TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — How Alabama’s players practice typically determines the mood Nick Saban is in, and the coach didn’t seem too happy at the start of his weekly radio show on Thursday.
Saban had a smile on his face, but when asked if it had been a good week, Saban scoffed.
“I’d rather not comment on it,” Saban said. “We got them straightened out today, though.”
Saban has spent all week fighting the perception that Alabama can just flip the coin and win on Saturday. The Crimson Tide hosts Tennessee inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
Alabama is a 36-point favorite over the Volunteers, according to VegasInsider.com. The Volunteers limp into Tuscaloosa having lost their last two matchups, being outscored 56-9 in those contests.
Saban wants everyone around the program, including the players, fans and media, to know that none of that matters.
“The teams that have the ability to sustain — and I’m talking about mental energy, sense of urgency, aight, about preparation and the things that you need to do to get ready to play well,” Saban said, raising his voice slightly. “Because if you don’t have a sense of urgency about what you’re doing, you don’t have any mental energy, you don’t play very smart, you’re not very focused, you make more mental errors, you don’t tackle as well. I mean you really have to have the right mental edge.
“Now, that’s difficult to sustain, but the team that can sustain has the best chance of being successful. That’s why you see teams, in my opinion, in the top 10 get beat, because of their inability to sustain it. And it’s not just when the game comes. When the game comes, everybody wants to play well. But it’s how you got ready to play the game and how you can stay focused on — I know everybody kills me with this term — the process of what it takes to play well, in terms of film study, understanding what the other team’s going to do, seeing receiver locations and anticipate what’s going to happen, make the right communications and the right calls so everybody’s playing together.
“These things you just can’t go out there and do without having some sense of urgency about you.”
Alabama hasn’t lost to Tennessee during Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, and the majority of the 10 games haven’t been close.
In 2009, Alabama needed a blocked field-goal attempt to hold off the Vols. The Crimson Tide went on to win the national championship that season. That was almost a decade ago.
Tennessee’s last trip to Tuscaloosa produced a close matchup. The Crimson Tide needed a late touchdown from Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, and a strip-sack from its defense to defeat the Vols 19-14 in 2015.
Those are the only two close games during Saban’s tenure, during which Alabama has outscored Tennessee 351-119. However, Saban doesn’t want his players thinking about the past and overlooking this Tennessee team.
“And the other thing is, is when you get in a situation like this, everybody talks about the other team, aight, and the other team has its issues and problems, like that’s going to be an advantage for us,” Saban said. “Well to me, it makes them a dangerous team. They’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by coming in and playing well, and they’re going to be away from home, so they’re not getting criticized, so it’s not really a home game for us if it’s not an away game for them.
“And then you listen to all the noise out there about how good you are, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge. I don’t believe in tired, though. I don’t believe in tired. I think you get mentally tired. I think you get mentally where you can’t focus, you can’t sustain, you can’t pay attention in the meeting, you can’t take it to the field. And because you don’t have any mental energy, you don’t have any physical energy, so you don’t practice well.
“So, every now and then it’s good to create a little tension. I like to create tension. I created tension today to try to get them going a little bit.”