TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban doesn’t waive his 24-hour celebration rule even after dramatic, last-minute wins that rescue No. 1 Alabama’s hopes for a national title.
Maybe especially after them.
The Crimson Tide coach quickly cautioned his players not to let the emotions of that 21-17 victory overshadow the next big challenge. There’s little time to celebrate when No. 15 Texas A&M’s high-flying offense is coming to town.
“We’ve got to forget about this last game,” Saban said on Monday. “We’ve got to move on. I told the players that right after the game. I think they have a lot of respect for this team. It’d be pretty difficult not to respect this team based on their body of work and what they’ve accomplished this season.”
The Aggies (7-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) appear to represent the last real obstacle between the Tide and a perfect regular season, barring a gargantuan upset. A win sends Alabama (9-0, 6-0) into the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against either No. 5 Georgia or No. 7 Florida.
After this one, Alabama faces Western Carolina (1-9) and struggling rival Auburn (2-7). To win the West, Saban’s team needs only to win one more SEC game. To compete for the national title, it probably needs to win out.
The Tide offense was sputtering badly until AJ McCarron led the team down the field before lofting a screen pass that T.J. Yeldon turned into a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds left. And Alabama had survived its first significant threat of the season.
Saban said games like that against Louisiana State University “can bring out either the best in you or the worst in you. It’s all your choice.”
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said sticking to the rule of one day to savor a wins before moving on was no big deal.
“It wasn’t hard at all,” Mosley said. “We have a goal, we have a mission that we have to do every week and it’s our job to get past that game and move on to the next team.”
Saban makes it easier to refocus by pointedly declaring it “by far” the team’s worst defensive performance of the season. Alabama allowed 475 yards, the most since Saban’s first season in 2007.
The Tide appears healthy going into the game.
Saban said tailback Eddie Lacy would miss a day of practice to rest an ankle injury sustained against LSU.
He said wide receiver Amari Cooper didn’t reinjure an ankle in the game but was “just a little sore” and shouldn’t miss practice. Cooper didn’t play in the second half.
“He’s going to be able to practice and be ready to go this week,” Saban said.
The Tide also pulled out a game that seemed to be slipping away during the 2009 national title run.
Massive nosetackle Terrence Cody blocked two low fourth-quarter field goal attempts to preserve a 12-10 win over Tennessee and keep the perfect season going. Last season, the Tide won every game by at least 16 points except for a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU.
Defensive end Damion Square was asked if Alabama needed such a test after trailing for all of 15 seconds in the first eight games.
“I don’t think you ever need a game like that, but you know they come,” Square said. “I’ve been playing college football for a while and every year we have one like that. You never know when it’s going to show up, but coach always says to practice your best so when your best is needed, you can bring it out. And our best was needed and we brought it out.”
The challenge is far different this week. Texas A&M brings quarterback Johnny Manziel and a no-huddle offense of the sort that Saban wondered aloud in October: “Is this what we want football to be?”
That came after the Tide had played Mississippi, which also employs a fast-paced style. Saban’s reasoning was that it limited substitution by a defense and created potential safety issues for players.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin later retorted that he was just playing by the rules.
Asked about the comments Monday, Saban bristled.
“I think everybody misinterpreted what I said about no-huddle,” he said. “I don’t mind playing against no-huddle. We don’t mind that at all. That wasn’t what I said, it’s what you all interpreted it to be. I just asked the question, Is this what we want the game to become? That’s for you to answer. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like playing against it. We don’t mind playing against it. It is what it is.”