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October 27, 2009TUSCALOOSA _ The last week the University of Alabama football team wasn't preparing for a Saturday game, Sen. Ted Kennedy died, Chicago still thought it had a great chance to land the 2016 Summer Olympics and football fans were arguing about Brett Favre ending another retirement to sign with the Minnesota Vikings.
Granted, No. 2 Alabama is 8-0 (5-0 Southeastern Conference), but the 2009 regular season has been a grind.
"You don't really see it on the field, and you don't want to make excuses like that, but when you get home and just don't want to stand up, or go up stairs or anything," senior right tackle Drew Davis said. "You're, 'Ok, I need a break.'"
Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, the bye week has finally arrived, and unlike some years it appears to be at the perfect time. To a man, everyone on the team has been feeling the effects of having played eight straight games, with the last three against physically-tough opponents.
They're all using the same word, "tired."
"It's big," senior punter P.J. Fitzgerald said. "I don't know how the position players feel, they hit every play, but my legs are tired."
"We're not really beat up right now, we have bumps and bruises, but we're just tired," senior nose tackle Terrence Cody said. "We're tired and sluggish right now."
One way it's shown up statistically is in time of possession. Although Alabama still leads the conference in the category (32.35 average), and is still ninth nationally, the last two opponents, South Carolina and Tennessee, had the ball more.
That's more than a point of pride for the Tide, which considers ball control an essential part of its strategy and basic philosophy.
"We were running on fumes the last game," Coach Nick Saban said. "I could see it in the players in the meetings last week, they struggled to pay attention. It's not just physical, it's probably more mental than physical."
Alabama has played three ranked teams with No. 7 Virginia Tech, No. 20 Ole Miss and No. 22 South Carolina (rankings from when the games were played), and five straight conference opponents without a break.
That's why senior guard Mike Johnson warned a week ago that it was a good thing the bye was coming, because even though Alabama believes it always gets everyone's best shot, Tennessee in particular is tough to recover from.
"I think they're better than their record shows," senior end Lorenzo Washington said. "It's tough playing any SEC opponent, any time. Top competition, top-notch week in and week out."
Although Saban doesn't like to go six weeks without some sort of break for his players, the schedule obviously didn't allow it this year. Consequently, he gave the team an extra day off before playing Kentucky on Oct. 3.
This week, in addition to rest and recovery, the team is holding three days of practices before taking the weekend off. Tuesday's workouts were shorter than usual inside the Hank Crisp Facility.
"Yeah, I think we all needed it," Washington said. "Coach said wants to make it a four-game season. Right now we're just working on fundamentals, getting back to the basics, getting healthy. After that, it's focusing on each week. It's not like we're 8-0, it's like we're 0-0 and playing Virginia Tech the first game of the season."
Last year the break came between Kentucky and Ole Miss on Oct. 11, and Alabama was able to finish the regular season 12-0. The next opponent, No. 9 LSU, was off Oct. 17, between losing to Florida and beating Auburn. It hosts Tulane on Saturday.
"We're happy to have it here," Davis said.