(AP) – Nick Saban doesn’t want his Alabama team to care what outsiders think.
It doesn’t matter whether it was the questions in recent weeks that maybe the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide were a fading dynasty, or this week’s feverish praise following the team’s most dominating performance of the year against then-No. 8 Georgia.
It’s all the same to Saban, who told reporters his message to players will be ”the same thing as when you all buried us last week.”
”It really doesn’t matter what you think,” Saban said Monday. ”It really doesn’t matter what you say. And I’m hoping that nobody on our team is playing for you.”
In other words, it’s about the team and then the fans, not national perception, whether it’s criticism or praise. Clearly, Saban wasn’t oblivious to the talk in the two weeks following a turnover-filled loss to then-No. 15 Mississippi, though.
Alabama (4-1, 1-1 SEC) responded with a 38-10 thrashing of the Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium and now hosts Arkansas (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday night.
Quarterback Jake Coker and tailback Derrick Henry were superb and two freshmen, receiver Calvin Ridley and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, also turned in huge performances in a dominant effort on offense, defense and special teams.
It was vintage Alabama. And a vintage Saban rant followed two days later when asked what he says to the team when perception is so fluid.
”I said before, I believe in our team,” the coach said. ”I do believe in our team, and we’re going to work hard to make our team better and I hope the players respond the right way. And it’s not going to be for you. The fans, yes. Because if it was up to you, we were six foot under already. We’re dead and buried and gone. Gone.
”So if that was the case, we’d have to get some respirators out or something there to put the life back in people.”
This was hardly the first time Alabama has mustered such a resounding bounce-back win.
Last season, Alabama destroyed Texas A&M 59-0 two weeks after losing to Ole Miss. In 2012, the Tide rebounded from a loss to Texas A&M by beating struggling rival Auburn 49-0 en route to a national title. A series of blowouts polished off Alabama’s 2011 title run after losing to LSU, including a one-sided rematch in the national championship game.
Now, the Tide are 16-point favorites over Arkansas. Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said he never bought into chatter that Alabama was down after one loss.
”To me, they’re the staple of what college football is, not just the SEC,” Bielema said. ”They’ve got a phenomenal head coach, their environment … It’s as good as any environment. I’ve been in the Big Ten and the Big 12 and been to every part of this country, and I think that environment is as good as any that there is for a home-game environment.”
Saban said the Georgia win only re-establishes Alabama’s identity ”if it happens on a continuum.” He doesn’t want the Tide to join the teams around the country who can’t build on big wins.
It happened to Ole Miss, which was hammered by Florida last week by the same 38-10 score that Alabama produced against Georgia.
Alabama center Ryan Kelly said it was the team’s most complete performance but knows the goal is to sustain the strong play.
He said Saban is ”obviously excited that we won but one of the messages he said was, `Look, this is the proof that we can do a lot of great things but we’ve just got to stay on the right road.”’
Arkansas finally found a way to win a close game last week, ending a three-game skid with a 24-20 victory at Tennessee. The Razorbacks had lost their last 10 games decided by seven points or less, with nine of those defeats coming since Bielema took over the program in 2013.
”At some point in your life as a man, you’ve just got to finally take what the world wants to give you,” Bielema said. ”You can’t keep giving it away. Our guys really played well today. There wasn’t going to be anything but full throttle for four quarters.”
Alex Collins rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Rawleigh Williams ran for 100 yards on only 14 carries.
”Now everybody’s got it in their mind that we’re capable of finishing games, even when they’re close,” Collins said. ”I just wonder how the season’s going to go from here on out, knowing if we’re ever in these close situations, now that we know how to, we can keep doing it.”
The Razorbacks were in a tight one last year against visiting Alabama, leading after three quarters before the Tide scored early in the fourth to pull out a 14-13 win – their eighth straight in the series.