In the week leading up to their SEC West showdown, Alabama and Ole Miss head coaches traded a friendly back-and-fourth through the media.
It started Monday when Rebel coach Houston Nutt said Alabama’s Nick Saban would make a good basketball coach because of his ability to match up defensive schemes against a specific offense.
“What I mean by that is that he is going to try to take away the things you do best,” Nutt told reporters in Oxford on Monday. “Whether it is run, pass or play action; he is going to study you on first down, second down and third down ― he is going to know what you do.”
Saban was then asked if he agreed with that alternative career path when he addressed reporters Wednesday in Tuscaloosa.
“I don’t know if I could take a basketball team, go up and down the court and score 90-something points,” a smiling Saban said. “When I was in high school, you can look at me, basketball was my favorite sport. In those days you didn’t have to be able to touch the rim; you just had to be able to touch the net.
“But those days are long gone except for a little noontime basketball.”
Converting in the red zone and stopping others from doing the same is a favorite talking point for Saban. Ole Miss couldn’t be any more successful when its offense crosses the opposition’s 20 yard-line.
The Rebels are 14-for-14 with 12 touchdowns this season while Alabama is 23-for-27 with 15 touchdowns. Conversely, the Ole Miss defense leads the SEC in red zone defense by keeping opponents off the scoreboard on five of 19 trips. Alabama is seventh in that category percentage-wise partially because its allowed just six drives to reach the 20 with four touchdowns and one field goal resulting.
“I think in that part of the field you especially have to be able to stop the run and create situations where they have to throw it and cover well enough so they can’t score throwing against you,” Saban said.
Nutt said his offense develops a killer instinct when a drive needs punctuation.
“Our guys smell that end zone and we are executing,” Nutt said. “We are a little bit more focused in the red zone.”
More than half a season separates Alabama from its year-end visit to Auburn, but Saban said he respected what he saw from the undefeated Tigers in last Saturday’s win at Tennessee.
“I did watch some of the Tennessee game and was very impressed with their team, they played very, very well,” Saban said. “I’m not surprised with anything. They have a good team; they have a lot of good players, and certainly playing outstanding in every phase of their game. Their offense has been very, very productive and is impressive.”
Alabama closes its regular season Nov. 27 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With another year of eligibility remaining after this season, Tide cornerback Kareem Jackson has an eye on the next level.
“If you’re college ball and going pro isn’t a priority, I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” he said. “Going through camp and practice and stuff, I would think it would be a priority for every college player.”
ESPN’s NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has indentified Jackson as one of the top junior cornerbacks in the nation.