‘Bama hoping to avoid letdown against WKU

Published 1:02 pm Friday, September 12, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Nick Saban is hoping he won’t end this game asking his Alabama players, “Do you believe me now?”

The 11th-ranked Crimson Tide is a four-touchdown favorite for the second straight week, this time against fledgling FBS team Western Kentucky. Saban said he posed the above question to his players following a less-than-dominant performance last weekend over Tulane.

The coach who constantly preaches consistency, regardless of the opponent, doesn’t want the Tide to be the latest to either get an upset or a scare from a Sun Belt Conference team.

“You need to respect your opponent … because all you have to do is look at the scoreboard every week in college football,” Saban said. “Every week it happens to someone, sometimes more than one. It is all about mind-set and getting ready to play your best football.”

Those scoreboards have registered Arkansas State’s win over Texas A&M and Louisiana-Monroe’s near-upset of Tide division rival Arkansas. Not to mention Alabama’s own loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season.

Javier Arenas didn’t need all that to respect Western Kentucky and the Sun Belt. The Tide return man and cornerback was mostly recruited by smaller schools like the Sun Belt’s Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

He said that gives him some perspective on how the Hilltoppers might view this game.

“I don’t want to give them a chance to breathe,” said Arenas, a starting cornerback and one of the nation’s best punt returners. “And I’m going to try to spread it to my teammates, don’t give these guys a chance to breathe. Those other smaller teams are beating those bigger schools. We feed off that and thrive off that. It kind of angers us. We can’t let that happen to us. We won’t let that happen to us.

“We put that in our minds and if we repeat it and we say it and we practice as if we’re about to play a national championship opponent and play that way, things like that won’t happen.”

Western Kentucky wouldn’t seem to be a major threat. The Hilltoppers, the Division I-AA (FCS) champions in 2002, began a move up to the Football Bowls Subdivision in 2006 and don’t become full Sun Belt members until next season.

“Our guys realize where we are as a program and want to establish some respect both in the Sun Belt and throughout the country,” Western Kentucky coach David Elson said. “Any time we go some place like Alabama, I think that’s definitely something our guys feel.”

His quarterback, K.J. Black, is out with a dislocated shoulder. Senior David Wolke completed 9-of-18 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown after replacing Black late in the first quarter of last week’s win over Eastern Kentucky.

“You hate it when your No. 1 guy goes down but when you look at the bench and see David Wolke, we didn’t miss a beat,” Elson said.

Saban said preparing for a spread offense for the first time this season was a challenge in preparation, likening Western Kentucky’s system to the one employed by West Virginia. Arenas, however, said it’s nothing new to the Tide defense.

“We see it every day from our offense,” Arenas said. “We saw it every day during camp. We’ve got teams going to empty (backfield sets), which is almost the same thing. I think we’ll have an advantage as far as that goes.”

Western Kentucky is winless in 11 games against current SEC members. The Tide would still like to finetune the offense before opening league play at Arkansas, but linebacker Cory Reamer said major conference teams can no longer view these games as tuneups.

“Football has changed. You don’t have many cakewalks any more as you can see from the first two weeks of the season,” Reamer said. “Usually those guys are your early games that you like to get your feet wet with. There’s no easy ones any more.”