News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Tide head coach Nick Saban, right, and quarterback John Parker Wilson say they know the importance of Saturday's contest against LSU in Tuscaloosa. Kickoff is 4 p.m.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Tide head coach Nick Saban, right, and quarterback John Parker Wilson say they know the importance of Saturday's contest against LSU in Tuscaloosa. Kickoff is 4 p.m.

Players, not coaches, to decide contest
Tide's Saban won't be playing
against his former team

By Josh Cooper ∑ 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — For those who may forget the big picture, there is always Darren Mustin to help put it in perspective.

When asked about the hype surrounding Saturday's game between No. 17 Alabama (6-2, 4-1 SEC) and No. 3 LSU (7-1, 4-1), Mustin had this to offer:

"There's a little bit of the buzz. But one thing about that, when you turn on the TV or whatever, there's 11 guys versus 11 guys. And Saban's not going to be one of those 11 guys that's out there playing," Mustin said. "Yeah, he's going to coach us, do what he has to do, but it all boils down to it, it's the players that have got to go out there and play."

And that is the main focus for the players Saturday. Alabama head coach Nick Saban hasn't suited up for a college game since his playing days at Kent State.

There is no "win one for coach" coming from Alabama's players. But this whole "it's just another game" mantra has been upstaged by the swirl of Saban vs. LSU, the team he used to coach.

It is clear that this week has been an emotional one for Saban.

He called coaching in the national championship game with LSU in 2003 the "greatest thrill of my coaching career," and later, he spoke about why he returned to coaching in college after going to the NFL.

"I left college football and found out that where I went was a mistake for me, and I learned about myself," Saban said. "I could've stayed there, and not enjoyed it, or gone back to what I really loved to do, which is being a college coach."

As a college coach, he left quite a legacy at LSU — two SEC titles and one national championship in five years.

Regardless of what Saban accomplished, there is much at stake Saturday. Little of it has to do with him or LSU coach Les Miles, and much of it has to do with the SEC Western Division standings.

The winner of the game will have an inside track to the SEC West championship.

"Everybody knows this game has a lot to do with the rest of our season," Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson said.

"So we have to go out there and know that we have to play well to do what we want to do and meet our goals like we want to."

LSU ranks second in the country in total defense, allowing 232.25 yards a game. The Tigers also are fifth in scoring defense at 15.38 points a game.

That will provide a challenge for an Alabama offense that played its most consistent game of the season two weeks ago in a 41-17 win over Tennessee.

There is also the element of surprise that the Crimson Tide must not ignore. In the Tigers' victory over Florida, LSU was 5-for-5 on fourth-down conversions. Also, against Auburn, the Bayou Bengals scored the eventual game-winning touchdown with one second left in the fourth quarter when the Tigers were down by one and in field goal range.

"They can throw the ball well and they can run it well," Tide safety Rashad Johnson said. "We've got to go out and pretty much try to stop one aspect of the game and try to force them into a one-dimensional game. We can determine how to play them from there."

No matter what happens during the game, there will be a certain residual effect. Both coaches must know that no matter what they say, this game is about them, not the players. Afterward, will either one finally admit it?

No. 3 LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC) at No. 17 Alabama (6-2,4-1)

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa

Line: LSU by 7.

TV/radio: WHNT-19 will carry the television broadcast. The radio broadcast can be heard on AM-1400, AM-730, AM-770, FM-93.9 and FM-92.5.

Players to watch: For Alabama, itís Justin Britt. Last year, Britt went head to head with LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and did an admirable job, as Dorsey had five tackles against the Tide, none of which came behind the line. While Britt might be the main guy to go against Dorsey, all of Alabamaís interior linemen will be held accountable for stopping the potential All-American.

LSU running back Jacob Hesterís name hasnít come up much this week. This is odd, considering how his gutsy performance pretty much won LSUís game against Florida. People talk about Matt Flynn at quarterback, but Hester and his bruising running style set the tone for the Bayou Bengals.

Key matchup: Nick Saban against Les Miles. This game is about the players ... right? I donít think so. Saban is in a no-lose situation. If he wins, he furthers his SEC legacy. If he loses, then itís expected against the favored Tigers, playing against many players he recruited. Miles canít win big enough. If he loses, it would be disaster — not just to his stature against Sabanís, but also to the Tigersí national championship hopes.

Weather: Sunny and 70 degrees.

Last meeting: LSU 28, Alabama 14, Nov 11, 2006.

Prediction: LSU 27, Alabama 14.

Josh Cooper, Daily Sports Writer

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