TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama football coach Nick Saban mentioned on multiple occasions last week that his players worked too hard in practice for fans not to stay the full 60 minutes each Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Saban had a specific focus on the student section, which was less than half full midway through the third quarter on Oct. 5 when the Crimson Tide pounded Georgia State 45-3. During Saturday's 45-10 thumping of Tennessee, one sign in the student section read, "Saban, We'll stay for 60 if you stay FOREVER."
"That sounds like a good deal to me," a smiling Saban said afterward when told of the message. "I love it here, and I'm too damn old to go someplace else and start all over, I can tell you that. The whole Alabama community has embraced us from the first day we've been here, and we appreciate that.
"I'm not really at a stage in my career where I'm looking for some other big challenge."
Crimson Tide crowds have been sparse in recent fourth quarters as a result of night games that quickly turn into blowouts. Their only afternoon kickodd at home before Saturday was against Georgia State, and Alabama has won its five Bryant-Denny games over Colorado State, Ole Miss, Georgia State, Arkansas and Tennessee by a combined 198-19.
The university pulled blocked-seating privileges in the student section for Saturday's game, so it was first come, first served.
"I want people to support our team," Saban said. "We've always had great fans here who have always supported our team, and we appreciate it and the players appreciate it. I think the image of your whole program when people don't stay and support the team gets affected a little bit, and we're always going to fight for what we think is in the best interests of our program."
Center of attention
Sophomore center Ryan Kelly returned to the starting lineup for the first time since injuring his knee Sept. 28 against Ole Miss. There didn't seem to be any adjustment period, as Kelly helped the Tide reel off 22 plays for 183 yards and three touchdowns on their first three possessions.
"After we got some positive plays and scored every time, I just felt normal again," Kelly said.
The Tide rushed for 204 yards against the Volunteers and have now rushed for more than 200 yards in all five games this season against SEC opposition. Kelly believes the line he returned to is noticeably better than the one he left. Chad Lindsay started while Kelly was out, and the line has yet to give up a sack since the Ole Miss game.
"The chemistry we have now together -- I can tell a difference," Kelly said.
Impressed by Dobbs
Several Alabama defensive players were impressed by Tennessee freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs, who entered the game at the start of the third quarter and led the Volunteers to 10 second-half points.
"He's an athletic quarterback who could pull it in and run it, but at the same time he could throw," cornerback Deion Belue said. "We had to make an adjustment to him. He gave them more options and got them rolling pretty good, so I think he gave them a good turnaround."
Said defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan: "He made the game faster. He could string plays out and make them longer, and that helped their team make bigger plays."
A first for Griffith
Former Calhoun High School kicker Adam Griffith made the first field goal of his Crimson Tide career, connecting from 20 yards out with 6:05 remaining to cap the scoring. The redshirt freshman missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt against Georgia State and has made four extra points this season, including one Saturday.
Saban said starting kicker Cade Foster got kicked in the shin against the Vols but is expected to be fine.
"We have every confidence that we have two really good kickers," Saban said, "and we've used them both in games before."
Alabama increased its series lead over Tennessee to 50-38-7 and has a seven-game win streak, which matches the Tide's 1986-92 run. ... The Crimson Tide have posted first-half shutouts in nine of their last 12 games dating back to last season. ... Alabama had scored 104 consecutive points until Tennessee's field goal less than three minutes into the second quarter. ... Senior receiver Kevin Norwood had six receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown in what was his first career 100-yard game.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524