been a team-wide culture of accountability since the outstanding 2020 class headed off to the NFL. There’s no Landon on this team, for instance. You have some leadership in Bryce and Henry, and Will tries as well — when he’s not being wildly erratic — but far too many of the other 80 guys need to step up to the mirror and challenge themselves.

Here is Saban’s Wed. night press conference.

Fans wanting to see the GOAT unload with some of his legendary spleen are going to be in for some bad news. It very much seems the message this week from the staff has been one of positivity, instead of a foot in the ass.

Through three days of practice, Saban has been pleased with the team’s response in practice.

“Yeah, I think they’re responding,” Saban said. “Our players wanna have success. I’ve said this before, fans get upset, people get upset when we don’t have success, but players get upset, too. Probably more upset than anybody because they work hard and they get frustrated when they don’t have success and they wanna know why and how they can fix it. And they’ve worked hard to try to do that.

“But I think it goes back to you’ve gotta have the right mindset, man, and we’ve gotta get more positive about how we approach beating the other team. That’s something that we’re working on this week, as well.”

He also addressed something that was painfully apparent from the first snap of the game — this team played scared on Saturday. They had their moments, sure. But they were bookended around defensive disasters that surrendered 28 points, and some baffling-to-downright-piss-poor coaching from a staff of multimillionaires who ought to have been better at their jobs.


Saban addressed that fear too:

“The big emphasis for the team this week is playing to win,” Saban said after Wednesday’s practice. “There’s a difference between playing to win and playing to keep from getting beat. When you’re playing to keep from getting beat, the game isn’t really about winning. It’s about being afraid to mess up, painting negative pictures in your mind of bad things that can happen, and that doesn’t help you have success.

Coach Saban has frequently noted that this generation of players has to be coached and treated differently than the players of years past. You can’t go too negative or be too punitive. Still, forcefully challenging kids, letting them know the expectations, what is required to meet them, and pointing out their failures and the whys — without eliciting a sideline sulking — has to be part of it. Not tough love, exactly. But good old fashioned accountability. If that means guys hit the portal, so be it.

Again, not go Nega-Gump, but I’m just about done with this entire roster. Playing soft is one thing; soft between the ears and under the ribcage is another matter entirely. Give me 85 coachable three-stars from Bowling Green, or a hungry Vanderbilt kid who gives a shit for 60 minutes, over whatever we’ve been seeing the past 21 games.

You can’t coach brains, attitude or heart, and this iteration of Alabama football is sorely lacking in all of them.

And I put no small measure of this team’s performance on the coaching staff. Relative to talent level, they’ve grossly underperformed given what they are capable of. There is no Alabama Standard anymore. You can’t look out on the field and show me where I’m wrong either.

Case in point: Jermaine Burton either hit a young woman on Saturday, when the Vols were rushing the field, or hit her phone (and neither were acceptable by the way). Tempers get lost, sure. But you cannot do that, for any reason whatsoever.

Was this team unprepared for the possibility of a loss and how to comport themselves in what was sure to be a hostile environment? Are some of them sulking poor losers? Don’t the coaches know the character of the people they’re signing? Because it’s either poor coaching, poor judgment, or both.

Saban really didn’t want to address it either, saying only that it was a disciplinary matter that would be handled internally.

Sorry, Coach. Afraid that won’t fly. The SEC is almost certainly going to get involved, and this woman can also sic the Knoxville PD on Burton as well (to say nothing of a quick-kill nuisance suit). You may want to handle it internally, but it’s going to drag out for a while.

And he deserves it.

Nick Saban is telling the team that all of their goals are still ahead of them, and that is technically true. But does anyone actually believe that, given that Alabama will almost certainly face the Vols again, Georgia? Ohio State? A dominant Michigan team that devours mistakes and makes very few of their own? Clemson? Even getting out of their own division is perilous, with two Top 10 teams and a roadie to LSU remaining.

I don’t believe that for one second unless a whole lot improves, a lot more quickly. Begin with consistency, for a start.

On how this team compares to other Alabama teams that lost a game but won a title…

“I don’t like to compare teams, but I can say that we haven’t played with the kind of consistency that I like to see our team play with and it’ll be interesting to see how we respond to a loss and learn from the mistakes that we made so that we can play with more consistency by having a little more discipline, a little more attention to detail and play to win. Have an aggressive attitude and a positive attitude about what you need to do go out and prepare yourself so that you can play that kind of football. If we respond to that, I believe in the team that we have. I think they’re capable, but having the capacity to do something and the capability of doing it is two different things. And I think we need to work on our capability of playing with more consistency.”

Alrighty, you folks can start there. We’ll have the JP along for you shortly.