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November 28, 2012

HURT: Tide keeps calm, carries on

As the hype surrounding Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game balloons around the country, there is one place where every effort is being made to let the air out.

The Alabama football complex is Deflation Central for excitement, or at least that was clearly the theme Wednesday, from UA coach Nick Saban to his players.

"We've just got to be ourselves, not let ourselves get caught up on everything around us," Saban said.

"It's just another game for us," Jesse Williams added. "We're going out to try and dominate our opponent and win the game."

Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron was the most expansive on the subject of not being expansive at all about the game.

"It's another game," McCarron said. "That's what everybody needs to remember. It's just another Saturday.

"I think that's what hurt us in the (November 2011) LSU game, making it bigger than it was. We've just got to go do our job."

It's not surprising that Alabama, with its mantra of "the process" and its track record of huge postseason games over the past four years, would take the "business as usual" approach. Was it emphasized more than usual in the Wednesday press conference? Possibly. It was clearly a talking point, and has been one all week.

McCarron didn't bring up last year's initial LSU game for no reason. That has been a point of emphasis all season, both for McCarron personally - many people feel his growth as a quarterback increased exponentially from that point, either because he matured or because the Alabama coaches started to show more confidence in him and quit protecting him so much - and for Saban.

Is the business-as-usual approach specifically pointed at Georgia? Is it relevant that McCarron stuck to his usual meet-the-media-on-Wednesday routine even as his opposite number, Aaron Murray of Georgia, was sealing himself off from interviews this week? I don't think Alabama is extending the psychological warfare to those levels, but there is a contrast to be made.

Mark Richt, of generally cool demeanor, isn't standing atop podiums and screaming this week, but he has hinted that he wouldn't mind a little emotion coming out in the Georgia Dome.

"When our defense gets their blood hot, they play better," he said Tuesday.

That temperature seems to be related to big plays - sacks, interceptions, big hits - and Georgia makes a lot of them. Alabama, on the other hand, is more about fundamental soundness, an approach that applies on both sides of the ball. That doesn't mean Alabama wants to play football without emotion, but there is more than a hint that Alabama thinks Georgia - which has not always handled big-game pressure over the last four years - may get more hot-blooded than it needs to get.

Make no mistake, the stakes in this game are huge, and the fact that Alabama has played for the BCS championship twice in recent memory doesn't diminish those stakes. Even if there were no BCS title implications at all - say, if Oregon had beaten Stanford - Alabama-Georgia games always take on an added importance, if only because of their relative rarity.

I think deep down, even AJ McCarron knows that this is not just another Saturday in many ways. But his words, and those of everyone around them, indicate that Alabama's approach is going to be stern and steady - the same approach that has worked so well for Saban so far.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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