When Nick Saban needed a hand with team motivation he picked up the phone.
On the other end: Hollywood.
The Alabama football coach, who has a cameo role in the November release “The Blind Side,” called in a favor and an early copy of another flick soon to be released. Saban wanted the Crimson Tide to watch the documentary “More Than a Game” before Saturday’s 20-6 win over South Carolina.
The film that chronicles one of Saban’s favorite examples of athletic brilliance, LeBron James, and his high school basketball team starting well before the current NBA star became a schoolboy legend.
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The lessons gleamed, Saban said, were perfect heading into a game against a team like South Carolina.
Watching the St. Vincent-St. Mary’s team roll off state titles in James’ freshman and sophomore years showed a growing confidence that crossed the line.
“Then they lost the state championship when they were juniors,” Saban said. “They became arrogant, they lost their focus, and they lost their way. They didn’t pay attention to details. They disrespected the coach, nobody on our team has done that.
“But I wanted them to see what can happen when your head is not in the right place.”
There were still times in the game when Saban said his team didn’t fully respect South Carolina, but still managed to pull through the difficult stretches for a seventh straight win.
The constant head game and search for motivation is a big part of Saban’s message. He expressed his displeasure for the saying “success breeds success” when it applies to football.
“People are more committed to being successful when something bad happens,” Saban said. “Sometimes they get a little relieved when things are going well.”
Johnson steps up
Everything seemed fine for Javier Arenas to suit up and play Saturday night against South Carolina.
An injury suffered early in the week, however, affected him enough during pregame warmups that he told Saban that the soreness and tightness in his ribs wouldn’t allow him to play for any extended period.
So he sat.
Saban said the problem started in practice Wednesday when Arenas was hit in the ribs late in the workout. He was sore on Thursday, did the walk through Friday, and fully expected to play Saturday.
In his place, Marquis Johnson came up big at cornerback as South Carolina tried to exploit the backup. His six pass breakups was more than half of the total team output of 11.
Arenas’ absence also led to more playing time for Tyrone King, a third-string free safety who turned in the game of his career with seven tackles, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries. Coming into the game, he had just six tackles all season.
“It’s a message for every player on our team that sometimes we have a hard time getting the backup players to focus and get ready because they don’t think they’re going to play,” Saban said. “Well here’s a guy that does a good job all the time on special teams, does a good job in practice and gets an opportunity to go out there and played a wonderful game for us.”
After recording the third-best rushing performances in Alabama history with 246 yards, Mark Ingram had plenty of fans in the postgame interview room. It started with the offensive line.
“He really inspires the offensive line when we know we have a good back like him,” right tackle Drew Davis said. “We knew what we had to do the entire game. We haven’t been producing. We needed to get the job taken care of.”
The man handing Ingram the ball wasn’t about to address Heisman Trophy talk, but was more than happy to talk about his skill.
“Some of the things he does, it’s pretty incredible,” quarterback Greg McElroy said. “I’m proud for him.”