It’s week two all over again, in a way. Alabama is coming off a blowout, away game win against a team some predicted to be in the top 10 before the season began. Now it has a lesser opponent – a cupcake, if you will – waiting for it at home. A team led to slaughter for a few extra bucks.
Only head coach Nick Saban wasn’t exactly thrilled with how his team responded in week two. He claimed the Crimson Tide played sloppy, unmotivated football against Western Kentucky. There were too many penalties, too many sacks given up and the run game struggled to get much of anything going. Alabama won 35-0.
But this week, Alabama gets a do-over. Now Florida Atlantic University is the school brought before Alabama as the sacrificial lamb. The Tide destroyed Arkansas 52-0 in Fayetteville last weekend and is presumably riding high after its first SEC win. But Saban expects nothing less than an even more dominant showing this week.
“Every five seconds, as soon as you mess up, no matter what the score is, if you make a mental error, he’s going to be on you hard,” safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said.
To say the Owls are bad – even by Sun Belt standards – would be an understatement. Last season, they won just one game against UAB. This season, FAU has suffered double-digit losses to Middle Tennessee State and Georgia – though Saban will be quick to remind you that it was tied at 14 at one point in the fourth quarter. Its lone win has been a 7-3 thriller over Wagner, which managed just three wins in the FCS last season.
But don’t think that means Alabama was in for an easy week of practice. If anything, it means the opposite.
“Oh, no,” wide receiver Christion Jones said. “We’ve got our own standard that we play to. It’s Alabama’s standard. We’re trying to get better each week, each game, each play. We’re trying to do it better than we did before. We’re just trying to make sure we stay level-headed and make sure we’re focused on each game, each week, one opponent at a time.”
Just how much better can Alabama be, though? Through three games, Alabama is averaging more points per game (42.7) than it did at this point in last year’s national championship season (38.7) and has allowed four less total points against. The Tide held Michigan to 269 yards of offense. The Wolverines have averaged nearly double that (503.5) in their two games since.
But no matter what the statistics say, Saban, like all elite competitors, will never be satisfied.
“Being average is contagious,” Saban said. “If we went out and asked some 12-year-old kid what he needed to improve on, he would probably have to sit there and think for a half hour or 45 minutes about something he could improve on. If we went and asked Peyton Manning what he could improve on, he would probably write a novel.”
Week Four is also much like 2012, in a sense. The first three weeks of the season have followed a distinctly similar pattern to the last three seasons as a whole. Success, letdown, back to success.
A 10-3 season capped off by a blowout of the No. 9 team in the country isn’t a let down for most programs but then again, neither is a 35-0 win.
It’s probably far-fetched to make such a connection but maybe not as much of a stretch as some would think. Like 2012, this week Alabama has another chance, a redo of sorts, to follow success with even more success.
“I want to see if our players have the maturity to be able to respond, even when things don’t go bad,” Saban said. “That’s something we will see if we can manage a little bit better this week than we have in some past weeks.”
Alabama’s journey to Nov. 3 – when it will meet seemingly the only team in college football built to match the Crimson Tide blow for blow, LSU – will continue Saturday. It would take a miracle and a half for Florida Atlantic to win in Bryant-Denny, so the focus this week will be less on the result, but more on how the result is achieved.
After the Owls, Alabama starts the meat of its conference schedule where anything can happen. The Tide already looks like a championship team through three games. But Saban and Alabama aren’t concerned with what they look like now.
“We take every approach to a game the same no matter who it is, Florida Atlantic or LSU or anybody,” Jones said. “We’re going to take the same approach. We’re going to watch film the same way. We’re going to go out there and practice the same way with the same intensity that we have if we were playing LSU any week.”