By GLENN GUILBEAU | Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
BATON ROUGE – If Alabama keeps winning the way it has, Coach Nick Saban is not going to know what to do.
This is a man who actually complained a few years ago about making the national championship game because its date in January hurt his recruiting, what with signing day in early February and all.
This is a man who actually said he sort of wished his defending national champion, No. 4 ranked LSU team would have lost its 2004 season opener to unranked Oregon State instead of win it, 22-21, in overtime so he would have its attention more so he would have more teaching points.
This is a man who was actually upset in a way that his LSU team beat Kentucky, 33-30, in 2002 on the Blue Grass Miracle touchdown pass from Marcus Randall to Devery Henderson. Since the Tigers did not play particularly well that day and still won, he was concerned about his players’ mindset for future games. Had they lost, he’d have their attention. They wouldn’t be overconfident. After whining about it on the plane home so much, his wife Terry finally said, basically, “Nick, shut up and enjoy it.”
The Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) is again right where Saban doesn’t want it in a way – undefeated and No. 1 in the nation and on the surface void of any teaching points. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Tuscaloosa. He is searching for adversity anywhere he can, but it’s just not happening. His team not only keeps winning, but it keeps destroying folks – Tennessee, 45-7, Saturday in an off game, Ole Miss, 66-3, on Sept. 30 and Vanderbilt, 59-0, on Sept. 23.
Lose to Troy, Nick, and you’ll have some teaching points. That’s where LSU (6-2, 3-1 SEC) was but is now a well taught, well coached, well-coordinated and rejuvenated team riding a three-game winning streak. I’m surprised Saban has not scheduled Troy already. He’s jealous of LSU’s adversity.
When Saban last won a national championship in 2015, he got what he wanted – a early season, 43-37 loss to Ole Miss. “YES,” he said to himself. “Now, I’ll have your attention.” And Alabama won the next 12 with a 45-40 victory over Clemson in the national title game. He was not so lucky last year. He went undefeated at 14-0 leading into a national championship rematch against Clemson. Searching desperately for adversity, anything negative to rally around, he fired offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin one week before the national title game in an unprecedented move.
And it almost worked. But Saban perhaps should have looked closer at his defense than his offense as his defense blew the game with Clemson scoring in the final seconds for a 35-31 victory.
With LSU recovered from adversity and Alabama mired in pitiful perfection, Saban may be considering a coordinator coup as we speak. Nothing else is working. He has even tried rat poison.
Following the so-so win over Tennessee that featured the Tide outgaining the Vols, 604 yards to 108, Saban said, “Thought we were a little sluggish in the first half. Thought we were a little sluggish in practice this week, which kind of carried over.”
Oh, how Tennessee coach Butch Jones – 3-4 and 0-4 in the SEC – would like a shot of that sluggishness. So would Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who has fallen to 2-5 and 0-4 and has lost his last three straight by an average of 30 points.
“We certainly have got a lot of things that we can improve on,” Saban said … not Jones or Bielema. “I’m not real satisfied, and I don’t think anybody should be in terms of where we are and what we’ve done. We’ll look at all the opponents that we have, especially our SEC opponents, and see if there are things we need to work on for them during this bye week.”
That could take a while even if he did sound like he’s overlooking Mercer on Nov. 18. Alabama does lead the nation again in total defense with 236 yards allowed a game and in rush defense with 66.4 yards allowed a game. So, it would be a tough sell firing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, though his unit is only No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense with 9.8 points allowed a game to the 9.6 by Penn State.
Alabama has been so dominant in games this season that media covering the team is perplexed about exactly what to ask about. Surely dreaming of covering the White House, one reporter after the Tennessee game actually asked about a practice on the previous Thursday and “what was behind that sluggish start.” Apparently, Saban – grasping for any type of adversity – had injected some artificial tension before Thursday’s practice after a bad practice on Wednesday to try to somehow get his guys worried about Tennessee, which came into Tuscalooosa last in the SEC in scoring offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency, interceptions, fourth down conversions and red zone offense, and – not to mention – 0-for-10 against Saban’s Alabama and a 36-point underdog.
“Look,” Saban began after a pause, and you knew what was coming. The classic rant. Happens two or three times a year.
“I talk about this all the time, aw right, and you don’t get it,” he said. “You know it’s not human nature to have people say that you’re unanimous No. 1, you’re a 36-point favorite. You read in the paper every day that you don’t even need to play the game. Aw right, I mean, so why should we get excited about practice?”
It’s amazing Saban is still and old print newspaper guy. Reads it every morning with his reheated leftover coffee from the morning before. Maybe, this is why HE is sluggish. But that’s another story. Positive stories often piss him off, and negative stories often piss him off. What does he want? What to write for the man who wins everything?
“I mean, those external factors cannot affect your team. And sometimes it does, aw right,” he said. “And we had to have a little ‘Come To Jesus’ meeting about it, aw right. ‘What is this about? What is ‘your commitment to? What goals do we have as a team? And what’s more important, what we want to accomplish as a team for the guys in the room or what somebody else thinks? Or writes. Or says.’”
Perhaps no coach in football history has complained about positive coverage.
Of course, he also bitches about negative coverage.
After he slipped by Texas A&M, 27-19, on Oct. 7 – an Aggies’ loss that may do more to save Coach Kevin Sumlin’s job than any of his wins this season – Saban was asked a negative question. Seems Texas A&M actually stopped Alabama three times over a stretch of four series. This must have been some sort of record.
“I’m trying to get our players to listen to me instead of listening to you guys,” Saban answered. “All that stuff you write about how good we are and all that stuff they hear on ESPN. It’s like poison. You know what I mean? It’s like taking poison. Like RAT poison, aw right. So, I’m asking them, ‘Are you going to listen to me? Or are you going to listen to these guys about how good you are?’”
But Nick, the guy was asking a stretch where you didn’t play so well. But he doesn’t get it.
“Just like your question right now,” he said. “We get stopped three out of four times, like that’s a bad thing? We’re not going to beat everybody, 66-3?”
What is he freakin’ talking about? Guy asks about a part of the game where Alabama was not dominant, and he talks about getting too much positive coverage on ESPN.
God, it must be tough covering Alabama. Every written word can do so much harm. A media member even talking about or even thinking about Alabama apparently can hurt the team. Maybe the Tuscaloosa News should conduct an experiment. Don’t write anything about the team during this open week, and see what happens. Just cover Tuscaloosa Central High and Shelton State.
“Wouldn’t you be more motivated to have the respect for the people in the room that you play with every day who are your teammates? And shouldn’t we try to be a good team because of those guys? And if we’re going to accomplish the goals that we have, we need to look forward and be a team that has everyone committed to each other, to be responsible to do their job at a high level, at a high standard on a consistent basis,” Saban said.
Better yet, maybe Saban ought to coach some small town high school, and he won’t have this many problems.
Finally, Saban gave up trying to think of a reason for the “sluggish start” in a 45-7 win. Alabama had only led 21-0 at the half. Shocked and trying to solve this mystery, I’m think some of Alabama’s investigative reporters probably filed a public records request at halftime.
“You know, I can’t tell you why,” Saban said in a rare moment of media surrender. “If I knew why, I’d probably have a better job than what I got now.”
Wait, there’s a better job? Is Saban thinking of leaving? And would that be outside the SEC?
Realizing his snafu, Saban started crawfishing. “And I like the job I got now, and I think it’s a really good job, awright.”
You “like” the Alabama job? It’s “really good?” That won’t play well in Alabama. It’s not your life’s dream to live in Tuscalooosa?
“But if I could tell you why? If I could tell you why you asked that question, hell, I wouldn’t be up here,” he said. “Right?”
Where would you be? Texas? The White House?
“So, how do I know why we didn’t practice good on Wednesday? I know one thing,” he said. “We created tension over it, and tension got their attention.”
LSU has lost to Alabama six straight times, including three of the last four by double digits. LSU has been shut out by Alabama in two of those last six games. Where will Saban find the tension to get the attention this week?
Poor Nick. What will he do?
Perhaps therapy would work.
SABAN: “Doc, we just keep winning all the time and sometimes in dominant fashion, and everybody just keeps writing about it. And I just don’t know what to do.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK I: “This is the first time I’ve ever been tipsy on a baseball field.”
—Houston Astros 3B and former LSU SS Alex Bregman after the Astros won the American League pennant Saturday night, 4-0, over the New York Yankees to reach the World Series.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: “I threw a Danny Etling dime to the plate.”
—Houston Astros 3B and former LSU SS Alex Bregman on throwing out a Yankee at the plate in Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Yankees.
THE GUILBEAU POLL: 1. ALABAMA (8-0, 5-0 SEC). Beat Tennessee, 45-7. Open. 2. GEORGIA (7-0, 4-0). Open. Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. 3. TEXAS A&M (5-2, 3-1). Open. Hosts Mississippi State. 4. LSU (6-2, 3-1). Won 40-24 at Ole Miss. Open. 5. AUBURN (6-2, 4-1). Beat Arkansas, 52-20. Open. 6. FLORIDA (3-3, 3-2). Open. Plays Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida. 7. MISSISSIPPI STATE (5-2, 2-2). Beat Kentucky, 45-7. At Texas A&M. 8. SOUTH CAROLINA (5-2, 3-2). Open. Hosts Vanderbilt. 9. OLE MISS (3-4, 1-3). Lost to LSU, 40-24. Hosts Arkansas. 10. KENTUCKY (5-2, 2-2). Lost to Mississippi State, 45-7. Hosts Tennessee. 11. TENNESSEE (3-4, 0-4). Lost 45-7 to Alabama. At Kentucky. 12. VANDERBILT (3-4, 0-4). Open. At South Carolina. 13. MISSOURI (2-5, 0-4). Beat Idaho, 68-21. At Connecticut. 14. ARKANSAS (2-5, 0-4). Lost 52-20 to Auburn. At Ole Miss.