Saban hopes Tulane game teaches UA players lesson

Published 9:28 pm Monday, September 8, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – John Parker Wilson can’t remember throwing for so few yards in a game. Glen Coffee felt like No. 11 Alabama was physically whipped by a supposedly outmanned Tulane team, and coach Nick Saban said the performance was a sign of a team that lacks maturity.

Harsh self-critiques aside, the Crimson Tide (2-0) did win the game by two touchdowns.

Two days later, much of the discussion was still about an offense that didn’t reach the end zone, mistakes in execution and whether ‘Bama plays to the level of its competition.

At least Saban can get his point across in victory.

“It was one of those ‘do you believe me now’ things with the players,” Saban said Monday. “There’s no breathers in college football. You need to respect the opponents that you play. That’s what we harped on all last week. The game before was over. You can’t be affected by that.”

The Tide scored two special teams touchdowns and otherwise relied on a defense that still hasn’t given up a TD. The 20-6 win just wasn’t as lopsided as oddsmakers projected and it certainly wasn’t as impressive as the opening victory over Clemson.

“It’s just playing down to your opponents,” Wilson said. “You can say it’s not getting up for a game. We didn’t do what we’re supposed to. We didn’t play our football. We didn’t do what we need to do to win. We can’t go up and down like that. We need to stay solid.”

Saban’s verdict: “It tells me that we don’t have the maturity as a team to take ownership and responsibility for playing at a high standard all the time, which is what you would like your team to do.”

The game did leave the offense searching for some answers — and some able-bodied linemen.

The Tide managed just 172 total yards and Wilson passed for 73. The last time he had so little yardage? “Never,” Wilson said.

The game might not be the best gauge, since left tackle Andre Smith was out with a knee injury and guard Marlon Davis went down early with a hamstring injury. Saban said Smith remains “day-to-day” but did practice Monday while Davis will play Saturday night against Western Kentucky.

There was plenty of blame to go around.

“We did very poorly across the board, everybody,” Wilson said. “We were great against Clemson and we were horrible against Tulane. Now we’ve got to get back to where we need to be.

“We’re lucky the defense showed up to win that game.”

The performance still bothered Coffee on Monday. He said Tulane played more physically than Alabama and found more fault with the Tide, too.

“Too many missed assignments. Lack of focus,” the tailback said. “We just basically didn’t play the game that we should have played.

“It was disappointing. We’ve got to come in every week ready to play no matter your opponent. You’ve got to come out and play ‘Bama football and we didn’t do that.”

Saban said the offensive problems, ranging from poor execution to poor pass protection at times, were all fixable. Wilson, who was a picture of efficiency against Clemson, couldn’t absorb all the blame for an 11-of-23 performance that didn’t include a completion of more than 15 yards.

“If you’re going to play well at quarterback, the people around you need to execute well,” Saban said. “And I don’t think we got enough consistency in that for anybody to play well at that position.”

The Tide will get another test of its ability to get up for games that shape up as potential mismatches. Western Kentucky visits Saturday night as a four-touchdown underdog.

Saban doesn’t have to just use Alabama’s own games to emphasize the hazards of taking opponents too lightly.

“All you’ve got to do is look at the scores every week in college football,” he said. “Ohio State’s down 14-6 late in the third quarter against Ohio University. Every week, it happens to someone — sometimes more than one. It’s all about mind-set and getting ready to play your best football, and that’s something that we’re going to have to continue to work on.”