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September 30, 2012

HURT: Off week comes at perfect time

The University of Alabama football team didn't exactly limp into its open week, winning over a conference rival by three touchdowns last Saturday night. Still, there were times in the 33-14 victory over Ole Miss when the Crimson Tide looked like a team that was thirsty for a few days off.

That has happened before under Nick Saban. In 2008, the Crimson Tide looked sluggish in a 14-7 win over Kentucky. There was no narrower escape for the Crimson Tide in 2009 than the 12-10 win over Tennessee. In the last couple of years, UA has had an easier time with UT before taking its break but this year's hiatus - not quite at the midpoint of the season, but close - seems well-placed.

There are obvious physical reasons. Suddenly, Alabama was bitten by the injury bug Saturday night. Without speculating on DeAndrew White's condition prior to an official UA announcement, he could not return after the first half when he hurt his knee. If White is out for a significant period, it affects the Tide's depth at receiver, a fact not altered by Amari Cooper's fine performance against the Rebels.

Deion Belue's shoulder could also be an issue, although Saban didn't initially seem to think it was a long-term problem. Alabama will definitely need him against Missouri. Dee Hart indicated on his Twitter account that dire rumors about his knee were overblown, and there did not seem to be immediate concern about defensive end Ed Stinson. Still, there is no overstatement in saying the Tide is bumped and bruised.

There is another type of attrition, though. It doesn't require tape or crutches, but a little rest goes a long way. That ailment is the psychological fatigue that accumulates after a long stretch as the No. 1 team in the country, given all the expectations that come with that ranking. Alabama plays at that unforgiving level. Anyone who doesn't believe it wasn't walking out of Bryant-Denny Stadium and listening to the grumbling of some (not all, but some) UA fans.

A few days away from that mental grind, different than the one created by the demands of the coaching staff, can't hurt. Alabama has a tougher stretch ahead in its final seven games than it faced in the first five. It needs to be as healthy as possible. One injury - Jalston Fowler's knee - has already had an affect on the offense. Fowler is missed, particularly as a blocker, and despite the myth of unlimited talent at Saban's disposal, other injuries took a toll. It also needs to be psychologically sharp. Every opponent, starting with Missouri, will be.

With that said, the first five weeks have been good ones for Alabama. If there have been quarters or halves that were not perfect, the same can be said for every other team in the country, even the undefeated championship contenders. Alabama will have to maintain a relentless pace to make it to Miami - so it can definitely use a week to catch its breath.



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