Alabama focused on Iron Bowl this week
TUSCALOOSA | Style isn't forged in iron.
That's the philosophy the University of Alabama will take into this week in preparation for the Iron Bowl.
Even with the Crimson Tide's chances of playing in the BCS National Championship Game greatly enhanced by Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oklahoma over the weekend, some observers believe Alabama should approach the Auburn game with an urgency to not only win, but win big to impress votes who will decide the national title matchup.
Alabama isn't buying it. Winning, players insist, is what matters.
"We're not worried about style points," UA center William Vlachos said after last Saturday's victory over Georgia Southern. "We're worried about doing what we do."
Alabama head coach Nick Saban doesn't want visions of BCS glory or LSU rematches clouding his team's focus.
"It's about how we play in the games, how we prepare, how we get ready to play and us going and playing our best football," Saban said. "That's what we control. That's what we need to do. None of that other stuff really matters. It really doesn't matter, because if you don't do that ... what happens? You don't have the opportunity."
If national championship aspirations aren't enough, Alabama can look back to last year's 28-27 loss to Auburn in a game where UA had a chance to derail the Tigers' run to the national title after building a 24-0 first-half lead.
"It is something that we have had on our minds since the season started," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "We are really ready for these guys, and we know they will be ready for us."
And while Alabama players say beating Auburn is important, they insist that the method isn't.
"We're just going to go in and try to win the game," linebacker Courtney Upshaw said. "We don't think about style. Of course you want to whip these guys, it's a rival game and everybody's going to be hyped up about it, but we just want to go in and win."
Saban has made sure his players haven't forgotten the year-ago loss to Auburn. Soon after that contest, signs appeared around the UA football complex with a mission statement: "Never Again." Players can't go to practice or team meetings or the weight room or locker room without running into the reminders.
"Let's just say I've seen enough of them, and they'll still be up this week," receiver Brandon Gibson said.
The lesson of last year's defeat has broader implications to Upshaw.
"It's basically an example that we need to finish," he said. "I don't think (last year's game) really means much - I mean this is a whole new season, a whole new Alabama team, a whole new Auburn team. It just means we need to go out and compete all the way down to the last second in the fourth quarter."
Those who have experienced the rivalry know it comes with an intensity level all its own.
"I've played in this game coming up quite a few times, and it's a whole different deal," Vlachos said. "No matter what their record is ... they're going to be fired up and ready to go. It's something that we're excited about."
Said Gibson, "It means a little more in this one. It's the 12th game of the season, big-time rivalry - it doesn't get any better than that."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
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