Alabama is used to facing the toughest competition that college football has to offer, especially in the postseason.
But it hasn't had the advantage of facing too many ranked foes before a big crowd in Bryant-Denny Stadium of late.
No. 21 Arkansas was just the second team in the AP Top 25 that Alabama hosted this season, the other being Ole Miss. The Rebels were No. 12 when they came calling on Oct. 2.
Last season the Crimson Tide was home against No. 13 Texas A&M, No. 3 Georgia, and No. 22 Auburn, and handily won each game, but only a fraction of the stands were full due to Covid.
In 2019, Alabama's lone ranked opponent it played at home was LSU.
Here's what Nick Saban had to say after the 42-35 victory over Arkansas on Saturday:
“I’m really proud of the way our players battled this game. We certainly did a lot of things that continued to give them opportunities in the game, but I think we played great offensively. Bryce [Young] played really well in the game. We stopped ourselves in the red zone. Fumbled the ball on the two-yard line, get a penalty when we’re down deep in the red zone, then take a sack and then miss a field goal. So we left a lot of points on the board where we could put the game away.
“Defensively, we gave up a couple of big plays, but the big thing was they were like 10 of 19 on third and fourth down. So when we had opportunities to get off the field, we didn’t get off the field, they extended drives, and in some cases they led to touchdowns.
"You know, fake field goal on fourth down. We were trying to cover the guy and we ran into the official. They had run a fake field goal against LSU last week, so we actually worked on it and called the defense that we wanted to play against it and still got rubbed off and didn’t make the play. There’s a lot of good things and there’s a lot of things we obviously need to fix, most of which we can fix, but I think the players have to be dedicated and determined to try to get it right so we can play better in the future.
“We won the [SEC] West today, so we have an opportunity now to play in the SEC Championship Game. Playing in the West this year was very difficult. We won some close games; we won a close game today. Resiliency of the players contribute to that. Their competitive spirit and how much it means to them contributes to that, but we do need to fix some of the things we’re not getting correct on the field.”
On freshman cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry’s performance after replacing Josh Jobe:
“I think that Kool-Aid did OK. A lot of times, when they’re on the other side it’s hard for me to see exactly how they’re doing. But I thought he did a pretty good job. He’s gotten better all season. He’s more confident. He knows what to do. He’s a bright guy. He prepares well. We have a lot of confidence in him playing, and I thought he did a pretty good job.”
On Bryce Young’s historic night against a difficult Arkansas defense. Can you offer some perspective?
“I think we had a really good plan on offense. We had a lot of solid runs. Even though you might say we only had whatever we had, 100-and-some yards rushing, but we had a lot of situations where we put ourselves in positive down and distance situations. When you get behind the sticks on them and they drop eight guys, it really gets tough. But we had a good plan to attack the eight drop. We didn’t do a very good job of it in the red zone. And he made really good decisions about who to throw the ball to, and he had several, what, at least four, drops to go with and he had a couple overthrows. But the guy had a fantastic game, I think, and really did a good job of taking of taking what they give. He’s accurate with the ball. Other than a couple drops, the receivers did a really good job in the game, as well.”
On how you coach Bryce Young when he can extend plays like that:
“Well, they were rushing three guys, which sometimes makes it a little easier for him to do. But has a great knack in the pocket for where to slide, and he keeps his eyes downfield so it’s not like he’s scrambling to run and looking for the rush, which I think is a real key to the drill if you’re gonna be a guy that’s gonna be a successful passer. And then he kind of knows when to tuck it and go. He’s deceptively quick and has better speed than most people think. So he makes a lot of really, really good plays, and he’s pretty smart about getting down, so we don’t want him to take unnecessary hits. We scored the touchdown and got the holding penalty, which was like 30 yards from the play, so it’ll be interesting to look at that.”
On defensive tackle DJ Dale’s injury status:
“He did something to his knee. The MRI is fine. He’s had two surgeries on his patella tendons, and I think he was scared more than anything that something happened. It’s probably too early to tell, but hopefully, he’ll be OK.”
On winning games when you haven't been able to put opponents away:
“What I look at is how did we execute in the game? What did we do in the game that kept us from putting the game away? So that’s perspective that I look at, and a lot of the things that I just talked about is why we didn’t put the game away. I mean, the last touchdown, [Christian Harris] is not supposed to be on the running back. So we don’t play the coverage the way it’s supposed to be played. They might have scored anyway, I don’t know. But you’d at least like to think that you’re out there executing and doing what you’re supposed to do. Guys don’t take the right guys on slide or boots. We turn people loose in man-to-man. We get a penalty when we score a touchdown that would put the game away. Then we take a sack and miss the field goal. All these things contribute to not putting the game away. So that’s the kind of stuff that we need to fix, but it’s also stuff that can be fixed. We’ve just gotta keep working on it, and we’ve gotta have the players buy in to what they need to do to get it fixed.”
On Damieon George at right tackle:
“Damieon George has played very well. He’s the one they called the hold on. I’m anxious to see that. But he’s played really well. He’s a guy that we tried to bring along all year long. He’s more confident now. He knows what to do. I think he’s understanding what it takes to be able to play successfully in the game. And he’s done a really good job. He’s a big ol’ powerful guy, which is really what you’d like to have at right tackle. So he’s done a good job.”
On Will Anderson Jr. making plays despite getting so much attention:
“Will played a lot of plays tonight. He played hard, made a lot of good plays. I can’t say enough about the way that guy competes and the way he plays in games, and even though people are trying to do something to block him, he still seems to be able to put pressure on the quarterback and play the run well. We do some games where it makes it harder to have people chip him and block him, so I think that was helpful. But we had the most success today when we rushed five guys against this quarterback, on third down at least, and pushed the pocket so he couldn’t scramble, he couldn’t extend plays. And when we contained him and did that, that’s when we got the best pressure, and I think when you do that, you make five guys block five guys. Now, somebody’s gotta block Will one-on-one. So that's helpful for him.”