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Heavily Praised Alabama Tackling Bigger Mental Challenge Moving Forward

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For Alabama, from here on out, it's all about the goings-on between the ears.


Alabama 38, Georgia 10 made sure of that.

This Alabama team, as demonstrated by last week's romp, has talent. Lots of talent. On offense. On defense. On special teams. 

The two question marks going into the season were quarterback and the secondary. Against then-No. 8 Georgia last Saturday, Jake Coker completed 11 of 16 passes for 190 yards and, perhaps most importantly, no interceptions. The secondary gave up no TD throws and picked off three passes, returning one for a touchdown.

And Coker, Alabama's first-year starting QB, and Alabama's secondary, peppered with freshmen, are only getting better.


And the college football world has taken notice. Just like they took notice three weeks ago when Alabama self-destructed at home against Ole Miss and lost 43-37. In the two weeks following that defeat, Alabama was, in the words of head coach Nick Saban, 'buried' and left for dead by many.

Some wondered if Alabama's run of dominance was over. Some wondered if Saban had lost a little something. Some wondered if two, three or even four losses were in store for this identity-less, mistake-prone Alabama team this season.

Even the folks in Las Vegas lost some faith in the Crimson Tide, installing Alabama as an underdog for the first time in six years as it headed east to Athens.

Then came Alabama 38, Georgia 10. And, my, how things have changed ever since.

Now, this Alabama team is being viewed much, much differently. Some have Alabama being the SEC favorite now, despite the fact that three other teams in the league (Texas A&M, LSU and Florida) are currently undefeated. Some have Alabama earning one of the four College Football Playoff spots come December. Some have Alabama winning out.

And, oh yeah, Arkansas is coming to town this weekend. And, no, Alabama is no underdog this time. Far from it. The Tide are favored by 17.

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Related: Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

Yes, Alabama is in a different world now than where it was living just over a week ago. And it's a world Saban is none too fond of. To him, it's a distracting world. A world that challenges everything he preaches to his players.

He wants his guys armed with mental intensity and focus when they roll out on to the field and line up against the competition. Mental intensity. Focus. Saban just can't seem to say those words enough. To his players. To anybody.

And when his guys fail. Either on one particular play or in an entire game. He's quick to remind them why.

"Look at our game last week, we lost focus for one play," Saban said Thursday night. "One play we didn't have the linebackers in the right gap — a play that we had already defended 6-8 times in the game for no more than 10 yards a gain out of six times. And then it goes for 83 yards for a touchdown. So one play you lose focus. That's how fast it can go bad."

Alabama's season? It can conceivably go bad just as fast. All it takes is one Saturday without mental intensity and focus. Saban knows that. He just hopes Alabama players and fans know that as well.

"Everybody asks me, 'Why is college football the way it is?' Why does this team win big this week and then the next week they don't play very well?'" he said. "It's because of a lack of focus — an inability to stay focused which comes from mental intensity and energy based on what you want to accomplish and what you want to do. So this is the challenge for us and this is the challenge for our team."

The fact that seemingly everyone went from thinking this Alabama team is enormously flawed to thinking this team is head-and-shoulders above everyone else on its schedule is, in the mind of Saban, enemy No. 1 when it comes to maintaining mental intensity and focus.

"I wish everybody around here every time they saw one of our players would say, 'Man, Arkansas is really good. You guys are gonna have to play really good this week,' instead of patting them on the back all the time, not thinking the other team's any good," Saban said. "... If you don't respect the opponent you're playing there's no way you're gonna have the mental intensity and the energy to have the focus you need to be able to play well. It's not gonna happen. Not gonna happen."

Saban, for one, thinks this Arkansas team, despite its 2-3 record, is extremely formidable and dangerous. After dropping three in a row, Arkansas got back in the win column last week with a 24-20 victory at Tennessee last Saturday.

But it was Arkansas' near win over undefeated Texas A&M two weeks ago that really told the Alabama coach everything he needed to know about the Hogs.

"(Texas) A&M is in the top 10, and A&M beat them in overtime," Saban said of the Razorbacks. "They had an opportunity to win the game in regulation. So this is a team that's a very, very good team, very capable of beating anybody they play."

Will anybody believe Saban? Everyone's gonna find out Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium if his players did.

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.