NCF Nation: 2011-Bama-AllAccess

Calling it a day in Tuscaloosa

November, 2, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 2 Alabama is finishing up practice, meaning our inside look at the Crimson Tide is coming to a close.

The ESPN cameras have been following the Alabama coaches and players all day Wednesday as they prepare for Saturday's game with No. 1 LSU.

"Everybody's been talking about this game since the first of the season," Alabama running back Trent Richardson said. "It's time to play it now and quit talking about it."

It's obvious this isn't Alabama's first rodeo. This is a team that's experienced its share of big games. A lot of these same players played key roles on the 2009 national championship team.

"We know what it takes in these kind of games, and that's going out and playing our best game," Alabama senior center William Vlachos said. "This is definitely the best defense we've faced during our careers."

Alabama coach Nick Saban started the day by driving into the office with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi. Saban said the worst thing he could do this week was be uptight, because that's the way the players would practice and prepare.

There hasn't been any sign of that. Offensive tackle Barrett Jones and Vlachos joked with ESPN personnel before doing a live chat and traded barbs with each other.

The real trick for the Alabama players this week has been avoiding calls. Richardson said he's quit answering his phone because he knows what's waiting for him on the other end.

"Everybody wants tickets," Richardson said. "People I haven't heard from in two or three years are finding my number and calling me. I'm like, 'What are you talking about? I don't have enough tickets for my own family.' "

Video: Alabama RB Trent Richardson

November, 2, 2011

Chris Low talks to Trent Richardson about staying healthy and preparing for LSU.

Trent Richardson: We're ready for this

November, 2, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Trent Richardson could have gone anywhere he wanted to play college football.

But as he looks ahead to Saturday’s showdown with LSU, he’s reminded of just why he picked Alabama.

“You grow up watching games like this, the Texas-USC game (in 2005), and you imagine what it would be like to play in a game like that,” Richardson said. “As a little boy, you grow up watching all these big-time stars in big-time games, and that’s what you want to be. We’re going to be in that kind of game on Saturday. It’s still a dream and still a shock to me that I’m here doing this.

“This is why you come to Alabama.”

This obviously isn’t just any week with all the buildup and hype of No. 1 vs. No. 2, but Richardson said there’s a confidence and a tone set by coach Nick Saban that’s infectious.

“People don’t like to play for coaches who are uptight. It gets inside your head and messes kids up,” Richardson said. “Coach is always intense and the same way all the time. He just wants to see us succeed out there on the field. It’s not about him. It’s about us, and that’s the type of person I like to play for.”

Richardson said the players have actually been reassuring the coaches this week that they’re ready.

“In big games like this, we don’t panic and stay calm and try to play our game and play it like we’ve never played it before, like this is our last down we’re going to play,” Richardson said. “You never know. That’s what I try to remind everybody about. You can’t slack off. There are no friends on the field.

“The thing with this team is that when we get to the big games, we don’t worry. We’re on the coaches more than they’re on us. We’re like, ‘Hey, coach, we’re ready for this game. Don’t worry about nothing. We’ve got this.’ ”

Video: Inside the program -- Alabama

November, 2, 2011

Nick Saban talks to Tom Rinaldi about Alabama's preparations for Saturday's SEC showdown with LSU.

Ex-LSU players asking Saban for tickets

November, 2, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The true MVP this week inside the Alabama football program might well be Nick Saban’s administrative assistant, Linda Leoni.

She’s handling ticket requests and lodging accommodations for the Saban family, and as you might imagine, the demand is overwhelming.

In a normal week, there might be 30 friends and family members coming in for a game. But this week, that number has swelled to 143.

And making matters worse for Leoni, her computer was down for five hours on Monday, so she really had to scramble.

But she adapted and overcame (musts if you're going to work for Saban) and is now on track to handle all 143 of the requests.

This game is so big that even some of Saban’s former players at LSU have been calling and asking for tickets.

“I tell them, ‘I can’t put you in the Alabama section if you’re going to be cheering for LSU,’” Leoni said. “They say, ‘No, we’re fans of Coach Saban.’”

No understating McElwain's impact

November, 2, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- You could probably win a lot of bets if you asked a group of fans who leads the SEC in scoring offense and total offense this season.

If we were talking defense, the answer would be simple … Alabama.

But the Crimson Tide also lead the way in four of the main offensive categories: scoring offense (39.4 points), total offense (457.6 yards), rushing offense (229.2 yards) and third-down conversions (50.9 percent).

It’s a reminder that Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is one of the more underrated coaches in college football, and it’s just a matter of time before he gets a head-coaching gig.

Since his arrival in 2008, Alabama has improved each season in points per game, rushing yards and passing yards. The Crimson Tide are currently averaging 12.3 more points per game this season than they did in 2007 and 83.8 more yards per game.

Each of his last two quarterbacks, John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy, are on NFL rosters, and McElwain's doing it this season with a first-year starter at quarterback -- AJ McCarron.

“We don’t get caught up in numbers here,” McElwain said. “We try to go out on a daily basis and get better, and for the most part, we’ve done that.”

Third down will be huge on Saturday night, particularly with both defenses being so good at getting off the field.

“Trying to keep control of the football and winning on third down … that’s where you do it,” McElwain said. “And trying to make sure you have answers for all the different things they do. We spent a long time last night and this morning putting that plan together with things our kids feel comfortable with.”

Over and above Alabama’s productivity on offense, the balance has been even more remarkable.

The Crimson Tide are averaging 229.2 rushing yards and 228.4 passing yards.

Nick Saban and Michael Jackson

November, 2, 2011
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban has long had a fondness for the Eagles rock band and has been known to do a little jamming to "Hotel California."

In fact, he said one of the best concerts he's ever seen was the Eagles back in the early 1990s at Cleveland Stadium. It's a concert Saban attended with Bill Belichick, who was then the Browns' head coach and Saban was the Browns' defensive coordinator.

So to hear that the Eagles were one of the three selections Saban could punch up on his car CD player while driving to work Wednesday morning wasn't surprising.

But we also learned that Saban likes a little Michael Jackson and Al Green.

Saban said it drives his wife, Terry, crazy because they're the only three he listens to.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Now, it’s Alabama’s turn.

ESPN went inside Tuesday with LSU’s football program leading up to Saturday night's epic showdown with Alabama. On Wednesday, the ESPN cameras will do the same with Alabama’s program.

You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the players, coaches and some of the support staff as we all count down to what’s being billed as the biggest SEC regular-season game in history.

ESPN's Tom Rinaldi started the morning off by riding into work with Alabama coach Nick Saban, and they arrived a little before 7:30 a.m.

Saban was loose, but firm, and in vintage fashion, completely ready for anything and everything he was asked.

And sure enough, as soon as the short hit with the television cameras was over, he poked his head out of his office to let his secretary know that he was ready for his defensive coaches. Within seconds, they started showing up to the conference room carrying large notebooks.

I’ll be hanging around the Mal Moore Athletic Complex all day bringing you updates and painting the picture of what goes on game week in these parts.

And let’s face it. This isn’t just any game week.

You can follow all the updates on ESPN and on the SEC blog.