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The Tide found itself No. 1 in a regular-season poll for the first time in 28 years after racing to a 31-0 halftime lead at then-No. 3 Georgia and holding on for a 41-30 win.
"As we won games, we gained more confidence and that really helped us along the way," Johnson said.
The change went beyond that, though. The Tide steered clear of off-the-field problems and suspensions that plagued Saban's first season. Saban's hire of Jim McElwain as offensive coordinator also proved a nice move.
He also pulled in the nation's top-rated recruiting class, including such instant stars as All-America nose guard Terrence Cody, receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
Slipping into the Independence Bowl with a .500 record also gave Saban & Co. a second chance after four consecutive losses.
"It kind of gave us time to change things around," senior quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "I think we changed the attitude of the team. It changed our personality. It was a long, tough offseason. I'm glad I don't have to go through another one here."
The players also took Saban's words to heart.
"Everybody took on the mentality he was trying to get us to take on," Johnson said. "We went out and played well and won. That built momentum going into the offseason and let us know that if we just buy into what coach is telling us, we've got an opportunity to have a great team. I think everybody did it."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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