TUSCALOOSA | In a normal, in-season game week, University of Alabama players have four practices -- Monday through Thursday -- to prepare for a Saturday opponent. For the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, however, the Crimson Tide will get more than double that.
With the Fighting Irish having the same extra time to prepare, there is no advantage to be had, but the extended preparation still creates a slightly different dynamic for both coaches and players.
"When you have this much time you really accumulate a lot of information on the other team, so you have a lot more things to cover. Notre Dame is a team, especially on offense, they do a lot of stuff," said UA coach Nick Saban. "There's a lot of adjustments that you have to make, a lot of personnel groups, they utilize their personnel well, move guys around that can create mismatch problems for you. Some of those adjustments are things that are a little different than what we've had to face throughout the season, so it's probably good that we have a little bit more time."
While practices prior to Christmas focused on fundamentals and did not involve the game plan, the post-Christmas preparations are more game-specific. That was evident at practice Thursday, where several reserves were wearing scout-team jerseys with numbers matching key players for the Fighting Irish. Freshman linebacker Reggie Ragland wore the No. 5 of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti T'eo, while reserve defensive lineman Wilson Love wore No. 9, that of Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix.
UA quarterback AJ McCarron said it is important not to reach the point of overkill in preparation for an opponent with the extra time on hand.
"It helps any time you've got more time on somebody. (But) you don't want to focus in too much, because when you focus in too much you can overanalyze everything," McCarron said. "When you overanalyze everything, you try to find too many things, something that someone is weak at, or what you can expose them on, rather than just going out and playing the game."
After this week, Alabama will have another week of preparation at the game site in Miami.
"We're going through every situation right now and taking it one step at a time. It does allow you to evaluate some of your stuff that you might want to do in the game and see which things might work a little bit better," Saban added. "And make sure that you rep what you want to do the next time so that the players can execute it properly in the game."
Defensive end Damion Square said the extra preparation will allow the defense to react on the field more instinctively.
"Things will become habit, hopefully good things. You go out and practice against the schemes and things they (Notre Dame) are doing so that you can get some good habits going into the game, so you just react, and hopefully you react in a good way," he said. "... On the field, there is no thinking. There is just reacting."
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.
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