TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The biggest upset of Nick Saban’s Alabama tenure came eight years and three national champions ago.
That stunning loss to ULM during Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa is relevant now because of how far the 12th-ranked Crimson Tide has come since and because the Warhawks finally return Saturday. This one would represent a much bigger upset.
The Tide (2-1) is more focused on rebounding from last weekend’s loss to No. 3 Mississippi after twice coming back from big deficits. As 38-point underdogs — two touchdowns more than in that 21-14 stunner — the Warhawks (1-1) can perhaps get a little mental boost from history.
“You look all over social media and it’s popping up, the highlights and what not,” ULM tight end Harley Scioneaux said. “We can take away the fact that it can happen. I think it helps lead into the confidence going into the game that if we play well, we can beat them. They’re not invincible.”
For Alabama, the game falls between the loss and a road trip to No. 7 Georgia, which beat ULM 51-14 on Sept. 5. The Warhawks also upset No. 8 Arkansas in the 2012 opener.
The Tide lists the series as tied at 1-1 but actually had to vacate a 2006 win.
Alabama can also be mindful of the fact that it rebounded from last season’s loss to Ole Miss to win the SEC. Saban’s not sure if that knowledge will help current players.
“It depends on how they respond to the loss,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you.”
Here are some things to know about this game:
COKER VS COOPER: Saban has said he expects quarterback Jacob Coker to start his third game after giving way to Cooper Bateman against the Rebels. It might be a chance for Coker — or Bateman — to nail down the job before the first test on an opponent’s field. They’ve been splitting time.
REMEMBER 2007? Many Alabama fans can’t forget that game, after which a Louisiana billboard reading “Tide Rolled” trumpeted the upset. It might have been a turning point since the Tide played better against Auburn and won a bowl game before embarking on a remarkable stretch of success. Saban’s first LSU team suffered a similar humbling to UAB in 2000 and finished 6-2 the rest of the way.
“The problem with those games is these guys were in the sixth grade when that happened,” Saban said. “It was in the first year of our program in both cases. Hopefully our players will respond better to what we need to do and respect our opponents and go play the way they’re capable of playing.”
SMITH’S CHALLENGE: ULM’s redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Smith has completed 79 percent of his passes through two games. He also responded well against Georgia, going 23 of 29 for 206 yards and two touchdowns. This represents another challenge before 100,000 or so ’Bama fans.
FACING HENRY: The Warhawks have already faced one top SEC running back in Georgia’s Nick Chubb. Now, they’re readying for 242-pound Derrick Henry, who cornerback Trey Caldwell calls “probably the biggest (running back) we’ve ever faced.” Henry has run for a league-high seven touchdowns.
CLEANUP TIME: Coker and the Tide have to clean up their act after turning it over five times against Ole Miss. “Most of the players have responded the way you’d like for them to,” Saban said. “Hopefully we’ll get everybody else on board here as soon as possible.”