Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Every coach in America is confident in his team in August, but that number dwindles as the leaves start to change colors and we head into November. One SEC coach, though, seems to always have his team cooking at a high level as we hit the regular season's final month.
Alabama's Nick Saban.
The beginning of Alabama's season didn't go according to plan. Sure, the Tide started 4-0 with three wins by exactly 25 points mixed in with the Texas A&M shootout, but there were issues.
The offensive line struggled to open holes and protect the running back, holes were apparent in the defense and the passing game lacked consistent explosiveness.
Saban didn't panic. He tinkered, which is a big reason why he is the top college football coach in America.
Trouble at Cornerback
It was apparent early in the season that cornerback was a point of concern for the Crimson Tide. Texas A&M's Mike Evans lit up John Fulton as Evans typically does to most cornerbacks. But Saban recognized that there was an issue and gave Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve more responsibility.
It paid off.
Jackson saw more action following the A&M win, but saw Sylve overtake him in Alabama's win over Kentucky on Oct. 12, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. With Sylve nursing a knee injury, sophomore wide receiver/cornerback Cyrus Jones started in that spot versus Tennessee.
"I think the young players have to know that every week's a new week, it's a new game plan, you have to have a new focus, be able to prepare and get ready for the next game," Saban said after the Kentucky game according to Gribble. "I think the inexperience they have affects their ability to sustain that with consistency sometimes and these are the lessons that these guys have to learn."
Minor moves at the corner back spot opposite Deion Belue have been a big reason why the Tide have allowed less than 200 passing yards in each of their last five games. Saban recognizes that youth breeds inconsistency and isn't giving his young corners too much to handle after it became clear that he needed to go in a more youthful direction early this season.
The result is the nation's eighth-best pass defense (179.0 YPG), which is right where Saban expects his unit to be regardless of experience on the roster.
Hitting the Reset Button Up Front
It was clear in Alabama's opener versus Virginia Tech that the new-look offensive line needed some work. The Crimson Tide managed just 96 rushing yards and quarterback AJ McCarron was harassed all afternoon thanks to ineffectiveness from guard Arie Kouandjio and inconsistency from left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
Saban recognized Arie's struggles, inserted Kellen Williams for the remainder of the game. It served as a teachable moment for Arie.
He has started every game since being pulled, and has been a big reason why Alabama re-emerged as a rushing force, averaging 210.75 yards on the ground per game.
The stability Saban created by hitting the reset button during the bye week allowed Alabama's offensive line to build up some trust and familiarity, which is a big reason why it didn't miss a beat when center Ryan Kelly missed three games with a knee injury and Chad Lindsay stepped in.
Easing Stars In
Wide receiver Amari Cooper hasn't been 100 percent all year, after a toe injury has limited him since fall camp.
DeAndrew White, Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell picked up the slack for Cooper, who hasn't been a big part of the game plan all season until last week's 45-10 win over Tennessee. Cooper caught five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Vols—his second straight game with a touchdown pass.
Cooper didn't have a catch versus Colorado State or Georgia State, and he mixed in only three between those two contests versus Ole Miss. Since that Georgia State game, Cooper has 205 receiving yards and two touchdowns in three games.
Saban knew he had depth and knows he needs a healthy Cooper for the stretch run, and he utilized a lull in the schedule to ensure that the sophomore sensation is at 100 percent.
Running back Kenyan Drake was in Saban's doghouse early in the season, but he has emerged as one of the stars of the Crimson Tide offense behind starter T.J. Yeldon.
Three of Drake's four most productive days of the season have been in the Tide's last three games, where he has received 36 carries for 299 yards and four of his seven touchdowns.
He has the burst to be a solid compliment to Yeldon, and once he got out of the doghouse, Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier slowly gave him more responsibility as the season has progressed.
The thing that makes Saban such a great in-season coach is that these aren't panic moves and they really aren't "man, down; next man up" moves either.
He focuses so much on his process that his players know that complacency won't set in because their coach won't let it. Whether Alabama's playing Georgia State or Georgia, it doesn't matter.
Saban's team fight against perfection, and Saban's going to get close to it even if it requires making some tough decisions in the middle of the season.