Preview: No. 1 Alabama vs. Western Kentucky

AJ McCarron

After Alabama coach Nick Saban's tirade this week, one can bet the Tide has nothing but respect for Western Kentucky in its home opener this afternoon.

Nick Saban's message was loud and clear this week—Alabama is not taking Western Kentucky lightly.

No sir.

After demolishing then-No. 8 Michigan 41-14 last weekend the Crimson Tide became the No. 1 team in the nation and was praised.

But Saban didn't like the flattery or the new ranking or the fact that the media was pumping up Alabama, predicting them to crush this week's opponent, Western Kentucky (the Tide are a 40-point favorite in most Vegas casinos).

Nope. He doesn't want his team to be glorified for their successes and he sure doesn't want anyone writing off Western Kentucky, a team, the Alabama coach noted, that has won eight of its last nine games (none against a BCS opponent, mind you) and could win the Sun Belt this season.

"I hate to be negative with anybody, but when you people start writing stuff about people that we're playing that doesn't give them the proper respect, that's not fair," Saban said during his Wednesday night rant on the media. "It's not fair to them, to their players who work hard. It's not fair to our players, who need to respect them."

Saban was visibly upset with his players at Wednesday's practice before the outburst at his press conference. He wants his team to understand that beating a top 10 team one week doesn't guarantee anything the following week.

During his tirade, Saban referenced beating Clemson in 2008 and playing poorly the following week against Tulane, and the next year beating Virginia Tech in Week 1 and playing sloppy against Florida International in Week 2.

"We play the games for a reason," he said. "When we make all these predictions of what's going to happen, it takes away from the game. Just like everybody talks about who's going to win the national championship. Why do we play the games? We've got a lot of great games coming up. Why do we play those?"

Saban has been drilling the words respect, character, confidence and toughness into his players' brains all week and chastised the media for writing stories that could make the players heads get too big.

After much of his diatribe was over, Saban questioned whether his players were even ready to leave Week 1 behind and focus on Week 2.

"Based on the way we practiced and what our attitude is around here and what gets written about what's going on and how everybody thinks, I would question whether that's happening or not," he said. "I'm not a real happy camper right now."

He didn't like the way his players were preparing this week and apologized to the media after getting everything off his chest saying he had to take it out on somebody.

Earlier this week on the Sun Belt coaches teleconference, Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart called the Tide an NFL expansion team.

"They'll be that 33rd team in the NFL," he said. "They are loaded. Sometimes you look at those guys and say, ‘That's not fair.'"

Surely that statement—and a few more from Taggart later on in the week with the same message—received a massive eye roll from Saban and maybe contributed to his little tantrum Wednesday.

"Obviously he's kidding," senior center Barrett Jones said of Taggart's remark. "I think most coaches this year, their strategy is to pump us up with compliments, which is great, but we can't really listen to what they are saying."

The Hilltoppers, who beat Austin Peay 49-10 last weekend, are quite confident heading into Tuscaloosa this week. Several players have been so bold to predict a WKU victory.

"Yeah, man, I'll tell you what, we're gonna play hard—I'll tell you what, we're gonna freaking win this game," linebacker T.J. Smith told Chad Bishop, who covers Western Kentucky for the Bowling Green Daily News and for a website called Toppatime. "Truly, we got a great defense, great linebackers—so watch this game, we're gonna win."

Smith is from Hazel Green, Ala. and Bishop tweeted earlier this week that the sophomore told him, "My dad hated Alabama. My momma hated Alabama. I hate Alabama." He said he's going to have a lot of family at this game.

There are actually six Hilltoppers who hail from Alabama. Another being fullback Demetrius Coley, who told Bishop this week that he grew up an Auburn fan and can't wait for Saturday.

"Yeah, I can't wait to get out there and kick their butts," he said.

But despite the jibs and jabs at his team, Saban wants his players—and the media—to respect Western Kentucky. Senior safety Robert Lester didn't give off any hint of disrespect, describing Western Kentucky's offense as "very intelligent."

"They run a lot of shifts and motions and you gotta be on your P's and Q's to be ready for it," he said. "You don't want to be hesitant…They do a lot of things to get our guys out of position."

Added sophomore safety HaHa Clinton-Dix: "They have a very great team and we are looking forward to the game this weekend."

The Hilltoppers will be without starting running back Keshawn Simpson (knee), but Alabama has honed in on a few other players like tight end Jack Doyle, quarterback Kawuan Jakes and linebacker Andrew Jackson, who Saban described as an SEC player.

"He's a thumper," Saban said. "He's very instinctive….He really plays the game the way you like to see defensive players play it…I've got a lot of respect for the guy."

Just as he clearly does for the rest of the team as well.

Matchup: No. 1 Alabama (1-0) vs. Western Kentucky (1-0), 2:39 p.m. CT, SEC Network

On the line: After beating then-No. 8 Michigan handily last weekend, the Tide look to do the same against the Hilltoppers. Nick Saban doesn't care about his team's No. 1 ranking—in fact it makes him cranky when people talk or write about it—but a convincing win should keep the Tide atop the polls for another week. The Tide need a big win heading into SEC play the following week on the road against Arkansas.

Alabama will win if…they play exactly like they did last weekend, minus the missed assignments on defense (the secondary gave up 72- and 42-yard bombs which turned into UM touchdowns). AJ McCarron was successful carrying out the play-action against Michigan and this weekend will provide another opportunity for Bama to work on its passing game. McCarron should exploit WKU's secondary and make big plays in the air.

Western Kentucky will win if…let's face it—it's a long shot for the Hilltoppers to upset the Tide, but don't tell Saban. Last week against Austin Peay, WKU rushed for only 69 yards, so it's safe to say the Hilltoppers plan to throw it against the Tide. This will be another good test for the inexperienced secondary. But unless Alabama totally flops thanks to a hangover from Week 1, WKU doesn't have a chance.

Prediction: Alabama will put this one away early, allowing second- and third-stringers valuable playing time.

Alabama 42, Western Kentucky 3


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