University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban
Clemson Game Week Press Conference Partial Transcript
August 25, 2008
â€œWeâ€™re certainly excited to be in game week. Saturdayâ€™s game is certainly a challenging game for us, but I think the big thing is that weâ€™re going to find out a lot about who we are. You know, the identity of our team. Who can lead through adversity? Who can play through adversity? Who can finish? Who can execute regardless of the circumstances in the game? Finish plays? Finish the game? How are you seen as a competitor? What is the identity of the team? How can you sustain intensity, intelligence, a sense of urgency every play? How are you seen as a competitor? How are we seen as competitors? So, from that standpoint, itâ€™s really all about our team.
â€œNow, obviously, the team that we play is going to be a tremendous test for us. Clemson has got an outstanding team. Theyâ€™re a Top 10 team. Tommy Bowden has done a fantastic job there in the 10 years that heâ€™s been there as coach. Their offensive team has tremendous skill players. (C.J.) Spiller and (James) Davis are as fine a runningback combination, tandem, whatever you want to call them, as anyone in the country. (Aaron) Kelly is certainly a fantastic wide receiver. Cullen Harper is probably as fine a quarterback as there is in the country and will be certainly drafted very high in the NFL draft next year, maybe the first quarterback taken in the draft.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got eight starters back on defense. And their defense: everybody talks about Clemsonâ€™s offense and they do have great skill players, but defensively there were ranked in the top 10 in most categories last year. They were 10th in scoring defense. Turnover margin, which is always important in winning and losing, they were one of the top teams in the country. I think they were 9th in turnover margin. So this is a very good all-around team.
â€œOn special teams theyâ€™ve got both their specialists back and theyâ€™ve been very sound and solid on special teams. So this is an outstanding football team and is certainly going to be a challenge for us, but, again, I think itâ€™s about who we are and what we try to establish as an identity for ourselves. And that should be the challenge that our players take to the game.
â€œPractice preparation went well on Friday and Saturday. From an injury standpoint, Charlie Higgenbotham should be back at practice today, so, therefore, we donâ€™t have issues. I donâ€™t know if weâ€™ve already released the depth chart or if we are going to release the depth chart but where it says â€˜orâ€™ guys, â€˜orâ€™ means â€˜or.â€™ I donâ€™t know if I need to define â€˜orâ€™ for you, but it means â€˜or.â€™ It means both of those guys are still competing at that position. If you ask me about those guys and it says â€˜or,â€™ Iâ€™m going to have to say that obviously both guys have done enough as players that they are competing at that position and we respect what they have done at that position and they continue to compete at that position. And hypothetical questions about â€˜orâ€™ are not going to be answered because thatâ€™s going to be determined throughout the rest of the week in practice. Itâ€™s as simple as that.
â€œNick Fanuzzi has been talking to us for several days and heâ€™s decided to transfer. Nick is a fine young man. (He) Did an outstanding job here for us. We certainly hate to see him leave the program because every characteristic, every value that we try to instill in the program, he certainly represents. (Heâ€™s a) Great team player and did a really good job here, and weâ€™re sorry to see him go. But at the same time, we wish him well and we will help him every way that we can get some place where he feels he has a better opportunity to compete. We wish him, and his family, both well.â€
On the depth chart, Julio (Jones) is listed first at receiver. When did you realize Julio would be a starter, and, also, talk about what kind of contribution you see him making on special teams.
â€œFirst of all, Julio did an outstanding job coming in here in camp. He worked hard in the summer. He was in good shape. Heâ€™s been able to sustain his performance. Heâ€™s consistently made plays in practice as well as both scrimmages, and I think probably after the first scrimmage it was pretty evident that he was going to have some role as one of the three receivers that we use quite a bit. And I think this last week he certainly solidified his position as a starter. He and Mike McCoy have been our two best receivers throughout this camp in terms of consistency, how theyâ€™ve competed, how many plays theyâ€™ve made, so those two guys deserve to be the starters. And he probably solidified that position this past week in practice.â€
Regarding special teams:
â€œWeâ€™re going to use him on kickoff returns some with Javier (Arenas), but I think we have some other guys that we can use in that role. He does a really good job of fielding the ball on punts, so he is the back-up punt returner right now. Kareem Jackson can do that very well. Marquis Maze has worked back there. We have other players (such as) B.J. Scott who have worked back there and (who) we will continue to develop as returners. But right now if we played the game today, he would go in there as the back-up punt return guy.â€
What kind of things do you preach to the defense about stopping guys like (C.J.) Spiller and (James) Davis ?
â€œI think the first thing thatâ€™s important is when theyâ€™ve struggled to run the ball and make big plays, thatâ€™s when theyâ€™ve had the least amount of success offensively. Even though they are a very balanced offensive team, and they have a tremendous ability to make big plays throwing the football, the whole synergy of their teams seems to center around those guys making great plays. Theyâ€™re also good pass receivers, so itâ€™s not like theyâ€™re void in the passing game. But I think itâ€™s pretty easy to show the defensive players that if we stop the run in this game, this is going to give us the best chance to be successful on defense. I think our players have a tremendous amount of respect for both these guys and what they do well. We just have to prepare to do a good job of keeping leverage and staying in our gaps and tackling well and those are the things that usually contribute to being able to stop good runners. And you certainly canâ€™t make mental errors and be in the wrong place.â€
Your offensive line depth chart last year was both horizontal and vertical, meaning Antoine ( Caldwell ) could shift outside. How much of that is in your offensive line depth chart this year?
â€œThe basic one issue going into this game that I still think that because Mike Johnson has had so much experience at tackle, that if we lost a tackle in the game we would move him out to tackle rather than playing one of the young guys right now. Weâ€™re really impressed with the development of the young players but to throw them in the frying pan right now, we might be better served. (Brian) Motley has made really good progress, especially since weâ€™ve kind of been playing him at guard rather than center. So thatâ€™s been helpful to him. David Ross has also done a good job at right guard. So, even though we hate moving the guys around in the offensive line, I think if something happened to a tackle, Mike Johnson would give us the best option at back-up tackle right now at this point in the season.â€
What has Donâ€™ta Hightower shown you defensively thatâ€™s heâ€™s on top of the Will position?
â€œThe guyâ€™s a very bright guy. Heâ€™s learned a lot and been able to execute and not get affected and frustrated. Heâ€™s a very good athlete. Heâ€™s very physical. Heâ€™s got good size. Heâ€™s very instinctive. And he and Rolando (McLain) give us two really good inside backers. Not meaning to make any comparisons, but heâ€™s the type of young player that seems to be able to come in and get it, learn it, take it to the field. Heâ€™s a great competitor. It really bothers him when he doesnâ€™t do things correctly, and I think guys like that tend to develop a little more quickly but they still manage their frustration where it doesnâ€™t affect their next play, and heâ€™s done a good job from that standpoint.
â€œThe Chris Jordan move has worked out really, really well, as well, in terms of being his back-up, but we also could move Cory Reamer back to that position if we needed to, but thatâ€™s not something that we would plan on doing right now.â€
How much has Javier Arenas improved as a defensive back and now starting at cornerâ€”do you think he can make a name for himself more as a defensive back?
â€œHeâ€™s done very well for us. I canâ€™t predict the future in terms of what he might do or what he might be, but heâ€™s certainly been a very consistent player. Heâ€™s got great quickness. Heâ€™s got good understanding. Heâ€™s a great competitor. He works hard every day. (Heâ€™s) Probably one of the hardest-working guys we have on the team. Heâ€™s got good instincts. Heâ€™s playing multiple positions, corner and Star which takes a lot more focus on his part because they are completely different position. But heâ€™s done an outstanding job for us and hopefully heâ€™ll have a great year for us playing both as a returner and as a starter in the secondary.â€
Whatâ€™s your experience in dealing with Rob Spenceâ€™s offense (Clemsonâ€™s offensive coordinator)? What are the tendencies of what he likes to do offensively?
â€œI donâ€™t have any experience dealing with it. Iâ€™ve known him ever since heâ€™s been back at Toledo but– past my time at Toledoâ€”I think one thing he does a really good job of (is) they have a tremendous amount of multiples in their offense. They use a lot of different personnel groups, a lot of different formations. Utilizes the players that he has and when he has good skill players, that makes him even more effective. But this team probably when you take the cumulative effect of all that they doâ€”and they do a good job of executing, so Iâ€™m saying this in a positive wayâ€”that the way they present themselves each week is always a challenge to the defense from an adjustment standpoint in terms of how they use their players and the formations they use. The multiples of this team are probably as great as anybody that we play.â€
And from Alabama â€™s perspective, does that affect, meaning last year nickel and dime alignments, would it affect that?
â€œWell, they use three wide receivers and four wide receivers a lot. So that usually puts you in that circumstance and situation.â€
Ideally, how would you like to use the running backs this year, and, is there a third down guy in that group?
â€œWe feel like we have four running backs that have really made good progress throughout the course of camp. Roy Upchurch has had a really good camp and done a really good job all the way around as a player, also as a special teams players heâ€™s probably one of our core guys that is outstanding. And we have total faith, trust and confidence in him to play even though heâ€™s listed a little below the rest. Terry Grant and Mark Ingram, Mark Ingram has probably been the surprise of all the young players in terms of his maturity as a player. Heâ€™s elusive. He has speed but he has power and tremendous toughness and heâ€™s a good receiver so heâ€™s a very, very good all-around guy. Youâ€™ve seen a lot of Terry Grant. You know what he can do. And Glen Coffee is â€˜Mr. Consistencyâ€™ for us in terms of being able to do just about everything, whether itâ€™s being a good receiver, being a good blocker and being decent with the ball in his hands. So we donâ€™t have a third down back in that bunch. We feel like several of those guys can play that role, and we certainly need to figure out ways to use these guys throughout the course of the season because we feel good about that group of guys this year.â€
Starting with such a big game, how does it work with confidence if you win or should you guys happen to lose?
â€œI think that the big thing is who you are, what I said before: finding about yourself in terms of how you compete, how you play, who the leaders are. So itâ€™s really more about our team and winning or losing really doesnâ€™t determine that. How the guys play on individual plays, how they compete, how they can refocus. Can you go out there and give five seconds and do it multiple times and not be affected when you donâ€™t have success? Be able to deal with success when you so that your consistency and performance and your ability to finish is better. This is one game in the season. The way I figure it, you can win and go 1-11. You can lose and go 11-1. And I know that doesnâ€™t make good media coverage, but thatâ€™s the fact of the matter. Obviously we want to win. I think our players want to win. Thatâ€™s what we work hard for. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re preparing for. Itâ€™s really more about finding out who we are and where weâ€™ve got to go to get to where we want to be.â€