The art of finishing: Saban talks about the importance of momentum for upcoming Tennessee game

The art of finishing: Saban talks about the importance of momentum for upcoming Tennessee game

Most Alabama fans do not remember what may be Nick Saban’s best comeback victory. That is because he was a coach at LSU and the opponent was Kentucky. Nov. 9, 2002, went down as the “Bluegrass Miracle” in SEC history, after Saban’s team came back to beat the Wildcats 33-30.

Down 27-30, LSU had the ball on its 18-yard line with two seconds remaining. Kentucky players had already given their coach a Gatorade bath. LSU did not give up. The ball was heaved close to the 25-yard line, a Kentucky player batted it in the air, and LSU’s Devery Henderson ran it in for the win.

This year, Tennessee has itself had some seemingly impossible plays. The Volunteers defeated Georgia on a last-second Hail Mary and have already played two overtime games. This week, Nick Saban’s No. 1 Alabama team will be going to play the Volunteers in Knoxville. Saban preaches the message "finish." 

“I don’t think this is a game that anybody can take for granted, which is sometimes hard to get the players sold on, that they really have to be able to execute the play, that it is a play that can make a big difference in the game,” Saban said. “I tell our players chapter and verse, every game that this has been an issue."

The game last year came down to a drive in the fourth quarter. Alabama was down 13-14, but eventual Heisman winner Derrick Henry scored a deciding touchdown with close to two and a half minutes left.

“We always talk about ‘No scoreboard, keep playing.’ When you relax, you let the momentum of the game change and that’s hard to get back. And the way people score points now, there have been numerous games where people were ahead by 21 points and end up losing the game,” Saban said. “Forget about winning the game. You’re either in control of the game or you’re not. And if you don’t stay in control of the game and you give the other team a lot of opportunities to gain the momentum in the game that they need to get back in the game and maybe come back and have a chance to beat you.”

Saban is especially concerned after Alabama let Arkansas cut into the 35-10 lead. Alabama ended up winning 49-30, but he was not happy with the way the team finished

“I think we had some lapses in the game. I think we still are searching to be able to play a complete game,” Saban said. “When we got ahead in the game, we sort of relaxed a little bit and didn't play with the same intensity. It really affected how we played in the second half. We didn't control the ball at all in the second half.” 

Tennessee ranks sixth in the nation for second half points at 24.17 per game. The Volunteers defense also has only allowed 10.33 points per game in the second half. The scoring margin of plus 13.84 ranks fourth in the nation. The Volunteers have also generated 10 turnovers in the second half, tied for first in the nation.

“They just play a complete game,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “They usually start off a little bit slow, but they definitely come back strong. So for us the big point of emphasis this week is playing a complete 60-minute football game."

Finishing against Tennessee will be a tough task. Alabama could very likely be in a late-game situation again with the nine-game win streak on the line. Terrence Cody’s block and Derrick Henry’s drive will never be forgotten in this rivalry, but what play in the fourth quarter will be playing on the stadium's video screen next fall?

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