No. 1 Alabama gears up for stretch run, rat poison and all
By JOHN ZENOR
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama is unbeaten, scarcely challenged and dominating on both sides of the ball.
Now, the top-ranked Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) gets an open date to ready for the stretch run. And it's clear the focus of coach Nick Saban & Co. is on finishing this one out, not spending much time savoring the accomplishments through eight games.
In fact, Saban said the team held a "come to Jesus meeting" last week leading up to Saturday's 45-7 victory over rival Tennessee . He tried once again to explain after the game to reporters the challenge of tuning out the hype that he has likened to "rat poison."
"I talk about this all the time and you all don't get it," Saban said. "But it's not human nature to have people say you're unanimous No. 1, you're 36-point favorites. You read in the paper every day that you don't even need to play the game. So why should we get excited about practice?
"Those external factors cannot affect your team and sometimes it does. We had to have a little come to Jesus meeting about what is this all about, what is your commitment to, what goals do we have as a team? And what's more important, what we want to accomplish as a team for the guys in this room or what somebody else thinks or writes or says."
Besides, Alabama players and coaches have more enduring motivation in their bid for a fifth national title under Saban and fourth consecutive SEC championship. They well remember the last-second loss to Clemson in January's national championship game.
Against Tennessee, the Tide made a goal line stand that really didn't affect the outcome of the game but fans and players celebrated like it did. It was special to linebacker Rashaan Evans, who called it "probably one of the greatest moments I've ever been part of."
That might have something to do with the play they couldn't make against Clemson.
"It's always a motivation," Evans said of that game. "You don't want to harp on the past too much but at the same time you want it to be a good reminder of what could happen if you don't play your best game."
Alabama's last two games against Arkansas and Tennessee have come against struggling teams with inexperienced quarterbacks.
The Tide returns from the opening date to host No. 23 LSU and also faces Mississippi State and No. 19 Auburn on the road. Saban points out that there are improvements to make.
"I think the toughest games that we have and the best teams that we have to play are ahead of us," he said. "We're certainly going to need to play better and with more consistency and continue to improve in several areas, like the balance we have on offense, being able to throw the ball effectively on a consistent basis. I think that defensively we're going to get challenged a lot more than we have in the last couple of games."
Alabama leads the nation in scoring defense and the SEC in scoring offense. The Tide also has outscored league opponents by a whopping 238-38 so far.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts used Saban's rat poison analogy to outline the team's priority with all that as the backdrop.
"We want to keep guys there and attuned and kind of give them the juice to practice with a purpose every time they touch the field," Hurts said. "I think that's something we're emphasizing now, that we've got to go. Nothing is guaranteed for us regardless of what the rat poison is, what's going on, we have to go play.
"We know we have to go play and we can lose at any time."
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Updated October 22, 2017