Mark Edwards: Saban demands Tide play to a standard, and for a day, it did

·4 min read

Sep. 18—TUSCALOOSA — When Nick Saban addresses the unwashed masses of reporters after games, maybe we shouldn't call them news conferences or press conferences.

They're message conferences as much as anything else.

He loves delivering messages, mostly to his players, sometimes to Alabama fans. If we ask a question, the answer is aimed at somebody else. We simply get the benefit to hear it and write it down.

It's kind of like going to church to hear the preacher's message.

So, after Saturday's 63-7 beatdown of Louisiana Monroe, Saban entered in full message mode.

Before he got a question, he opened by talking about how he and his coaches challenged their team this week. All things matter, they said. You're being judged to a standard. The team is being judged to a standard.

"Are you going to play to that standard on a consistent basis?" he said.

All that was lacking was for Saban to mention "the good book says" at some point.

Saban wasn't talking to me or any other reporter who wore a press badge to enter Bryant-Denny Stadium. He wanted his team to hear what he was saying.

It's clear that last week in the 20-19 win over Texas, Alabama didn't play to that standard, at least not on a consistent basis, although the Tide did show some real guts in the fourth quarter.

Saturday's effort clearly was closer to what we would imagine Saban wants.

The offense was dominant, the defense was good, and the punt coverage unit outplayed every other team in school history. That group blocked a punt for a touchdown, ran another back for another touchdown and set a school record with 262 return yards.

Heck, nine different guys scored the nine touchdowns, and Alabama was driving for a 10th at the end of the game. The Tide did it with guys so far down the depth chart that a touchdown would've gone to somebody who was scoring his first of the day.

Now, Saban wants his team to play to that standard again next week when the Tide hosts Vanderbilt. And the following week. And the week after that. And ... well, you get the picture.

It's why the scores don't matter a whole lot in the first month or so of the season. As long as the Tide wins, it doesn't matter if Alabama beat Texas by a point or 80. It doesn't matter if Alabama beat ULM on Saturday by eight touchdowns or a field goal.

When we get to the end of the year, nobody is going to say, "Hey, we had Alabama as a lock for the national championship game, but they only beat Texas by a point in September. That just ruined everything."

Beating ULM by 56 won't guarantee a spot in the playoffs, either.

For now, it looks like Georgia is so far ahead that everyone else is playing for second place. But it looked that way last year, too.

It looked like that in 2018 when Alabama got off to such a fast start, but lost to Clemson in the national finals.

Just keep improving, keep getting better, keep playing to that standard that the good Reverend Saban chose to address.

It's worth noting that the punt coverage game looked as good as it did Saturday, because that's something Saban emphasized this past week. Alabama hadn't managed any explosive plays in special teams in the first two games, and he wanted it to change. It did.

The issues with the deep passing game didn't bother Saban as much as it might've bother others.

ULM played two safeties deep in an effort to cut off the Alabama deep passing game. Do you really have to launch the ball downfield if the safeties are deep and running back Jahmyr Gibbs can take a short pass and run for days, as he did Saturday.

Besides, the passing game will improve even more when JoJo Earle and Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell are off the injured list in October. They'll make Alabama more explosive when the Tide chooses to throw. Also, Earle in the starting punt returner, and it's going to be interesting if he keeps his job or Kool-Aid McKinstry continues to drop deep.

The defense was better, especially pass rushing ace Will Anderson. He had a sack, a touchdown on an interception return, and only one penalty. That last one is a victory.

Alabama had only six penalties Saturday, a huge drop from 15 against Texas.

So, Saturday looked good. We suppose. But did Alabama do what Saban wanted?

"There's some evidence this is the standard we want to play to," he said off-handedly.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.