Steven M. Sipple: Like Osborne, Saban forever pursues perfection

2013-01-08T23:45:00Z 2013-06-11T19:04:12Z Steven M. Sipple: Like Osborne, Saban forever pursues perfection JournalStar.com

Nick Saban was shouting and carrying on. You saw his neck veins bulging, arms flailing. He was in the face of an official.

Never mind that his team led by four touchdowns during the fourth quarter Monday night.

Tom Osborne wasn't surprised at all as he watched the Alabama head coach's demonstrative sideline behavior continue deep into the warm Florida night.

"I know Nick well enough that he doesn't care whether the score is 35-10 or 0-0," the former Nebraska head coach said Tuesday. "I think he's after perfection. So he doesn't let up until the game's over.

"I mean, he's trying to maximize performance, which is what you've got to do. You can't look at the scoreboard and decide whether you're going to get upset or not. If you're really a competitor, you're after perfection on every play."

Osborne said he tried to operate that way as Nebraska's head coach from 1973-97.

"Nick and I aren't the same type of people," Osborne said. "But if I had my third string in there, I was just as interested in those players executing as perfectly as they could."

Osborne and Saban's approach seems to work reasonably well. In dismantling Notre Dame 42-14, Alabama captured its third BCS Championship in four years, matching Nebraska's standard of excellence accomplished in 1994, 1995 and 1997.

"I would hate to say one stretch is better than another," Osborne said. "I was probably a little too close to the situation to be able to analyze it objectively."

One must consider several factors, and I'm not here to compare in-depth. Not in this column, anyway. On the surface, though, Nebraska was unbeaten and untied in each of its 1990s championship seasons. Alabama was unbeaten in only 2009.

Nebraska, however, had only one conference championship game to contend with, a 54-15 win against Texas A&M in 1997. Alabama won the SEC Championship Game in 2009 and this season.

We could carry on the debate throughout the offseason, even well into next season. Make no mistake, Alabama's run of titles could continue in 2013, as the Crimson Tide returns no fewer than seven starters on each side of the ball. Saban's team no doubt will be the preseason No. 1.

On the other hand, the 1997 Nebraska team graduated a wealth of talent, so it wasn't necessarily a surprise the title run ended. Defensive linemen Jason Peter and Grant Wistrom completed their eligibility, as did four starting offensive linemen and quarterback Scott Frost. The Huskers, amid a slew of injuries, finished 9-4 in 1998.

Alabama's talent level is reminiscent of Nebraska's championship teams.

But I tend to agree with those like Kirk Herbstreit, who on Tuesday said, "Because of the competition in the SEC, I've never seen the run that Bama's on right now. This machine is not slowing down."

What sets the top few teams in the SEC apart from the rest of the country is high-grade defensive linemen, Osborne said. He is right on. The top SEC teams don't have just four or five excellent defensive linemen; they often have as many as eight or nine.

Just ask Nebraska coach Bo Pelini what he had in the trenches as LSU's defensive coordinator in 2007, when the Tigers won all the marbles.

Alabama's athletic defensive linemen showed their speed chasing fleet Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. His longest run covered 5 yards.

However, Osborne noted that Alabama in the second half was unable to consistently generate a significantly disruptive pass rush, except when it blitzed.

"If they just put out their four (linemen) and let them go, I didn't see anybody that I would say would be better or maybe even as good as Wistrom and Peter," Osborne said. "Those two guys weren't going to let a guy stand around back there (in the pocket) very long."

Of Nebraska's 1990s championship outfits, the 1997 team arguably possessed the best and deepest defensive line. In addition to Peter and Wistrom, the Huskers received ample production from ends Mike Rucker, Chad Kelsay, and Kyle Vanden Bosch, as well as tackles Jason Wiltz and Steve Warren.

Pop in videotape of the Nebraska title teams. They were loaded with eye-popping talent — yes, much like Alabama now.

"It looked to me (Monday) like they had all the dimensions of the game in pretty good shape," Osborne said, pointing first to kick coverage and the lack of penalties and turnovers.

"They're obviously a very complete team."

Ever the stickler — as is the case with many great  coaches — Osborne noted Alabama "let up a little bit" on defense late in the game.

Human nature kicked in — much to Saban's displeasure, evidently.

"You are always wanting your players to focus on being the very best they can be," Osborne said. "I see that in Nick quite a bit."

Osborne watched it deep into a historic Monday night.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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