MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Crimson Tide is coming off a nail-biting win in Starkville, Mississippi Saturday night.
The Tide pulled off a 31-24 win over Mississippi State, scoring a touchdown with under a minute to play, and improving to 10-0 on the season. Saturday's win and a Georgia loss moved Alabama up to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 college football rankings.
The victory didn't come easy for the Tide, who were without four key linebackers in the game.
Injuries have plagued the Alabama team all season, but head coach Nick Saban looks at it as an opportunity for perseverance.
"We responded and kept playing in the game," Saban said. "One of the things we talked about before this last game is 'Can you thrive on hard?' Knowing that you're going to be in difficult circumstances and you're going to have hard things happen whether it's in life or a competitive sport, are you going to respond the right way to that and look at that as an opportunity to thrive?"
Saban said the freshmen who have stepped up are playing well. They're improving on their ability with the extra experience they're getting and have proven to be a positive for the team.
"Those guys have provided a tremendous amount of depth and in some cases, filled in very admirably for guys when they're called on," Saban said.
The players with experience have stepped up, too. Saban said he's happy with how the defense has forced turnovers and how the offense has protected the ball. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has only one turnover all season, an interception he thew against Arkansas on Oct. 14.
"The first thing we talk about in every game we play is [protecting] the ball," Saban said.
That's one of the several focus points for Alabama this week in preparing for Mercer. Saban says there will be more focus on fundamentals, technique and execution at every position.
"We want to use this as an opportunity for us to go out and develop confidence in our execution by the knowledge and experience we gain in this particular game," Saban said.
He said Mercer is a well-coached team that knows what it wants to do and how to do it.
"They do a good job of executing," Saban said.
For the Tide, Saban said they'll do what's necessary to put players in a position to be successful.
The 5-5 Mercer Bears kept it close when they played the Auburn Tigers, Alabama's opponent next week, but Saban isn't letting that distract him from his own preparation for the Tide.
"We need to always have respect for whatever team we're playing," Saban said. "That should certainly not determine the standard of how you play in terms of who you're playing. It should be the standard you set for yourself in terms of how you want to play. I think that's going to be important for us as we continue to try to develop momentum as we go through and finish the season."
Alabama hosts Mercer 11 a.m. Saturday on SEC Network. It will be the last game at home for the Tide.