TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After four consecutive games against former assistant coaches, Alabama football coach Nick Saban is finally able to play against someone new.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs and first-year head coach Mike Leach are traveling to Tuscaloosa this weekend to face the No. 2 Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Leach is a coach who needs no introduction. Known for his quirky demeanor and outlandish expressions, he is also a solid coach with a heavy emphasis on the passing game.
This Saturday marks the first time that Saban and Leach have squared off against each other, despite both of their lengthy histories as head coaches.
Leach has faced Alabama before, though. During his time at Texas Tech, Leach coached the Red Raiders against Alabama in the 2006 Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide won the game 13-10 thanks to a field goal by Jamie Christensen as the clock expired.
Alabama later vacated the win due to infractions that occurred during the season, so Leach has technically never lost to Alabama.
Host Eli Gold of the Crimson Tide Sports Network hosted Saban on the latest live episode of 'Hey Coach' on Thursday evening. Most notably, Saban discussed that his defense can't let the Bulldogs control the tempo of the game.
"They're going to be four wideouts most of the game," Saban said. "You gotta kinda disguise what you're doing and you can't let them dictate what you do in the game."
Saban also referred to Alabama's matchup several weeks ago against Ole Miss, saying that they allowed the Rebels to control the pace of play, which could have ended in disaster for the Crimson Tide.
Another thing of note that Saban emphasized on Thursday night was how energy will play a huge factor in the game. All week long Saban has been saying that players should prioritize energy over feelings. Due to its unusual nature of a 10-game, conference-only schedule along with reduced attendance at SEC stadiums, Saban noted that the season seems longer than usual and that his players need to find an alternate source of energy.
"I think that this time of year, when you get to the 12th game of the season, nobody feels good," Saban said. "This has been a long season. The season seems like it's a lot further along from a player perspective. Your energy becomes so important. When you have energy as a player, your feelings follow."
Here are some of the highlight's from Thursday night's episode of 'Hey Coach' as the Crimson Tide prepares for a visit from the Bulldogs:
- Tonight's episode of 'Hey Coach' is slated to begin at 6:30 and can be found on Alabama Athletics' various social media pages as well as on YouTube.
- Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats will be the special coach guest ahead of Saban from 6:30 to 7 p.m. CT.
- Tonight's media guest is Roman Harper of SEC Network as well as being a former Crimson Tide safety.
- Oats has joined the show via Zoom. Oats noted that he hopes the Nov. 25 start date continues as scheduled, but knows that it could still be pushed back.
- Oats said that the schedule will hopefully be revealed in the middle of next week.
- Update on freshman forward Alex Tchikou: "He's still doing nothing really. [...] He's there at every practice watching. [...] He wants to sit down and get all the plays down even though he won't be here this year."
- Oats pointed out that his adjustments from 11 years as a high school coach to Buffalo to Alabama hasn't been that much. Coaching is coaching. However, he does know how much more the media coverage has grown as he's progressed from level to level.
- When looking at players who have the most skills that also exhibit the best leadership, Oats first mentioned seniors Herbert Jones and John Petty, then followed up with Jordan Bruner, the grad-transfer forward from Yale.
- Saban will hop on the air next.
- Saban has joined the show in-person. Immediately jokes that he guesses that nobody will be doing trick-or-treating this year.
- Roman Harper has also joined, but is joining via Zoom instead of in-person. Saban noted that he was one of the best.
- Saban seems shaken up about junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle's season-ending injury. "I actually pray for him," Saban said.
- Saban: "I was really pleased with the energy our players started the game with [...] Our players have to be really energetic and spirited. [...] Everybody felt bad [following Waddle's injury] but the guys that stepped up did a fantastic job." Notes Slade Bolden specifically did a solid job.
- Saban and Harper have been having a jolly good time talking about safeties. We haven't seen Saban smile this much in quite a long time.
- Saban on Mississippi State: "They're going to be four wideouts most of the game. [...] You gotta kinda disguise what you're doing and you can't let them dictate what you do in the game."
- Saban noted that one of the issues at Ole Miss was that the Crimson Tide defense let the Rebels dictate the pace of the game, stating that that can't happen again against Mississippi State.
- The staff at Baumhower's just brought in a birthday cake for Saban, who turns 69 on Saturday. Saban noted that the picture of him on the cake showed him smiling at a press conference, which he said was odd because he doesn't do that very often.
- Saban on coaching on his birthday for the second time: "It's so important I don't even remember it." The last time Saban coached on his birthday was for Michigan State against Northwestern. The Spartans won 29-5.
- Saban's final word: "I think that this time of year, when you get to the 12th game of the season, nobody feels good. This has been a long season. The season seems like it's a lot further along from a player perspective. Your energy becomes so important. When you have energy as a player, your feelings follow."
- "I think that's really important in this game."