TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban finds plenty of imperfections even given the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s ridiculous scoring margin so far.
Too many penalties, not enough consistency in the passing attack, a couple of reserves not being adequately prepared to play when the game’s out of hand. And they’ve all gotten out of hand.
Nit-picking — or Nick-picking for the perfectionist coach — aside, the Tide has been thoroughly dominant through the first three games from the first-teamers to the so-called scrubs, many of them also blue-chip recruits.
Alabama has outscored its opponents 128-14 and scored 94 points since the defense last gave up a point, with 14 seconds left in the third quarter in the opener against Michigan.
Going back to the third quarter of last season’s Auburn game, Alabama is on a 167-14 roll with three shutouts in the last four games.
The Tide has forced 12 turnovers and committed just one this season, and nine players have sacks.
Not good enough for Saban, whose team hosts 50-point underdog Florida Atlantic (1-2) on Saturday. For young players, especially, he says: “Being average is contagious.”
“If you demand more of yourselves, you get more,” Saban said. “If we went out and asked some 12-year-old kid, ‘What do you need to do to improve on?’ he’d probably have to sit there and think for a half-hour, 45 minutes about something he could improve on.
“If we went and asked Peyton Manning what could he improve on, he could probably write a novel about all the things he could do better relative to the success he’s had.”
Like everything else Saban does, dwelling on his team’s imperfections is part of the plan. It takes work to keep a team grounded after a 52-0 road rout of Arkansas.
Players like receiver Christion Jones dismiss such concerns.
“We play to a standard,” Jones said. “We’ve got our own standard that we play to. It’s Alabama’s standard. We’re trying to get better each week, each game, each play. We’re trying to do it better than we did before. We’re just trying to make sure we stay level-headed and make sure we’re focused on each game, each week, one opponent at a time. ”
Saban could easily point — as he often has — to the pitfalls that caught up with the 2010 team, also coming off a national championship. That team blew through the first four games — getting challenged only by Arkansas — and capped that run with an impressive 31-6 win over No. 7 Florida.
Then came a loss at South Carolina and two more defeats along the way.
“The biggest difference between 2012 (and 2010) is we don’t look back,” guard Chance Warmack said. “We’re only looking forward. All we care about right now is Florida Atlantic. As far as the mistakes we made in the past, we have so many young guys that it’s all about the here and now and the present.”
The theme is clear: One thing at a time.
The reality is that Alabama has a clearly navigable schedule before the BCS championship game rematch at No. 2 LSU on Nov. 3.
Florida Atlantic is coming off a 56-20 loss at No. 5 Georgia. Mississippi (Sept. 29) was just whipped 66-31 by No. 12 Texas. Road trips to Missouri and Tennessee, both 2-1, are far from automatic wins. Neither is a visit Oct. 27 by No. 23 Mississippi State.
The way the Tide’s rolling right now, it figures to be solid favorites in all those games. If they played today, Alabama would be a two-touchdown favorite over Tennessee and Missouri on the road, said Jay Kornegay, director of the Race and Sports Book at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
“The only challenges leading up to the LSU game are Missouri and Tennessee,” Kornegay said. “And they’re healthy favorites for both those so-called challenges.”
In the meantime, Saban will keep working on improving, harping on mistakes so maybe they won’t be repeated.
“Every five seconds, as soon as you mess up — no matter what the score is — if you make a mental error, he’s going to be on you hard,” safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said.
Then Clinton-Dix was asked if there’s time to savor wins like that Arkansas game.
“No, because he doesn’t want us to get too overconfident and lose focus on what we have planned for this year,” he responded.