TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When Alabama coach Nick Saban stepped to the podium for a media conference late Saturday night, he wasn’t in what you’d describe as a gregarious mood. Moments earlier, jogging off the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, he shot some poor soul a laser-beam death stare and swatted away the hand of his assisting police officer.
He was in one of those moods again.
Alabama had won big, beating Ole Miss 66-3, and Saban was grumpy.
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” he said with all the sincerity of a hostage reading from a script. “So, you know, nothing’s perfect.”
Not perfect? Well, it was awfully close. Alabama, ranked No. 1 and undefeated, had just beaten a team by 63 points. If you count the previous week’s 59-0 beatdown of Vanderbilt, the Crimson Tide have outscored the SEC 125-3 this season. And they’ve done it without committing a single turnover.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts has scored 10 touchdowns and been sacked just three times. Alabama ranks fourth among FBS teams in rushing yards and averages 6.66 yards per carry. The Crimson Tide's defense ranks in the top five of Power 5 teams in yards and points per game allowed.
Seriously, what more can you ask for?
In four of Alabama’s past five games against SEC teams, it has scored 50 or more points. But do yourself a favor and don’t tell Saban that.
“You know what? I don’t really care about how many points we’ve scored in the last four games,” Saban said, clearly agitated. “ I’m really worried about how many we score the next game and how we stop the next team we play. That’s the focus on what we need to dominate next.”
Did you catch that at the end? He didn’t say he was focused on what his team needs to do next. Rather what it needs to dominate next.
And, make no mistake, domination is the name of the game. With the last-second loss to Clemson in the national championship still ringing in their ears, this team has taken on a Death Star attitude.
Ahead 28-0 in the first quarter against Ole Miss, star defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick had a message for teammates: Don’t let your foot off the gas.
“Because at the end of last season, we didn’t finish,” Fitzpatrick explained. “I’ve been expressing and saying, 'Don’t let them breathe, don’t let them have a moment to relax, don’t take any play off.' Because it’s all about us finishing and dominating the whole game from the first quarter all the way to the last.”
But again, it wasn’t perfect. At least according to the man in charge.
While the rest of the world marveled at Alabama’s ability to beat a Power 5 team by 63 points, Saban harped on dropped balls, miscues, penalties and a few big plays given up by the defense.
“I hope that players have the disposition to learn from it,” Saban said.
On Monday, Saban puffed up the next opponent, Texas A&M, as “the strongest team that we’ve played to this point, looking at them from a holistic standpoint.”
(Holistic, in this case, must mean neglecting the fact that A&M blew a 34-point lead to unranked UCLA, was tied with Nicholls State during the fourth quarter and gave up 43 points and 457 yards against Arkansas.)
“This is certainly not a time to relax or be satisfied,” Saban said.
Afterward, linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton confirmed to reporters that Saban is, in fact, more intense after a big win. It’s because Saban wants to see how players respond, Hamilton said.
Judging by the early returns of the season, Saban should feel confident about the disposition of this team. It has got an edge to it. Somehow, Alabama's players have convinced themselves they're underdogs and have something to prove. Just look at Vanderbilt, which fueled a 59-0 beatdown following a benign and factually correct quote from an otherwise unknown lineman who said, "Alabama, you're next." Or how about the Ole Miss 66-3 TKO driven not by bulletin-board material but instead what Saban described as the "ultimate disrespect” of when “someone quietly thinks they got your number.”
Fitzpatrick might not like the word “angry” to describe Alabama’s mindset, but it’s certainly not pleasant.
“We’re just trying to get better week to week, doing our job, staying disciplined, executing,” he said. “I wouldn’t consider us angry. Just trying to defeat the other team -- defeat them mentally, physically and moral wise. Just defeating them.”
If the act of demoralizing isn't considered angry, then you might as well call Saban jolly.
Alabama is out for domination, and there's nothing kind or gentle about it.