TUSCALOOSA — Alabama coach Nick Saban often says he doesn’t want his team over-practicing for bowl games because he worries about the team getting stale. But that doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide isn’t working plenty on Notre Dame these days.
“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,” Saban said. “Notre Dame is a team, especially on offense, that they do a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of adjustments that you have to make, a lot of personnel groups, utilize their personnel well, move guys around that can create mismatch problems for you.”
Typically, Alabama has four practices and a walk-through to prepare for a regular-season game. For the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, Alabama will have 14 practices and a walk-through the day before the Jan. 7 game.
Notre Dame’s schedule shows 15 practices, although the Irish started BCS workouts Dec. 7, which was 11 days before Alabama. The Irish took eight days off for Christmas, while the Tide had three. The NCAA doesn’t limit the number of bowl practices, but 13 to 15 are typical for Saban during his coaching career.
The Tide’s first five workouts came before Christmas, and Saban ran them like preseason practices — plenty of work on fundamentals and only a dab or two of Notre Dame preparation. When the Tide returned to work Tuesday, the team began focusing more intently on the Irish.
Three different walk-ons wore No. 80 in preparation for their scout-team work when they would imitate the Notre Dame player who has that number — tight end Tyler Eifert. Three more wore No. 7, which belongs to Irish receiver T.J. Jones.
“Having the additional prep time is probably a good thing,” Saban said. “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. And make sure that you (practice) what you want to do the next time so that the players can execute it properly in the game.”
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron appreciates the extra preparation time as much as anybody. This is the guy who spent the summer watching plenty of game film on each of the Tide’s 12 scheduled opponents — and his own offense, as well.
“Always in a bowl game things happen that happen in practice,” he said. “We like that as a player. You like to line up and see a guy go in motion, a guy give away something you saw on film and things like that.
“That’s what happens all the time when you have two weeks to practice for an opponent. You see them so much you recognize things better. You get to play the game a little faster. You get to move a little quicker because you’re almost positive what they’re going to do on that play because you’ve been watching it for almost a month.”
With school out since Dec. 15 for the holidays, McCarron has covered plenty of ground on Notre Dame by watching plenty of film. But McCarron added he tries to remain careful about getting too wrapped up in film study.
“You don’t want to focus in too much, because if you focus in too much you start to over-analyze everything,” he said. “You over-analyze everything and try and find too many things that are (what) somebody’s weak at, or what you can expose them in, rather than just going out and playing the game.”
Alabama guard Chance Warmack said that with a change in the routine and the high stakes of the Jan. 7 game, players and coaches are a little more eager than usual to delve into preparation. So, if the Tide comes out with something a little different than you’ve seen all season, it’s all part of the plan. And for Warmack, that’s fun for everybody.
“Everybody’s looking forward to the game,” he said. “We’re all watching extra film on the opponent. Coaches are really excited putting in plays.”