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November 19, 2013

Saban, Alabama hope close game opportunity pays dividends

The film room wasn't going to reveal any secrets.

Alabama coach Nick Saban waded through the tape of Alabama's sloppy win over Mississippi State and confirmed the mistakes, the fundamental breakdowns, the lack of focus and urgency.

In short, plenty for his 10-0 team to improve on.

But in the face of a 20-7 victory that saw Alabama turn the ball over four times and only lead by three midway through the third quarter, Saban, with win in hand, can turn off the tape and see value in his team having to respond to some unexpected suspense.

"I'd rather not have close games, but since we had one, the benefit is we had to go in some tough situations and circumstances, especially on defense, and came through a couple of times," Saban said. "Circumstances that we created ourselves by having a couple of turnovers. But I think it's important that in close games you learn how to finish games so that you give yourselves the best opportunity to be successful."

The two closest games Alabama has played in entering the fourth quarter have come in the last two weeks. The Crimson Tide led LSU 24-17 through three quarters on Nov. 9 and led the Bulldogs 17-7 entering the final quarter. Outside of that, Alabama has taken at least a two-touchdown edge into the fourth in seven of its eight other games.

Alabama totaled 383 total yards against MSU but the four turnovers - a minus-3 turnover margin for the game - and a 4-for-12 effort on third-down conversions against what was supposed to be an overmatched MSU defense kept the Bulldogs in the game.

Alabama center Ryan Kelly said the players knew it wasn't the performance they expected.

"Yea, no one left that locker room at Mississippi State feeling great about the win," Kelly said. "We like the win because it's obviously a win, but we didn't like the way we did it. We left that field knowing that we didn't impose our will on them, we didn't feel like we dominated the line of scrimmage and that's one of the things we always work for every week."

Saban and Kelly agree; a lackluster effort has a knack for renewing focus, too.

"I think you kind of take a step back," Kelly said. "I feel like we were kind of living in a different world for a little bit there, everything was going great, and when something goes bad, it just dhows maturity by your team if you can respond that way. And I think this week we're going to have a great week."

Alabama should see nothing resembling suspense this week against Chattanooga, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent, but there's plenty of potential for close games with a road game against 10-1 Auburn and possibly an SEC Championship game looming in the next three weeks.

"I'd rather not have a close game, but at some point in time in the near future we're going to have some close games," Saban said. "We're going to play against some good teams. Hopefully the experience of what happened and the importance of keeping your poise and being able to stay focused on what you need to do to be successful on that play, are all lessons that are going to be helpful down the road."

-Reach D.C. Reeves at 205-722-0196 or dc.reeves@tuscaloosanews.com.

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Reach D.C. Reeves at DC.Reeves@tuscaloosanews.com or 205.722.0196.

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