What Nick Saban Wants to See Improved Versus Texas A&M

Tyler Martin

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Wednesday evening, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban addressed the media one final time before his program hosts Texas A&M on Saturday. 

One of the key matchups to watch in this contest will be the Crimson Tide's offensive line versus the Aggies' defensive line. Last weekend, coach Jimbo Fisher's squad held Vanderbilt to only 2.8 yards a carry on 38 rushing attempts and only 105 yards. The Aggies also recorded 10 tackles for loss against the Commodores.

Saban knows just how vital it is, to get his tailbacks Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. into a rhythm to find success on the ground against a talented front like the Aggies', which is led by defensive tackle Bobby Brown.

"They’ve got very talented guys," Saban said. "They have really good, big up front guys that are athletic and can move, can get off blocks and run. Their linebackers can really, really run. Their secondary’s really, really aggressive, especially their safeties. Their corners can cover very well. They’ve got a talented team. They’ve got a good scheme. They’ve got a good defensive coordinator who does a great job, I think, scheme-wise. 

"Now these guys have been in this system for a few years. They make a lot of plays. They’re talented and they make a lot of plays. It’s going to be a real challenge for us to minimize those negative plays and I think we need to be able to run the football against these guys. I think you always do if you’re going to have the kind of balance you need to be successful on offense."

Moving over to defense, Saban mentioned that Crimson Tide defensive end LaBryan Ray, who returned from a foot injury against Missouri last weekend that kept him out of the majority of 2019, is a key piece to the Alabama defense in terms of how it wants to attack the quarterback. 

Ray finished with four tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sack in the win over the Tigers.

"I think it was very difficult because it was an ongoing injury, but he worked really, really hard. He's a really good player. We're a different team if he can't play. Cause he's athletic, he can run, he's a decent pass rusher. He's a guy that can do, he can play the run, he can play the point, but he's still athletic enough to play on the edge and give us some push, and he's a good inside rusher. So we need more guys like LaBryan Ray on our team. He's got great character, a competitive character. Really hard worker, sets a good example for other players. So when he is around his presence is certainly felt by everybody else and certainly appreciated by us as coaches."

With Alabama's secondary set for a tough challenge against Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, Saban assessed the youthful unit's play up to this point. 

"We actually had four new starters," Saban said. "Jordan Battle played a little bit in dime last year, but they did good things. I'm sure that they're guys that I think can develop very nicely into being very good players. Some things we need to clean up. Tackling in some areas wasn't as good as it needed to be in the second level. Too many missed tackles, made some mental errors. I will say this, Missouri was a very difficult first game preparation in terms of a lot of things that they did, motions, fastballs. So you know a tough first game for guys and recognition, probably is one of the things I think inexperienced players struggle with most, and hopefully these guys will make a big improvement from last week to this week, but I was encouraged by the performance in the first game. I mean the big play, the throw back to the running back, was not really a secondary issue, and that was the biggest play in the game. I didn't feel like we finished the game very well in two minute at the end of the game, but for the most part, I thought they played hard. They executed. They covered halfway decent and didn't give up a lot of explosive plays."

Lastly, Saban reiterated what has been mentioned all week surrounding the Alabama program — finish and maintaining the same energy for a full 60 minutes. The coach used Oklahoma's upset loss to Kansas State over the weekend as motivation as to what can happen.

"Well, we're going to have to finish better -- finish blocks, finish runs -- because these guys are really athletic, they can get off and make plays," Saban said. "We'll have to do a good job on third down, because these guys have a lot of different pressures that they use, so we need to execute extremely well on third down. And like beating a dead horse, I don't think we played very well in the second half, so we didn't play a complete game. So obviously that's really, really important. I guess you could ask Oklahoma that question, because I'm sure their coach is saying some of the same things that we said. Their players probably responded a little bit better, because they have negative consequences. 

"Our players -- the worst thing you can do is play poorly and win, and we played poorly in the second half and I don't think anybody's immune from that. I've told the players that, so I'm not talking about them behind their back. And it's really my responsibility. I came home and felt really bad that I must've done a really, really bad job not in getting the players ready to play the game, but maintaining their intensity throughout the game and doing a good job at halftime of trying to get them to come out and maintain the energy that they needed to maintain to be able to play for 60 minutes in the game [and] not thinking that -- hey, looking at the scoreboard, we always say that there's no scoreboard. So that's something that we need to improve on, because when we play a good team like Texas A&M who's capable with a quarterback of coming back in the game -- 28-3 or whatever the score was, the game ain't over then. Not when there's two quarters left to play. So that's the thing I was most disappointed in, so if I was most disappointed in it, I think that's the thing we need to improve on the most."

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