Saban: Nothing has changed for Alabama after romp
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama coach Nick Saban is quick to deliver a reality check when the latest opponent can't.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide's restocked defense came up with big plays, accomplished its primary goal of containing quarterback Denard Robinson. The unit also looked similarly formidable to last year's group in Saturday night's opening win over No. 8 Michigan.
Enter Saban, who wants to ensure reporters and players alike know that the perception outside the football building is all that's changed.
"Everyone thought we were too young, too inexperienced, couldn't handle success," Saban said Monday. "Everybody was saying all those things about our team. Now, people are saying something different. But my question is what's different? Nothing.
"We're still young, we're still inexperienced. We've still got things to work on. It's going to be all about the maturity that the team has to be able to focus on what they need to do to correct the deficits that we have."
Convincing the team might be easier than fans who watched the dominant performance.
The defending national champions looked every bit the part of a contender in that 41-14 romp after facing an offseason of questions starting with a defense replacing four high NFL draft picks and eight starters. Experience, not talent, was the question.
The main charge was to contain Michigan's Robinson. Alabama accomplished that mission except for one long ball apiece yielded by the starting cornerbacks, Dee Milliner and Deion Belue.
The Wolverines still managed just 269 yards, 115 on those two plays.
The next day, Saban brought the Tide back to earth ahead of Saturday's visit from Western Kentucky.
"He told us that that was just the first game, so don't get all hyped up about that because we've got a lot more games to come and we've got a lot more improvement to do," linebacker C.J. Mosley said.
Milliner fell down on a 44-yarder from Robinson and Belue, a junior college transfer, gave up a 71-yarder in the first half.
Saban noted that wasn't all on the cornerbacks. Both those plays came on double moves from the receiver, which left an instant longer for the defensive front to pressure Robinson. One came on a blitz that couldn't reach him in time.
Even if Western Kentucky can't make Alabama pay on plays like that, a visit to No. 10 Arkansas and quarterback Tyler Wilson comes next.
"There's a lot of things we need to fix, there's a lot of things they did well" Saban said. "They played hard, they were physical. They did a good job of stopping the run, which was the goal in the game.
"The goal of the game was not to let the quarterback run the ball. He didn't have very many opportunities to run it. Even on his zone option reads we were sort of making it so he was going to hand the ball off and make somebody else beat us. We did a good job of executing the game plan."
Building a 31-0 lead allowed Alabama to get some youngsters from the latest highly rated recruiting class to get onto the field. That includes players who could be relied on to provide depth such as Belue's backup Geno Smith, No. 2 linebacker Denzel Devall and safety Landon Collins.
Alabama had to replace three first-round draft picks and early second-rounder Courtney Upshaw from a defense that led the nation in all the major statistical categories.
The Tide's defense featured a number of sophomores thrust into bigger roles — including safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri and linebackers Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard. Saban's mixed reviews certainly applied. For instance, Sunseri perfectly read an option play to stuff a third-down run in the third quarter but also jumped offsides on a blitz.
Center Barrett Jones has seen the group develop leading up to the season, and wasn't surprised with the initial result.
"We felt very confident with our defense," Jones said. "It didn't feel too much different out there. They got us the ball in good field position. They did a lot of great things out there. Got a lot of stops, lot of three-and-outs, turnovers. We were very pleased with them. We couldn't have asked for much more from them."
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