By Hunter Ford
Winning the SEC West and advancing to the SEC Championship Game is something to be proud of, Alabama football coach Nick Saban said at his Monday press conference.
Alabama will face Eastern Division champion Missouri this Saturday in Atlanta.
“Right now, this is a new season,” Saban said. “We look forward to the challenges of the future. The SEC Championship is a great opportunity for our players. It’s one of the most exciting venues, one of the most exciting games I’ve been involved in. It is a special opportunity. Our conference is very difficult, so this is a significant accomplishment to be in this game.”
Saban noted that Missouri is making its second straight trip to the SEC Championship and will have experience playing in the game. He praised Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel for the job he has done at Missouri. Pinkel and the Tigers have won the SEC East twice since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012.
The Tigers feature sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, who started 11 games for the Tigers in 2013, including the SEC Championship game. Saban said Missouri has talented receivers and backs, and on defense, has been “very opportunistic.”
Saban said Missouri has a plus nine turnover ratio and has a defensive line that has “created a lot of havoc up front.”
He said Missouri is one of the best teams in the country.
“I wouldn’t expect to play any team in the SEC Championship that wasn’t one of the best teams in the country,” Saban said.
ONSIDE KICK IN IRON BOWL
Saban said the opening kick-off of the Iron Bowl was indeed an attempt at an onside kick.
“It was supposed to be a bloop kick (over the front line of the defense). It didn’t ‘bloop’ very good. It didn’t turn out well, but that’s what it was supposed to be,” he said.
UP TEMPO OFFENSE FOR TIDE
Saban said running a fast-paced, up-tempo offense is not something Alabama will do all the time, but he said it will continue to employ the strategy in the post-season. Saban said the strategy has helped quarterback Blake Sims manage the game. “We function better as a group when we play with tempo and pace,” he said.
EXECUTION AND TECHNIQUE CRUCIAL FOR DEFENSE
Saban said Alabama defenders were burned on deep passes against Auburn. He said that will be an area the Tide will strive to improve in. He said the long plays were the result of “technical” errors from the defensive backs. He also said the defensive line was often out of position on several run plays.
Saban said he was pleased with the Alabama defensive effort in the red zone against Auburn, but allowing big pass plays must be eliminated.
“If you play well in the red zone and don’t give up big pass plays, you get hard to score on even if people are moving the ball on you,” he said. “It comes down to execution.”
WALK- ONS UNSUNG HEROES
Saban was asked how important walk-ons are to a major college football team. An Ohio State football walk-on was recently found dead in Ohio, of an apparent suicide.
He said walk-on players, or players who participate without a scholarship, are often “unsung heroes” of a football team. He said some develop into starters, but many more play vital roles as scout team players helping starters prepare for games.
“They don’t get their picture in the paper,” he said. “But they are very important.”
FATE OF UAB FOOTBALL
Saban was asked if he had any thoughts on speculation that UAB football may be dropped.
“I don’t have any thoughts. That’s not what I’m focused on,” he replied. “My thoughts are with the players and the people in our profession who may lose their jobs.”
Saban said he feels for players who might have to transfer schools to continue playing football and for coaches who could be out of work.
“But I understand the other side of it,” Saban said. “There is a business side that has to make sense. I don’t have any opinion on what should or shouldn’t be done.”
Saban said those decisions were “above my pay grade.”