Alabama coach Nick Saban celebrated his 69th birthday Saturday with a 41-0 win over Mississippi State, the 23rd shutout of his career with the Crimson Tide.
Here is what he said afterward:
— Saban said there were a “lot of guys” who were “beat up” and had to miss practice time before the game. “They had to really choose energy over their feelings in this game,” he said. Saban was pleased with the play in the first half, especially on defense. Alabama did a good job controlling the ball and the defense improved in getting off the field. The defense had to implement a new scheme against Mississippi State’s offense and “for the most part, did a really good job” with turnovers being important.
— Saban thought the Mississippi State defense played well and was physical. “It was a grind out there,” he said, noting the Bulldogs played a zone that made it hard to make big plays.
— Saban said he was most disappointed in the penalties, which took away positive plays and put Alabama “behind the sticks.”
— Saban: “All in all this was a good game for us. It’s great to win at home. Great to win on your birthday. So I was really happy about that present as much as any.”
— Saban said the upcoming bye week is “coming at a good time” because of the players who are banged up and need to heal. Younger players need to improve during the bye week so they can be effective when they play, he added.
— Saban did not think Mississippi State expected Alabama’s defense to play the way it played, “that probably was a positive for us.” Alabama researched Mike Leach’s offense in the offseason to find out which teams played well against it and how they strategized. The team also practiced during fall camp for the “Air Raid” scheme. “It wasn’t all new for the players,” he said. “The way we played the game today is you’re begging them to run the ball, basically, the way we played. I don’t think you can play that way against most teams, but I think the confidence that the players gained from going out there and getting the shutout in this day and age is a real positive thing for the defense.”
— Asked about Mac Jones recovered from a slow start in the first quarter, Saban said Mississippi State played soft zone coverage and took deep routes away. Coaches told Jones it could be a “check-down game” and he could not force deep throws. Saban noted Jones’ near interception that hit the ground before it was caught. “You could ask Mac, but he would probably say this wasn’t one of his best games, but he played well enough for us to win and score enough points to do that,” he said. “I’m not disappointed in him at all.”
— Saban told players in practice that if they were to play Mississippi State’s offense as they did, taking away big plays, then defense would need to break on the ball and tackle well in space. “I think for the most part, we did a really good job of that,” he said.
— Saban said backup cornerback Marcus Banks pulled his hamstring but “it’s not that bad.”
— Saban said Miller Forristall and Slade Bolden are both “nicked up.” Freshman cornerback Malachi Moore left with a stinger late in the game. Saban did not address defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis, who left with an apparent lower leg injury.
— Asked about Jaylen Waddle being on the sideline, Saban said it was great to have him around and he was sure it was “uplifting” for players. “We’re going to have to play [without] Jaylen Waddle for the rest of the season,” Saban continued. “So I think other people have to step up. I think we’re gonna have to get some consistent performance out of a lot of players. We got to play some guys at the end of the game today, which I thought was good. But they got to step up and learn how to play, too.” Saban said a point of emphasis in the bye week is to get young players to be able to play “winning football.”
— Saban said sophomore running back Trey Sanders, who ran 12 times for 80 yards, played more in part because of Brian Robinson’s lingering injury from last week. “We have a lot of confidence in Trey,” Saban said. “We think he’s a really, really good player.” Saban called the performance a “positive night” that will help his confidence. Robinson was limited on third downs to “try to get him through the game,” Saban said.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.