Alabama figures to get a reprieve from the stress of all those close games with championship hopes on the line.
That is, of course, not the desired situation for the eighth-ranked Crimson Tide (8-2, No. 8 CFP), which hosts Austin Peay (7-3) on Saturday with its Southeastern Conference and national title hopes already kaput.
Now, the pressure needs to be more internal than external, though Alabama still has shots at reaching 10-plus wins and a prominent bowl game.
“I think it comes down to a lot of things that we talked about last week in terms of, are you going to define your identity as a football player and as a football team?" Tide coach Nick Saban said. “Or are you gonna let other people do it?”
The Tide's closing games with Austin Peay and an Auburn team that is now 4-6 mean only a big upset could keep Saban & Co. from reaching 10 wins for the 15th consecutive season without waiting for a bowl.
“Just understanding that we go out there and we’re still playing for the team, still playing for the name on the jersey, name on the back of the jersey as well,” Alabama offensive tackle JC Latham said. “There’s still a lot of important things we can do as a team, and finishing strong is a really important emphasis.”
At least one team playing in Tuscaloosa on Saturday still has playoff hopes. Austin Peay is hoping to make the FCS field, and coach Scotty Walden believes his team is worthy.
“We are a playoff team. I know with all my heart and soul, we are a freaking playoff team," Walden said. “They just tell us where to go. You tell us to go to Maine, Vermont, or wherever the heck you want. The Govs are going to show up, man, anyone, anytime.”
Saban would never come out and say it publicly, but this game should afford a chance for backup quarterbacks Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson to audition for the starting job. Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, is projected as a high NFL draft pick if he leaves early.
Milroe started the Texas A&M game when Young was nursing a shoulder injury. The freshman Simpson only saw brief action against Utah State.
Tyler Harrell hasn’t had anything approaching his expected impact on Alabama’s offense, thanks to a preseason injury and inability to climb his way back up the depth chart. This game might afford the Louisville transfer more chances.
The speedy Harrell has gotten on the field the past three games, making a 12-yard catch in his debut against Mississippi State.
“I think we need to find ways to try to use him in certain situations that could be helpful to giving us some explosive, vertical plays down the field, which there’s been a lack of recently,” Saban said.
STREAKS ON THE LINE
Alabama has won 55 consecutive regular-season nonconference games, including 41 straight at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Austin Peay has won 11 straight November games, including a 5-0 mark under Walden.
200 x 2
The Governors are averaging 202.3 rushing yards and 243.3 passing yards per game. They could become the first team in program history to average both 200 yards rushing and passing.
Alabama is tied with Auburn for last in the SEC with three interceptions and ranks 123rd nationally with only nine forced turnovers. Tide safety Brian Branch said the defenders could still turn that around for the final few games.
"As one comes, a lot is going to come after that. So we’re just going to keep working on it," Branch said.
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