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Saban says LSU Tigers are definitely worthy of their No. 4 ranking (via Crimson Magazine)

Courtesy of Crimson Magazine

By Stan J. Griffin

Although the No. 7 University of Alabama football team was off this past week in terms of an actual game, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said the week was a productive one, nevertheless, for his team.

"We have been working on a lot of things, and a lot of repetitions for a lot of players, to improve," he said Monday. "But now it's time to sort of refocus on the task at hand. The players had a few days off, and I think the goal is is for us to play our best football of the year. To do that, each individual on the team needs to play their best, and that obviously starts with preparation, and we're going to start our preparation (for Saturday's game against No. 4 LSU) today."

Saban noted the magnitude of the Alabama/LSU rivalry, and how it has grown during the past several years. It will no doubt be a formidable challenge for his Crimson Tide squad once again when Les Miles' Tigers (7-0 overall and 4-0 in SEC play) comes to Tuscaloosa Saturday to battle his Alabama team (7-1, 4-1).


The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff and the game will be televised nationally by CBS.
'We've had some great games with LSU through the years, and this has turned out to be a great rivalry, and I think it's a great rivalry because of the quality of the programs, and I think six or seven times since we've been here, both teams have been ranked in the Top 10, and that's obviously a credit to the great job Les Miles has done there in the 11 years he's been there, and to their players and the way they compete and the quality of the players they have and the great job of coaching that they do."
Saban noted that Miles will bring yet another very talented LSU team to town this weekend, in what obviously will be one of the pivotal games in college football this season in terms of SEC and national ramifications.

"They return 16 starters and a lot of experienced players, and they are very productive on offense, I think (sophomore tailback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate) Leonard Fournette is probably, in my opinion and I haven't seen all the players, but he's as dominant as any player in the country in terms of the way he plays and what he's capable of doing as a running back, both running the football and as a receiver," he said. "The quarterback, (sophomore) Brandon Harris, has certainly done a really good job of taking care of the football and making big plays when he needs to. He's a dual-threat, he can run, and they've got really good receivers. Their offensive line is probably the biggest, most physical that we've seen all year long. So this is a really, really good offensive team and they rush for over 300 yards a game, and they've been able to make explosive plays in the passing game and that's led to a lot of points. Defensively, they're still ranked in the Top 20 in almost every category in the country. They're difficult to run against and a very good secondary and very good linebackers. They have a real good pass rusher in (junior defensive end) Lewis Neal, who has lots of hurries, lots of sacks, one of the top guys in the SEC. Always really good on special teams, they've got a lot of team speed, and they have very good specialists, so all-around, this is a very, very good football team that, no doubt, deserves every bit of the ranking that they have and probably one of the best teams in the country."

Obviously much of the hype regarding Saturday's Alabama/LSU battle has involved and will involve Fournette and Alabama tailback Derrick Henry, but especially Fournette, who has recently been prominently featured in cover stories by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. Saban said he knew the sophomore tailback from New Orleans was special even during his prep career at St. Augustine High School.

"Well, we thought he was a fabulous player in high school, the No. 1 (rated) running back in the country," he said. "And I think, bigger than that, my opinion of him was he was a really, really fine young man, great family, and it's no surprise to me that the guy has developed into one of the premier players in the country, and arguably the best running back in the country. His competitive character certainly shows on the field in terms of the way he plays and the way he competes. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the guy in terms of what he's accomplished and what he's done and the kind of player that he is."
Although the hype for the upcoming clash between the Tide and Bengal Tigers began several weeks ago, Saban said neither he, nor his team, have treated the game any differently, despite his previous coaching experience in Baton Rouge.

"I don't pay any attention to what people say, and we take our games one game at a time, and we try to do the best we can for our players," he said. "Look, this game is about our players,  and our team and our program. It has nothing to do with me, in terms of any past experiences that I've had, and my goal is to do the best job that we can, as coaches and a coaching staff, in preparing our players to play the best that they can all season long. That's really what it's all about to me because every player on this team has worked very, very hard to put themselves in a position to where they have an opportunity to play against a great team, and the game has a tremendous amount of significance for all the things that they've worked for all year long.  That's much bigger than anything else that can be considered in this game."
The LSU offense in 2015 has evolved significantly over where it was a season ago, and even from where it was earlier this season. This is due to the continued growth of Harris, a development which makes it difficult for opposing defenses to simply focus on shutting down Fournette.

"He was the backup quarterback last year, and won the job this year, and has played really, really well, said Saban regarding the LSU quarterback. "I mean the guy has not played like a first-year quarterback at all. He's executed very well and taken care of the ball. He hasn't thrown any interceptions  and made a lot of big plays, can scramble and keep plays alive, and keep his eyes downfield and make plays as well as run it. I can't really compare him to last year because we didn't see him play all that much, but this year he's certainly developed into an outstanding player for them, especially in terms of executing what they do, extremely well."

When asked about his own quarterback Jake Coker, and how much the senior's various experiences as a starter this season, including the recent late drive he led to help boost Alabama past Tennessee, have helped him mature and perhaps prepare him for a test such as LSU, Saban said he feels they have certainly been significant.

"I think all the experiences that he's had are experiences that obviously knowledge and experience is always going to make you better and make you more confident," he said. "You know how to prepare better, and you have more poise when you're playing, so I think all those things are important. Jake hadn't played that much before this season, and he's developed nicely and certainly put together a great drive at the end of the Tennessee game, and I think all those things not only helped his confidence, but the confidence of the players around him that he can make plays."

Although emotion and energy will no doubt play an integral role in deciding Saturday's contest at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night, the ninth-year Tide coach said it is important for his players not to get too caught up in that emotion, or the hype preceding this SEC West showdown between two Top 10 teams.

"I think in games like this, you have to focus on not worrying about the outcome of the game so much, but more what you have to do to win your box or, you know, dominate the guy that you're playing against, and sort of assume that the guy you're playing against may be the very best player you've played against all year long," said Saban. "That's the way you have to prepare for it, and that's the way you have to focus in the game. When you play games like this, you don't really ever dominate the other guy because of his quality, but you have to be able to focus on the next play so then you can be more consistent  in the way you perform over the long haul. That's what we try to get our players to do so that they can stay focused on what they need to do on the field because that will ultimately determine the outcome of the game."

Courtesy of Crimson Magazine

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