Three games into the season and three days into practice this week, Nick Saban felt enough was enough.
His top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide are 3-0 but have shown flaws in every victory. Defense and special teams carried the Tide in 25-point triumphs over Virginia Tech and Colorado State, when the offense struggled, but the offense soared in the 49-42 win at Texas A&M, when the defense set a school record for yardage allowed.
Following Wednesday's practice in Tuscaloosa, Saban wanted to nix the negativity.
"What everyone needs is a lot of positive energy and to be excited about the challenges that this team has," he told reporters. "Everybody has just sort of gotten overwhelmed with expectations, and it's been my word from the beginning of time that this is a different team and a new team. They've got to create their own identity by what they do and how they play.
"They need to be supported, and everybody doesn't need to just sit around and say, 'Wow. What's wrong with these guys?' These guys need to develop, and they need a lot of positive energy around them."
Saban's latest calculated message occurred with the dangerous Ole Miss Rebels set to visit Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. The Rebels are ranked No. 21 with road wins over Vanderbilt and Texas, and they are having to make a second consecutive trip to Alabama in a quirk in the SEC's 2013 bridge schedule.
Georgia has to make a second straight trek to Auburn this year as well.
The Rebels are averaging 250 rushing yards and 490 total yards a game but were shut down in last year's 33-14 loss to the Tide, when they were held to 218 total yards and just 80 on the ground. Alabama often struggled in last year's matchup as well, producing 125 rushing yards and 305 overall, but Rebels second-year coach High Freeze isn't putting too much stock in the Tide's troubles this year.
Alabama's 132 rushing yards a game ranks last in the SEC, with sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon accounting for 91 of that.
"I think it's a bit early in the season to say that they're not going to continue to do what they've done in the past," Freeze said during Wednesday's SEC teleconference. "We were fortunate last year in stopping their rushing attack very, very well. I think we held them to their lowest rushing of the year, and I know that we'll have a decent plan.
"You have to be able to stop the run against Alabama. That's who they are, and they're not going to come in and abandon that."
After Saban had addressed his team following last Saturday's 31-6 win over Colorado State, a game the Tide led just 17-6 early in the fourth quarter, the lecturing wasn't over. Quarterback AJ McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Vinnie Sunseri took turns in front of their teammates, several of whom said the session was beneficial based on the practices since.
"Other players listen to other players," junior running back Jalston Fowler told reporters Wednesday. "Some of them just have to buy into what the other players are saying and are trying to get through to them. Most of them buy in, but you have to be the right person. You've got to be somebody that everybody looks up to and listens to.
"I think everybody is starting to buy in."
Alabama has always been about focusing on Alabama under Saban -- "It's not about them. It's about us," Fowler added -- and only time will tell whether the Tide play their most complete game yet. Right guard Anthony Steen is expected to return to an offensive line that has struggled in two of the three games, and the return of receivers Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood should help Alabama open things up on the perimeter.
A youthful Tide secondary, however, will have to move on without senior safety Nick Perry, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery Thursday.
"We need to eliminate some mental errors and eliminate some technique errors so we can play with a little more consistency, whether that's offense or defense," Saban said. "I believe in our team and think we can be a good team, and I think we can improve and play better. We need to make that progress if we we're going to be the team that we're capable of being."
Said Freeze: "I hope this is not the week that they totally figure it out, but I expect to get their best Saturday night."
Alabama was scheduled to play Michigan State in 2016 and 2017 but has canceled that home-and-home series. Crimson Tide athletic director Bill Battle said the cancellation was due to the uncertainty of future SEC scheduling.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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