Iron Bowl: Nick Saban press conference & players

Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban Weekly Press Conference Transcript (courtesy of UA Media Relations)
Opening Comments:
“Very quickly, I was pleased with the way our team went out and we wanted to play Alabama football on Saturday, I think we did that. We were pleased with that. We had some players that had outstanding performances, Drew Davis, Julio Jones and Trent Richardson, who was honorable mention for the conference; and Rolando McClain and Javier Arenas, who was player of the week in the conference. Robert Lester did a good job on special teams, along with Leigh Tiffin.

“We need to move on quickly. I think the most important thing in a short week is efficiency in what we do and how we try and get prepared. I think our entire staff and our players are very aware of that.

“This is one of the best rivalry games in football, two great schools in a state that have had the opportunity to play for 100 years now. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their team and what they have done. They have made a tremendous amount of improvement this year. There is nothing really outside of this game that really matters this week. You can throw out the records, rankings, awards, nothing else really matters. This is kind of a state championship game, so to speak. I think it’s always a great football game. As I’ve said before we have a tremendous amount of respect for their team and what they’ve accomplished.

“Offensively, they have one of the best offensive teams in the conference. They are second in most categories, highly ranked in a lot of categories nationally. I think they are playing well on defense. Their ability to run the ball makes them probably the best running team we have faced all year. Ben Tate is an outstanding runner and they do a good job of utilizing their personnel, playing different personnel groups and that type of stuff, which is always a little bit of an issue to prepare for. A lot of the stuff we’ve played against before and we’ve got to a do a good job efficiency-wise of getting our players ready for what they are going to see. Defensively, I think they play hard, they play with toughness and I think they’ve improved tremendously on defense, especially in the back end and how they play. Their front seven is physical and playing very well. This is a really good team. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them in every phase, including special teams.”

On seeking your first win at Jordan-Hare Stadium and how tough it is to play there:
“What’s happened in the past really doesn’t matter. It’s what happens this week and what this team does. You know, they’ve had some good teams and we had some good teams and we played some great games there. Hopefully our team will be ready to play a great game this year and I’m sure there’s will as well.”

On red zone matchup between the Alabama offense and Auburn defense:
“I think we had our struggles at one point and time in the red zone this year. A lot of it was self-inflicted, whether it was a penalty, or fumbled snap or things the defense didn’t really have anything to do with. I think the key to it is disciplined execution, in terms of what we do and what we’re doing, that’s going to give us the best chance to be successful regardless of who we’re playing. That’s certainly what we’re going to focus on.”

On if last year’s game was what you meant when you said you wanted to dominate an opponent:
“Well, but last year was last year. What happened last year doesn’t really matter this year. I think being physical in this game is an important part of the game and I think it’s an important part of every game. That’s one of the things we try to do as a team is to be physical, play with great effort and do a good job in execution and the discipline that we execute with. I think that’s going to be a real key in this game as well.”

On challenges of facing Auburn’s multiple offense:
“I think that’s always critical. I think the quick snap in college football now where people just get up to the line and snap as soon as the guy uncovers is something that defensive players have to be aware of and it’s critical that they get lined up. It’s something that we need to emphasize with our players and it’s hard to simulate in practice. You’ve got a scout team over there that needs to look at a card before they run the play, so it’s kind of hard to get it going. They do a good job of that and that’s something that we need to do a god job of and make sure we’re lined up so that we don’t give up plays because we’re not in the proper alignments.”

On Rolando McClain’s performance at Auburn in 2007:
“Well, Ro has made constant improvement as a player. We’ve had a lot of third downs since that game and I don’t think you want me to talk about what I remember from that game, so I’d rather move on and focus on what’s ahead of us and not what’s behind us. Ro has done a really good job of improving, becoming a better leader and playing consistently. He is an outstanding player for us and has probably done as much for the defense, in terms of his leadership and production, as anyone on our team.”

On depth of defensive line beyond Terrence Cody:
“The defensive line has sort of continued to develop. We have some older experienced players and we have some young players that have played really well for us this year. Some guys have gotten opportunities and done a good job. We’re pleased with that. I think it’s going to be important in the game. You have to fit blocks and play physical on the line of scrimmage. This is a really good running team and this is going to be a challenge for that group as well.”

On why Auburn’s running game is so good:
“I think first of all their offensive line, they’ve got four guys that have played a lot of football and are all good players, and I think the offensive line is one of the strengths of their team. I think Ben Tate, as I have said before, is an outstanding running back. I think the multiples of presentation that you get from motions and personnel groups and those types of things, to run the same plays basically for them, sometimes they get the defensive players a little bit out of sorts. I think that one of things we want to make sure we’re lined up properly and can try and fit the runs and do the best job we can to stop the run. They do a good job in the running game and they run power and counter and zone play and sweep and they’ve got a lot of complimentary reverses, misdirection plays and play passes off of that. When you load the box all the time, they eventually hit a play pass on you for a big play.”

On efficiency and attitude of the team the last two weeks and is that the message this week, with the emotion of this game:
“I think emotion is great. I also think controlled emotion channeling in the right direction and doing the right things. I felt like we have played some games where we got emotional, this game included a couple of years ago, and we make a lot of mental errors and don’t execute very well and sort of lose our focus and discipline. I don’t think that’s the best way to have an efficient performance. I think emotion is great, but it’s got to be channeled in the right direction. I think it’s important in games like this that the players focus on the things they need to do to be successful and not get caught up in what’s going on around them. I do feel that in the last couple of games, we have played a little more consistently, got off to a pretty good start. This is the only game that matters right now that we do a good job that way in this particular game.”

On similarities between Mark Ingram and Ben Tate:
“I don’t really like to compare players. Both guys are very good in their own right and they’re very productive for their team and both do what their team needs them to do to help their team be successful. In terms of style, I’d rather not get into any comparisons. Ben Tate is a big, strong, fast guy that’s hard to tackle. He’s got a great stiff arm when he gets out in the open field and that kind of stuff. They do a good job of utilizing what he does well and he does a good job executing for them. So, it’s going to be a real challenge for our defensive players.”

On the wildcat offense and using a quarterback in that role like Auburn does:
“I think anytime they have a quarterback running it, it does affect how you play it because there is the potential of the guy being able to throw the ball. I think sometimes when a quarterback is not playing it, (Arkansas’ Darren) McFadden threw it some. I think it takes a lot of discipline and eye control that no matter how you play it, everybody’s got to key in on what they are supposed to do. If you’ve got a guy man-to-man and you’re playing him man-to-man, then you better watch him and look at him and cover him. They did hit Ole Miss for a touchdown pass out of that because the guy wasn’t looking at his man, they had him man-to-man. I think discipline and eye control, you know there is a picture when we come out of the locker room that’s got Bear Bryant’s picture on it and there is something about discipline and eye control on there that I read every time I walk out. I think that’s important in every part of football, but especially important in wildcat.”

On the status of Colin Peek following his injury:
“He has been very productive. I think the last two games, especially the last game he seemed to be full speed. I know we only threw him the ball once, but that doesn’t mean he is not performing well in the game. I thought he blocked well in the game. We feel like he is back to the Colin Peek of old.”

On the key to the offensive line’s success this season:
“I think the backs have done a really job, but from an offensive line standpoint, we’ve had some guys step up. (William) Vlachos, Barrett Jones and Mike Johnson have played very well this year. To get a junior college left tackle (James Carpenter) that has played really well for us this year and developed very quickly and has done an outstanding job. Drew Davis is back from last year. So, things just kind of fell into place for that group and the guys that had an opportunity took advantage of it and they have done a really, really good job as a group. I think Mike Johnson’s leadership has contributed to that sort of steady improvement.”

On handling the crowd noise at Auburn and if it’s one of the loudest places you play:
“I’m sure it will be. We’ve played on the road before. They had cowbells at Mississippi State. You always have to deal with that when you play on the road. We address that on, I guess Wednesday’s practice this week, and practice and do the things that we have to do if we need to go in silent or whatever it is. You can’t let it affect you. The places that we’ve played on the road this year, we’ve done a fairly good job of being able to execute and not getting affected by the noise.”

On the anticipation of trick plays in a game:
“I think a team like this who has a lot of those types of plays, you study, you research and you see what they’ve done in the past. You sort of have a history on what people have done against you, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. I still think it come down to players responding and reacting to what they see on the field and looking at the right things and playing with discipline. Most of the time, when one of those plays work, it’s usually because the deception of it gets someone on defense not to do what they were supposed to do.”

Senior left guard Mike Johnson
On what impact having a short week to prepare has on the team:
“Not much. Part of the reason we go light on Monday is usually because of the soreness from the previous game. Obviously none of us got that many snaps, so there wasn’t a whole lot of soreness to work out. I think we’re on track for a good week.”

On whether or not an idle week helps more physically or mentally:
“I think it helps probably more physically more than anything. No matter whom the next opponent is you’re still going to be running the same plays and trying to defend the same plays for the most part. Just having that extra week to get your legs back under you is going to be huge for them (Auburn), and I know they’re excited. They’re a good football team. We’re going to have to work that much harder.”

On the questions surrounding the offensive line coming into 2009 and whether or not it was a motivator:
“I don’t know if it was as much of a motivating factor as much as we just knew that we had to come to work. It wasn’t anything motivational about it. In order for this football team to be successful we knew that we had to come to play and get better. We just put in that much effort in the offseason, and we came together.”

On Auburn’s defense:
“They’re extremely talented. They have a lot of good players across their front seven. Just like any other week, we’re going to have to do what we do.”

Senior cornerback/return specialist Javier Arenas
On facing an offense that lines up in multiple formations and runs “trick” plays:
“We just have to do what we’ve been doing all year – just staying consistent, disciplined, knowing our assignments and taking the initiative to study excessive film knowing we have a short week.”

On whether or not he and the rest of the Alabama defense are hard to fool:
“I think we are, because of the amount of time that we players, and our coaches as well, put into seeing each and everything that they do – each and everything that the opponent does, so nothing will come as a surprise.”

On Auburn running back Ben Tate:
“He’s a good running back. He’s been doing what he has been doing for however many years. The years of experience added on makes you that much better, and I think that’s a positive about him. He’s grown and become a better running back.

On the comparisons between Ben Tate and Mark Ingram
“I’m not to say (who is better). They are two different types of running backs. Mark is an outstanding running back in what he does and he (Tate) is an outstanding running back in what he does.”

Junior linebacker Rolando McClain:
On how many multiple looks Auburn presents on offense:
“A lot. They have a quick tempo. They have the wildcat and a lot of crazy formations – three back runs. I think coach (Saban) has done a great job of breaking everything down, and when you see the final formation of what they do, after all the motions and shifts, when you look at the final formation you’ve got to adjust to that. When you look at the final formation they do certain things out of those formations.”

On whether or not the quick tempo style is the biggest challenge:
“Yeah. That’s how they get teams off balance. They run to the line and they want to run a play every 20 seconds. If they get a big play then they run to the line and run the same play and try to get another big play. We’ll just have to be aware of that, be ready for the quick tempo and get to the ball and line up.”

On having a great game individually in Auburn two years ago but not winning:
“I don’t care about what happened two years ago. I’m focused on now and trying to get my team prepared to put them in the best situation to win this year.”

Sophomore running back Mark Ingram
On whether or not the short week throws the team out of sync:
“No, not at all. I think a short week like this is all about efficiency – what you get out of everything you do. If it’s a short week you’re not going to have as much time to prepare or as much time to get reps. Everything you do has to be efficient, and it has to mean something to you. You have to take it with great importance because every little rep you have is important and is going to be vital to the success you have in the game.”

On whether or not Ben Tate proclaiming to be the best running back in the state means anything:
“Not really. I’m just really focused on me; my assignments and getting this game schemed out. I’m not going to get into any tongue wars with anybody. I respect the guy. I love the way he runs the ball and I think he’s a great runner.”

On experiencing the Alabama vs. Auburn rivalry for the first time last year:
“It was different. I knew how passionate all the players and coaches were about it, but I didn’t understand until I go to play in and experience it. It’s one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. I grew up watching Michigan vs. Michigan State and Ohio State vs. Michigan. I’ve been a part of some historic rivalries, but in this one the people and everybody involved in both programs it means so much to them.”

Junior quarterback Greg McElroy
On whether or not being aggressive down field needs to be the plan for this game:
“Absolutely. I think that’s become the staple of our offense. Really that’s been our whole M.O. of the offense the whole season – allow our running backs to run the effectively and allow that running game to open up a deep pass. The hard play action has been there throughout the course of the season. For a couple of weeks defenses did a good job of taking it away, for example Tennessee and Ole Miss took it away pretty well. It’s something we’ve tried to get back to and it’s been effective the last couple of weeks. It’s allowed for better production offensively and more points on the scoreboard.”

On the difference in this rivalry and others:
“It’s extremely different. It’s in-state. Most of the rivalries I’ve been around, Texas vs. Oklahoma I’ve always been a part of and Texas vs. Texas Tech. Nothing compares to this one. It’s just the fact that there are two marquee programs in the state that really get a majority of the focus from both the fan base and the media attention. I think that’s what makes this rivalry so important in the fact that this is our state championship game. It’s obviously two SEC West teams that have a lot of success in years past and have a lot of tradition on both ends. It’s going to be an exciting game. It’s always fun to play on the road, especially against a tough SEC opponent. It’s going to be quite a challenge for us this week.”

On playing on the road with an “us vs. them” mentality:
“That’s what playing on the road is all about. When you play in harsh environments like we play in week in and week out here in the SEC each opponent is going to have a crazy and hostile fan base. Each opponent is going to have a loud first quarter, depending on if you’re playing at the smallest venue in the SEC or the biggest venue in the SEC, it’s going to be extremely loud. You have to work on some of your counts and your unification. Those are things that we have to prepare for on the road more so than at home. It’s got to be that. It’s got to be an Alabama vs. Auburn mentality, except for the fact that Alabama is going to have probably one tenth of the amount of fans there and only 70 guys that will travel. We have to stay together – stay together as a unit and have each other’s back – because when you’re on the road you’re going up against everybody as opposed to just the other team. It’s a different situation, but it’s something we’ve done with success this year and last year, and it’s something that we’ll continue to have success with as long as we continue to execute.”