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Alabama coach Saban upset about penalties piling up
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Alabama coach Saban upset about penalties piling up

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban instructs during a practice sessin.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban was answering a postgame question about wide receiver JoJo Earle’s contributions before he decided to take an unprompted detour.

He wasn’t asked about penalties, but he wanted to talk about them anyway.

“You’ve got to have discipline as a player,” Saban then said. “That means the choices and decisions that you make, as a football player, are legal and you’re not getting penalties. And you’ve got to maintain your intensity so that you can have good discipline. That’s how you create the right kind of habits.”

Why the emphasis on penalties? Well, Alabama finished the day against FCS Mercer with nine of them for 95 yards.

That comes after a game against Miami in which the Crimson Tide was penalized eight times for 81 yards. That’s a total of 17 penalties for 176 yards over the first two games of the season.

After the first two games of the 2020 season against Missouri and Texas A&M, Alabama had 13 penalties for 89 yards.

Special teams penalties have especially bothered Saban. Alabama had two, both holding calls, against Mercer.

A fourth-quarter special teams play against Miami also illustrates Saban’s frustrations: During a 5-yard punt return by Slade Bolden, Alabama managed to pick up two holding penalties and an offsides call.

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“It’s ridiculous,” Saban said. “We’ve got to get it fixed.”

Discussing the team’s performance as a whole against Mercer, Saban said it comes down to decisions. He said the Tide has to play with intensity but not out of control.

“They make a decision to throw their helmet,” Saban said. “They make a decision to grab and throw another guy on the ground. Whether it’s controlling your emotions because when you’re emotional, you make bad decisions.”

Alabama picked up penalties in a variety of ways against Mercer. Receiver Jameson Williams had an early one with an unsportsmanlike conduct. He shoved safety Lance Wise after Wise shoved him to the ground toward the end of the play and popped Williams’ helmet off. Unfortunately for Williams, the guy who retaliated got called.

Other penalties include a couple of pass interference penalties on the starting safeties as well as an ineligible-man-downfield call that erased a touchdown to Agiye Hall. But because it was a run-pass option play, the onus for that penalty shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the offensive line.

Either way, it was yet another penalty.

So, how do Alabama players start making good decisions?

“It’s really all about mental intensity throughout the week,” right tackle Chris Owens said. “Whether it’s going to class on time, getting to tutoring on time, doing the right things on the field, being where you’re supposed to be, block who you’re supposed to block, all of those things build those habits so that when you get into the game and there’s a decision you need to make that could cost the team points or even yards, that you’re able to keep yourself from doing it.”

Saban finished his postgame press conference fielding a Zoom question, then he started to walk away from the lectern. But before he left the platform, he had one more thing he wanted to say.

“I hope you all don’t think I’m mad at you,” Saban said to reporters. “I’m not. If you’re frustrated with the penalties, I’m like 10 times more frustrated.”

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When put in context, Alabama’s 34-point win Saturday over Mercer lacked the polish of a 31-point victory the week prior over Miami. Nick Saban was direct in critiquing a malodorous start on offense, and quarterback Bryce Young said the team is not proud of what it put on film against an FCS foe that Vegas pegged to lose by more than 56 points. What changed, exactly, after the same offense went ...

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