No. 2 Alabama opens SEC play against heavy underdog Vandy
Nick Saban wants more of the same from Alabama players in at least one regard.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide’s coach is hoping they’ll ignore the oddsmakers ahead of Saturday night’s game with Vanderbilt, which they seemed to do fairly well in an obvious mismatch with Louisiana-Monroe.
“I was really pleased with the energy that our players played with in the last game,” Saban said. “They could have come out and just said, ‘Look at who we’re playing’ and not played to the standard that we’re trying to create, which we tried to emphasize.”
It might be easy for the Tide (3-0) to overlook the nearly six-touchdown underdog Commodores (3-1), who have dropped the past 22 meetings and 21 consecutive Southeastern Conference games. It’s the SEC opener for both teams.
Alabama scored on a blocked punt, a punt return and an interception return.in its 63-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Clark Lea’s second Vandy team has already topped last year’s two wins. This could be a gauge of how far the program has come in that short period, even if Alabama makes for a tough measuring stick.
FACING FORMER TEAMMATES
Both teams have a starter who would have been on the opposite sidelines early in their college careers. Former Vanderbilt offensive lineman Tyler Steen is starting at left tackle for the Tide.
Commodores kicker Joseph Bulovas played in 26 games for Alabama from 2017-20.
Saban thinks the second-year Vandy coach Lea has “changed the whole culture of the program” in his short tenure.
“Their guys play with a lot of confidence,” the Alabama coach said. “They play well together as a team. You can tell they’ve got really good team chemistry.”
A FRESHMAN QB
Lea named junior Mike Wright as his starting quarterback at SEC Media Days in July. That lasted until the fourth game of the season, when Lea switched to freshman AJ Swann, who became only the second SEC true freshman to throw for at least four touchdowns in his first career start. He also became only the third Vanderbilt quarterback to throw for at least 250 yards and four TDs on the road since 1996.
Now, he heads to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“There’s no stage too big,” Lea said. “I mean, he’s shown it from the day he set foot on campus, the first practice, the first workout.”
Lea has coached against, and played, Alabama before. He was defensive coordinator for Notre Dame when Alabama routed the Fighting Irish 31-14 in the College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl.
His first start playing at Vanderbilt was against Alabama at home, and Lea said the Tide apparently circled his number and planned to kick to him. Lea had a 10-yard return and a 24-yard return and was met by then-coach Bobby Johnson halfway off the sideline unhappy that his fullback was handling kicks.
Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. won the turnover pool with his pick-six against Louisiana-Monroe.
“It’s crazy because in the locker room before the game, we were talking as a defense: Everybody has to put in $20 for whoever gets the first turnover,” Anderson said. “I got the first turnover so it’s like everybody has to give get me $20.”
As of early in the week, he was still waiting to collect.
“They keep bringing up this NIL stuff saying ‘Will Anderson doesn’t need it,’” he said. “That’s horse crap, so I’m going to get my $20 out of everybody.’”
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this report.
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