Alabama insists there's no overlooking Vandy
Coach Nick Saban would heartily dispute any contention that No. 2 Alabama is having three dress rehearsals before taking the big stage against top-ranked LSU.
Luckily for him, the only people he has to convince are his players.
The Crimson Tide's first performance of that stretch comes Saturday night with a visit from a Vanderbilt team off to a strong start under first-year coach James Franklin.
''Vanderbilt is a much more challenging opponent than people might think,'' Saban said. ''They are 3-1. They have one of the best turnover margins in the country. They have played really well on defense. They have done a good job of scoring points on offense with the players they have and the things that they do. It's going to be very challenging for us in this game.''
Then again, Alabama (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) has hardly broken a sweat so far even against Arkansas and Florida, and the Commodores (3-1, 1-1) are four-touchdown underdogs. The Tide could also be sizable favorites against Mississippi and Tennessee before the Nov. 5 showdown.
Vandy, which has lost 10 straight games against Top 25 teams since a 14-13 win over Auburn in 2008, has had two weeks to prepare since its first loss at South Carolina.
Cornerback Trey Wilson doesn't think the Commodores will catch Alabama assuming the victory will come easily.
''I don't think coach Saban is even letting them think that,'' Wilson said. ''When you overlook any opponent, that's when you get hit in the mouth. That's when you get knocked on your heels and it's hard to get up from stuff like that.
''I doubt it very seriously they're overlooking us.''
If Vandy is capable of springing an upset, it's largely because of a defense that pounces on quarterbacks' mistakes much like Alabama.
The Tide has returned interceptions for touchdowns in each of the past two games, but has been one-upped by Vandy in that regard.
Franklin's Commodores lead the nation with 14 picks and have scored on three of them. Alabama tailback Trent Richardson feels sure they will try to harass quarterback AJ McCarron, who hasn't been intercepted in the past four games.
''I know they aren't going to take any pity on us and they are going to be coming at us with every different blitz they've got,'' Alabama tailback Trent Richardson said. ''They come with a lot of blitzes. It's more like a Coach Saban defense with all those blitzes they've got. It's crazy out there and I know they are going to be trying to come with everything.''
Chances are, Vandy will take the approach of most opposing defenses and focus more on trying to slow down Richardson and fellow tailback Eddie Lacy.
Richardson's 622 yards is well ahead of predecessor Mark Ingram's numbers through five games during his Heisman Trophy run two years ago. He has 588 in the last four games alone.
Lacy has been limited in practice with a foot injury and played sparingly against Florida.
''By far the best tandem of running backs that we've seen,'' Franklin said. ''I think Trent Richardson is a really, really good player. He's a special player. (I've) been very impressed with him and the offensive line. I think it's going to be the best offensive line we've seen this year.''
Alabama's defense is yielding the nation's fewest points, ranks No. 1 against the run and is among the Top 5 in three other categories.
That presents a big challenge for quarterback Larry Smith and a Vandy offense that is last in the league in passing. Tailback Zac Stacy, like Smith an Alabama native, has been averaging 7.8 yards a carry. Now, he'll face a defense that has allowed 39.6 rushing yards a game and one touchdown on the ground.
The Commodores have gained confidence with wins including Connecticut and Mississippi.
Wilson said he isn't intimidated by the powerhouse opponent.
''I'm not in awe of the team,'' Wilson said. ''It's just another SEC opponent. I'm not going to put anybody on a pedestal. It's what, the sixth week of the season. I'm not going to put anyone on a pedestal and say I'm in awe of them.''