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Saban has his way yet again as Alabama beats up Arkansas

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- During Nick Saban's regular Thursday night radio show we were treated to yet another example of why many consider him to be the best coach in college football.

Saban doesn't just coach the players at Alabama. He coaches his coaches. He coaches the training staff. He coaches the academic staff. He coaches the guy who takes out the trash at the Mal Moore football complex.

Alabama football has only one voice and it is Saban's. And everyone -- absolutely everyone -- listens very intently when Nick Saban speaks.

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On Thursday night as he was wrapping up the broadcast Saban started coaching Alabama's fans. And he was coaching them hard.

The head coach made his desires clear. Saban wanted the fans there early for Saturday's SEC opener against Arkansas. He wanted them to be loud. He wanted Bobby Petrino to have to go to a silent count and he wanted the Arkansas quarterback, Tyler Wilson, to feel rattled in his first career start in an SEC venue. Just to make sure no one within the sound of his voice misunderstood Saban said: "And that's every ass in every seat for the whole game."

Message delivered and understood.

There is a reason that Saban, in his fifth season at Alabama, already has a statue at the North end of Bryant-Denny Stadium along with Bear Bryant and the other three coaches who have won national championships at the school. The fans, as instructed, showed up early and they made noise. They played a role in No. 2 Alabama's dominating 38-14 victory over the No. 14 Razorbacks.

"This was a team effort and I'm talking about everybody in the organization -- our players our coaches and our fans," Saban said. "I can't thank our crowd enough. They were great and they had a real effect on the game."

Offensive tackle Barrett Jones agreed: "Our crowd was in the game for 60 minutes and I could tell they had an impact on what Arkansas was trying to do. We fed off of their energy."

Saban, who does not gush over victories, was very pleased with this one because of the resourcefulness and resiliency Alabama showed every time that Arkansas tried to make it a game.

At halftime Alabama led 17-7 and had a grand total of 89 yards of total offense. Alabama's two touchdowns came on a fake field goal and a pick six of 25 yards by cornerback DeQuan Menzie. Menzie's return for an interception came right after Alabama had a 77-yard drive down to the Arkansas 1-foot line and had to settle for a field goal.

"We were disappointed that we didn't score but you could tell that the momentum turned after that [interception]," Menzie said. "That [play] is something I've been dreaming about a long, long time."

Saban said, "The game completely changed after DQ's play."

Any hope of an Arkansas rally ended early in the third quarter when Saban made a subtle change right before an Alabama punt return. Marquis Maze took the punt back 83 yards for a touchdown to make the score 24-7.

"It was wide open and we blocked it perfectly," Maze said. "All I had to do was run up the middle."

A 63-yard run on a screen pass to Trent Richardson made the score 31-7 and Saban didn't have to coach the crowd any more. Their work was done.

It was a difficult pill to swallow for Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. A year ago in Fayetteville, Arkansas was in control of the game against Alabama entering the fourth quarter. But Ryan Mallett threw two interceptions and Alabama rallied from a 10-point deficit to win 24-20.

Early in Saturday's game it appeared that Petrino had solved the riddle of Saban's complex defense. Wilson was almost flawless, completing 11 of 12 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.

But before this season is over this defense could turn out to be Saban's best at Alabama. Once Alabama got a working lead, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart brought more pressure and -- to put it gently -- Wilson took quite a beating. He completed 22 of 35 passes for only 185 yards. He'll spend a long time in the hot tub Sunday.

Arkansas, which lost All-SEC running back Knile Davis before the season, certainly missed him. Arkansas rushed for 17 net yards on 19 carries.

"People say Arkansas is a great passing team and they are," Saban said. "But the No. 1 goal of our defense was to stop the run and make them one dimensional. And we did a good job with that."

Petrino, who took the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl last season, has beaten every coach in the SEC West save one. He's 0-4 against Saban.

"They beat us. They beat us in all three phases of the game," Petrino said. "They made big plays and we didn't. We just couldn't get anything established today."

There is virtually no time for Alabama to enjoy the first steppingstone in what it hopes is a national championship journey. The Crimson Tide goes to Florida next week where The Swamp promises to be loud and new Coach Will Muschamp will be seeking his first signature victory as the Gators' coach.

But as the shadows began to creep into Bryant-Denny Stadium on a perfect first Saturday of Fall, it was hard not to think about Nov. 5. That's when No. 2 LSU, another team that appears to be an overwhelming physical machine, visits Tuscaloosa. If both teams can avoid stumbling between now and then, it will likely be nothing less than a quarterfinal game for the BCS national championship.

"I'm pleased with the way we played tonight but we have a lot of good teams to play and a lot of good players we're going to have to stop," Saban said. "People are going to see what we do and figure out ways to deal with it. Our challenge is to get better every day."

The post-game chat was vintage Saban. Since coming to Alabama, Saban has talked about "the process." And the process for Alabama (and its fans) is to not think about the goal at the end of the season. It is to get ready for the next meeting, the next practice, the next game.

That's the Saban Way. You have to say it is working. In four plus seasons at Alabama he's 42-11 with an SEC championship and a national championship.

And a statue. And as long as Saban's Way is working, everyone here is damned sure going to listen.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Wednesday at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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