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Saban: Who you play has nothing to do with how you play (FAU preview)

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(Photo by Jonathan Biles)

This week should be a little less stressful that last, just don’t tell that to Nick Saban.

After defeating West Virginia 33-23, Alabama readies for its home opener against Florida Atlantic, a Conference USA member one week removed from a 55-7 defeat to Nebraska. Remember, Alabama is playing FAU, not FIU or FAMU or FGCU.

The Owls have only had a football program since 2001 and are most notable for Howard Schnellenberger’s mustache and Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris.

This game is a cash understanding on both sides. FAU will make $1 million for making the trip up to Tuscaloosa, a figure they also received from Nebraska. Making $2 million in consecutive weeks isn’t bad for the Boca Raton school, although they may allow over 1,000 yards on defense in those two games. (The Owls allowed 784 yards of total offense against Nebraska.)

FAU lost its starting quarterback and its best cornerback versus the Cornhuskers — both of whom may return against Alabama — but Saban is taking them as seriously as any other opponent, which is nothing new.

“Why does the external factor of who you’re playing have anything to do with how you play?” Saban said. “If we’re playing against Michael Jordan, we play our best game, if we’re playing against another old basketball player, then we play just like another old basketball player? Is that your thinking on this? Because it’s not mine. If it’s our players’ thinking, I can tell you right now I’m going to be pretty pissed about it.”

While preparing for FAU in the same way the team prepares for West Virginia is a little drastic, this is a chance for Alabama to test out its quarterbacks even more, presumably playing Jake Coker more than two clock-killing snaps at the end of the game. Saban has said all week that the competition is still open, and there isn’t a better time to test players without much experience than against a massive underdog.

But the quarterback situation seems to be in capable hands and will be more of an exciting duel. The defense was the issue last week and Alabama has already made an effort to remedy that.

Linebacker Trey DePriest returns to his starting role this week after missing the season opener due to a “minor NCAA infraction.” The linebackers who played in his place are equally as talented, they had just never called a defense before. And if one player is out of position in Saban’s scheme, things start to break down.

“I think not having Trey DePriest, our signal caller on defense up front, created a little confusion playing in the no-huddle with two linebackers who really could be good players but got a little confused,” Saban said. “I think that created a lot of anxiety for us, but I think we settled down and played a little bit better in the second half.”

DePriest teammates, like safety Nick Perry, say he is back and ready for Saturday’s game.

“He has a point to prove,” Perry said of DePriest. “He felt like it was his fault that he wasn’t out there to help us. He’ll be able to make a lot of plays Saturday.”

The other glaring issue from the game against West Virginia was the play of Alabama’s secondary. Safety Jarrick Williams has a broken bone in his foot and will be out four weeks, but the Crimson Tide should have enough players there to fill that space.

The cornerbacks were more of a problem. Bradley Sylve, whose receiver seemed to make a highlight-reel catch every play, has been replaced in practice by Eddie Jackson, the former starter who had a knee surgery in April. Sylve will probably see the field Saturday, but with the more experienced Jackson “available” again this week, it looks like the 5-foot-11 Sylve will be replaced by the slightly taller 6-foot Jackson.

“I feel like we’ll play [Jackson] some in this game, in some kind of way, trying to ease him back into what he has to do,” Saban said. “He’s a very good player that we’re anxious to get back in the lineup, but certainly not at the expense of putting him in any risk.”

So get up bright and early for the 11 a.m. Central time kick on the SEC Network and watch Alabama do a bunch of footballing experiments. There will be multiple changes at multiple positions throughout the game, all adding to the viewing experience. Kind of like a practice where the final score actually counts: I mean, “playing a game against a difficult opponent.”

“These guys are well coached and we certainly have a lot of respect for them, but the focus is on what we need to do to make our team better,” Saban said. “That is what we are really going to try and focus on this week. I think it is really important how much you improve from first game to second game.”


Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Biles

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