Bring your No. 2 pencils, Alabama football. It's test week

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

When Alabama football coach Nick Saban stood behind the lectern after the Mercer game, he spoke with sternness and frustration about his team. Specifically, about some of the choices and decisions some had made, almost like a discouraged teacher the week before a big test.

You know, the tone teachers used when stopping mid-lesson. The tough voice that resulted when they sensed a lack of focus as students instead held side conversations and drew on desks. 

The teachers usually wrote the tests, so they knew exactly what awaited the students, some lulled into a false sense of confidence because they performed well enough on a couple quizzes.

Quiz might be the best description for the Miami and Mercer games. The Florida game, however, will certainly be a test. 

And that grade is going to reflect how well prepared No. 1 Alabama is for the SEC schedule ahead. 

“Consistency in performance,” Saban said Monday, “is what we really need to work on in terms of maintaining consistency, staying focused, playing with more discipline, eliminating penalties and poor full-speed decisions that are resulting in penalties.

Sep 11, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban reacts after a score by the Mercer Bears at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

At first, the victory over Miami looked impressive. Against a ranked team and a 44-13 score, the Crimson Tide looked like it passed the first test of the season with a top grade. But after the Hurricanes barely beat Appalachian State in Week 2, that started to look less like a true examination of what kind of season awaits the Crimson Tide. 

A game against FCS Mercer was never going to be a true test of how good this Alabama team is; though if Saban were correcting that quiz by hand, there would have been plenty of red ink on the paper.

"I think we didn’t do a great job of preparing last week," quarterback Bryce Young said, "and I think when we don’t prepare and we don’t push ourselves to be as good as we can be during the week, mistakes start to come up."

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Still, Alabama managed to perform well enough on those initial assessments to be 2-0 heading into conference play. Many programs across the country can’t say the same.

And now, it’s test week. The opponent: Florida, ranked No. 9 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA football coaches poll.

If the Crimson Tide doesn’t prepare this week with the intensity Saban has emphasized, the players might have the same stomach-sinking feeling as the ill-prepared student who sits at the desk, glances over the test and realizes he knows one, maybe two answers. 

"I don’t feel like, as a team, we were very proud of what we put on film this weekend," Young said, "and that’s something that we have to acknowledge, watch, learn from and make sure that we’re growing this week and making sure that we’re preparing and pushing ourselves during practice.”

The great thing about scoring well on a test is that it usually atones for points lost on a quiz. The same can be said about a strong performance in a hostile road game against the Gators. The blemishes against Mercer will be a thing of the past with a top score in Gainesville. 

So, don't forget your No. 2 pencil Saturday, Alabama. Make sure you bring an eraser, too. 

Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly