Nick Saban ponders whether close call for Alabama football against Gators was close enough | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Nick Saban’s most important insight from Saturday’s Alabama-Florida game might not have come after it was over, but on the Thursday before it was even played.

"Don't lose respect for winning,” Saban said on his weekly radio show. “When you win too much, you lose respect for winning because you forget what it's like to lose. If you remember what it's like to lose, you're always gonna have respect for winning, which means you will do the things you need to do to win."

After Alabama’s 31-29 win in Gainesville, one wonders whether that is close enough to the line to have the effect Saban desired. Does “could have lost” or “almost lost” carry the same effect? Is a good fright over touching the stove enough, or do you have to go ahead and get blisters on your fingers?

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This isn’t a new theme for Saban. He preaches all the time about the “Bluegrass Miracle,” a tipped-ball, 75-yard Hail Mary that allowed his LSU team to stun Kentucky in 2002. Most college football fans remember it as one of the great improbable endings ever. Saban calls it “the worst thing that could have happened” because it reinforced the idea that you didn’t have to have great practices or great execution to win, just good fortune. LSU approached the next week with a sense of mini-entitlement instead of urgency and took a 31-0 dragging from, of all teams, Dennis Franchione’s Alabama. 

Sep 18, 2021; Gainesville, Florida, USA;  Alabama offensive lineman Chris Owens (79) gives high fives to fans after the Crimson Tide defeated Florida 31-29 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Southern Miss, which is far from the 2002 Alabama team talent-wise, might not be the team to teach that instant lesson. Ole Miss, the next stern test on Alabama's schedule, is a different matter. That gives Saban two weeks to work on intensity.

In fact, it’s such a concern that the focus now is on maintaining it from quarter to quarter, not just from week to week. 

“We played really, really well for the first 20 minutes of the game, had three straight scoring drives, got some stops on defense, executed fairly well, and then sort of stalled on offense (and) started making some mistakes on defense," Saban said Monday. "They scored, got back in the game. The momentum of the game changed, and we became kind of an ordinary team. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this situation, especially playing on the road against a good team.

"You can’t let up in a game. You’ve got to be able to sustain and play Alabama football for 60 minutes in the game. You can’t relinquish big leads. So there’s a lot of things for our players to learn in terms of what we can do better from an execution standpoint and how we need to sustain our intensity for 60 minutes in the game so we can play Alabama football.”

Unlike the run-up to the Mercer game, Saban was cool, calm and collected on Monday in his media session. That’s the way you have to be when you are walking the fine line between the stinging lesson of a loss and the learning that comes from almost, but not quite, slapping your hand on that hot stove. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt