Saban praises No. 1 Alabama's fight but finds plenty to fix
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban couldn't find much fault in the Crimson Tide's physical effort, heart and fight.
The missed blocks, costly busted coverage and onside kick allowed are entirely different matters. The top-ranked Tide survived those miscues and a scoop-and-score fumble in a come-from-way-behind 48-43 victory Saturday over No. 23 Mississippi.
It wasn't always pretty.
''You don't ever want to beat yourself and when you do things like that, you give yourself an opportunity to beat yourself,'' Saban said on Monday. ''It's one thing to get beat physically. Can't cover them. Can't block them up front. That's different, and that may happen someday. But all this other stuff, you beat yourself. That's what we've got to get fixed.''
The Tide has gone 365 days - as of Monday - since losing to an opponent. And even that required five `Bama turnovers last season against the Rebels.
The silver lining to the Ole Miss win is that Alabama found a way to battle back from a 24-3 first-half deficit. The downside for Saban is the Tide was down that far in the first place and then allowed two touchdowns in the final 2:59 after getting ahead by 18 points in the fourth quarter.
That included an onside kick when the Tide missed a block and Calvin Ridley misjudged the ball, which went over his head. Saban's praise of the performance has to include ''buts''.
''But when you look at things, the devil is kind of in the details,'' Saban said. ''We could have really lost the game based on mental mistakes, mental errors, lack of execution at times that led to really bad plays for our team. Our focus needs to be on getting these things corrected but having the ability to focus on sort of each and every play.''
The early deficit came after quarterback Jalen Hurts fumbled on a big hit that Saban blamed on a botched execution on an offensive line call. A coverage bust had earlier left star Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram wide open for a 63-yard touchdown catch.
Those plays led to the kind of test Alabama had not faced in the first two games, which both ended with lopsided wins after slow starts.
The Tide seems unlikely to face a similar challenge in the next two weeks from Saban's alma mater, Kent State, and Kentucky.
Now, the question is if overcoming such adversity will lead to a growth spurt for Alabama and the freshman Hurts. The Tide won out into the playoffs after the Ole Miss losses the past two seasons.
''I mean, I think if you can be happy about the way you competed in the game and that you won, but also be disappointed enough in the way you play as if you lost, then you'll learn something,'' Saban said. ''I don't know if you can do that or not. It's not really human nature to do that. But if we can do that, we'll accomplish something.''
Hurts' poise in bouncing back during his first college game at an opponent's stadium was a good sign for Alabama's ambitions of a repeat national title. Center Bradley Bozeman said Hurts told his blockers on the sideline not to sweat the hit he took to cause the fumble.
''He was just like, `I still got y'all's back. Y'all got mine. Let's keep rolling,''' Bozeman said. ''He didn't let it affect him at all. He got back in the game and kept playing.''
So did Alabama.
NOTE: Wide receiver ArDarius Stewart's status is uncertain with a sprained left knee sustained against Ole Miss. That would leave Robert Foster, Cam Sims and maybe freshman receiver/defensive back/return man Trevon Diggs to get more playing time if he can't go.
Online: The AP's college football page: http://collegefootball.ap.org