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Nick Saban wasn’t happy. So, unhappy, he revisited one of his most memorable viral comments last week.

You know the one: Rat poison.

That could only mean one thing, that an overmatched opponent was headed to Tuscaloosa.

It’s a familiar script, but keep in mind that it’s not just a psychological trick employed by the Crimson Tide coach to get his team’s attention. He’s sounded similar alarms throughout the preseason. Why? Because repeating as national champion is quite hard to do. In college football, no one’s done it since — Alabama, of course — nearly a decade ago.

Top-ranked Alabama did nothing to damage its standing as the No. 1 team in the nation in a 48-14 demolition of FCS Mercer on Saturday. Certainly, Saban’s public concerns about effort, attitude and entitlement resonated with his defense, which dominated early before becoming discombobulated with the game out of hand.

But after dismantling a ranked Miami team in last week’s opener, the Alabama offense took a step back.

And still led 31-0 at halftime.

A week ago, quarterback Bryce Young was labeled the Heisman Trophy frontrunner after a record-setting debut. Against Mercer, he was average. That wasn’t all on him.

The Alabama offensive line struggled with protection. Receivers dropped throws. And the sophomore quarterback wasn’t as precise as he was facing the Hurricanes. Even kicker Will Reichard saw his consecutive field goal streak of 19 come to an end.

What did look good was the effort of first-team running back Brian Robinson, after waiting a career to be a starter. Trey Sanders, whose future was in doubt after a horrific 2020 car accident, also looked like the real deal. The former is a testament to patience. The latter, a tribute to hard work on the most arduous of rehabs.

And then was Jase McClellan, another backup, whose stats belied his production. Of his first six touches, three ended up in the end zone. One, of course, came on a 33-yard return of a punt block.

As for the defense, the biggest negative came early in the second half, when pass-rusher extraordinaire Will Anderson left the field with a noticeable limp from a lower leg injury. He headed to the on-field medical tent, then the locker room, condition initially unknown.

That’s the nightmare scenario of a paycheck game. The bonus goes a long way to support the Mercers of the world but offers little in terms of reward whether you win by one or 60.

With or without Anderson, Alabama returns to more equitable competition a week from now with a visit to The Swamp. Florida may have found a quarterback Saturday in freshman Anthony Richardson, although Emory Jones reportedly remains the starter.

This will likely be a rant-free week for Saban because big games bring clarity to 19- and 20-year-olds. But listen closely in the weeks ahead. Few coaches tell you how they feel more clearly than he does.

When he talks about players not buying in and referring to sloppy practices, he’s not sending Morse code. He’s telling you what he sees – as he first did in 2010, when Alabama performed well below expectations.

Consider yourself forewarned.

Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.

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