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Experience proves its worth in managing layoff

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The 2013 BCS National Championship Game was Alabama coach Nick Saban’s fourth appearance in a national title game and third with the Crimson Tide. With all that experience, Saban knows exactly how to prepare a squad over the over-month-long layoff between its final regular-season game and the biggest one of the season – and he proved it again in Sun Life Stadium. 


“We kind of have a program, an approach that we use that is a little different than what we used to use because there’s so much time between games,” Saban said Jan. 8. “And I feel like our players are comfortable with that in terms of how we practice, how we prepare, how we sort of don’t try to carry the psychological momentum from the season to the game, and let that happen when we get closer to the game.”


Offenses and defenses traditionally practice against scout teams in practice, but Alabama defensive end Damion Square said a big part of the Crimson Tide’s philosophy over the layoff, put together in conjunction with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, is maintaining players’ physical edge having the first-team offense and first-team defense practice against each other regularly.


“We practiced hard so we could make this happen. We went ‘ones against ones’ and got ready,” Square said. “We know that we are the most physical team in the country. You have to know that you are the stronger team because that is how you will play. We knew one team would break and it wasn’t going to be us.”


Crimson Tide offensive tackle D.J. Fluker said Alabama had prepared to play a more physical game than the Irish.



“When we watched film, we saw Boston College push them around. We knew that if they could do it, we could do it,” Fluker said. “They were kind of predictable on defense. We knew what they would do so it was just a matter of executing. They have great players but we came here on a mission. We weren’t leaving without it. They are physical, but we outplayed them.”


Saban said extensive film study helped his offense find holes in Notre Dame’s defense.


“I think with the time that we had to prepare, our players had a really good understanding of Notre Dame’s defense and how they played defense,” he said. “They play a 3-4 defense, which is similar to ours, so it wasn’t a unique thing for our players to get accustomed to.”


On the other sideline, the Irish started sloppy, missing countless tackles in the first quarter and going down 21-0 after five seconds had elapsed in the second quarter. Two days before the game, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco had expressed confidence in the practice schedule Irish coach Brian Kelly had put together.


“Coach Kelly put a great schedule together and really managed it well,” Diaco said. “We get our fundamental work done in segmented drills. We try to be as careful as we can, but we understand it’s critical that we get our work in fundamentally.”


Kelly, who had talked to the LSU and Oregon programs for advice on dealing with the layoff, said after the game he would reevaluate how he prepared his team.


“I have to evaluate whether I did a good enough job as the head coach in getting tackling done for our players,” he said. “I think everything is on the table when you see so many missed tackles. But again, that will require a little bit of research and looking at it a little bit more in depth.”


Irish running back Cierre Wood said he thought Alabama’s experience preparing for the game – it was the Crimson Tide’s third appearance in for years – provided Saban’s squad an advantage.


“If you’ve been there numerous times, you know how to act. You know what it takes to be successful in that type of game,” he said. “I’m not saying we didn’t have what it took to be successful, we just didn’t have it as down pat as they did.


After seeing the success of Saban’s method, Kelly said he and his staff would continue to grow while looking toward the future.


“We’re all going to learn, not just the players, [but the] coaches. We hadn’t been in this game, either,” he said. “So we’re going to learn a great deal from it and be better coaches from it as well.”


Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu