There’s no problem in predicting when Nick Saban is going to be angry.

Any game with multiple penalties and obvious defensive breakdowns (and missed kicks) is going to get him hot under the collar, and understandably so. Even in a 51-14 victory over Louisville on Saturday night, you could see rage coming like a comet hitting the atmospher and bursting into flames. There were multiple mental errors, and not one media member expected anything other than a testy postgame press conference.
“If I sound a little pissed, you’re right,” Saban said. “I am. So be careful.”

Deciphering the other reason that Saban was so unhappy was harder. The quarterback situation between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa played out about as well as it could have. He chose the starter – Tagovailoa – who was clearly the most effective player, defusing much controversy by letting the matter play out on the field. Hurts still got playing time, as Saban had also wanted. He didn’t play as well as Tagovailoa. Pointing that out was no media conspiracy. If anything, Saban looked smart for handling the situation the way that he did. If that pleases him in any way, he didn’t show it.

Maybe it was just question fatigue. Saban has been asked about the quarterbacks hundreds of times in the past month – maybe dozens of times Saturday alone. That has to be taxing. Perhaps he was fed up. But immediately after the first game, the media is naturally going to ask again. If he was irked by the other mistakes and there was some toxic spillover from one topic to another, in a heat of the battle way, that’s understandable – but it couldn’t have been unexpected.

If he wanted to be reserved about Tagovailoa, or protective of Hurts, both reactions are natural for a coach trying to continuously develop players. That doesn’t have to be a war. No one is asking Saban to stop and smell the roses, but maybe there’s a time not to nuke the rose garden.

Moving from the topic of the year, and not leaving before acknowledging that Tagovailoa picked up where he left off in Atlanta, Saban’s frustration was understandable.

“If we are going to meet the challenges of the future, we need to do things a lot better,” Saban said. “When you have undue penalties that basically give a team a touchdown, when you’re playing a good opponent in a close game, you know what can happen.”

War on complacency, of course, is nothing new for the coach, going beyond the day when Saban described media praise as “rat poison.” There are SEC games coming up that will be tougher than Louisville, and, alone among the teams in America, the Crimson Tide has championship-or-disaster pressure for yet another year.

A first game doesn’t reflect a finished product. Saban is right. Improvement will be needed. He knows how hard to drive a team to get to that point. But there were good things, too. There was the play of the quarterback that Saban selected to start. There was better than expected defense at times, and the opening of a Jaylen Waddle/Josh Jacobs dimension to the offense. Was it a clean performance? No. But it wasn’t bad, either.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225