An Interview with: COACH URBAN MEYER (transcript courtesy of SEC Media Relations)
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to our SEC Championship game football coaches teleconference as we kick off the SEC Championship game week. We will begin today with Coach Urban Meyer. Our coaches will be with us for up to 30 minutes.
Coach, if you could start us off by your general thoughts on the upcoming game against Alabama and the championship game.
COACH MEYER: Very pleased with our player’s focus last week against our rival. They played very well. We just had a team meeting and realized that with playing in the SEC Championship comes an enormous amount of obligation and responsibility.
And that means getting ready to play a great football team in a great environment and we’re anxious to do it. So I’ll certainly answer any questions for you.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. It’s been quite a season with all the distractions and everything like this. But you’ve finally gotten to the initial goal. Would you talk a little bit about the journey it’s been and now how you’re going to be channelling everything out this week to stay solely focused on Alabama?
COACH MEYER: I admire our team. You mentioned that there’s been from having 30 some kids come down with the flu like symptoms to a couple of injuries, to a variety of other issues that have shown up during the season, and the resiliency and focus of our team is something that most coaches and staffs hope for. And we’ve had that.
So our focus last week, to think that we clenched a berth in this, I wanted to say this four weeks ago, and still took care of business because everybody kept talking about the SEC Championship game, and our guys just stayed focused.
And now our focus is obviously going to be on the task at hand, and that’s the SEC Championship. So just great admiration for our guys’ ability to stay focused.
Q. Would you talk about what you’ve seen already of Alabama on film? They’re a very sound team and very few weaknesses. Would you talk about what you’ve seen?
COACH MEYER: I’ve just started, I watched they’re very good in their return game. Ranked in Top 10. Kick off return, 14th in the country. Punt return is the sixth.
Arenas is one of the best we’ve faced. He hurt us last year with a punt return and one kick off return they got off past the 40. We believe in field position as Alabama does.
So the first task at hand is to really spend time. We had a kick off meeting today. That’s number one. And now tonight and tomorrow we get into more the offense/defense.
Q. Just talk about the familiarity that you have with a lot of Alabama’s guys. You know, basically through the recruiting process, Trent Richardson, Julio Jones. You know a lot of these guys pretty personally, right?
COACH MEYER: The two you mentioned, I don’t off the top of my head know. Burton Scott was a guy we got pretty close with. They’re all obviously excellent players. But that’s every week. We know a lot of these players in the southeast, just great players, just gotta be ready for them.
Q. Janoris Jenkins, is he okay, the injury?
COACH MEYER: Yeah, we pulled him. He had a strained hip issue. He feels great today. We’re going to run him and stretch him today. But he’s fine.
Q. Do you think you’ll have A.J. Jones?
COACH MEYER: No. A.J. is out.
Q. Urban, do you think conference championship games in general help or hurt a league placing a team in the BCS Championship, and is your opinion now different from what it might have been before?
COACH MEYER: That’s a great question. I know the Big Ten I just remember when we played Ohio State in ’06, they were finished I think the week before Thanksgiving. And that was a five to six week lay off until they played. So, I don’t know. We just do what we do.
And it’s obviously a monumental task to play your rival to finish your league schedule. And I saw Alabama played a heck of a game against Auburn. And all your focus is on that and then, bang, you’re in an SEC game up against a good team. It’s a tough task. But I think it’s probably good for college football.
I wish every league would do it. I think that would be kind of a great format to have.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Ryan Stamper. I think I saw a comment from you last week something along the lines that the success that your ’06 recruiting class has had would not be possible without what Ryan Stamper has done for the program. I wonder if you could elaborate on that comment a little bit.
COACH MEYER: I think what says it all is was he was elected captain before he started a game here at Florida. That tells you about his leadership, his ability to raise the level of play of everybody around him, the respect they have for him. And we have several guys like that.
But he’s a guy that is he’s a very good player. He might not get all the accolades like a Spikes or a Tim gets, but he’s certainly as valuable as any player we have on the team.
Q. Also Riley Cooper, the decision he made to come back for his senior season despite having already signed a baseball contract. Just how critical was that decision for you all and what could you say about the type of season he’s had?
COACH MEYER: We wouldn’t be playing Alabama for the SEC Championship, I don’t believe, without Riley Cooper. We had Andre Debose get hurt early and have to red shirt. We had Carl Warren who now we’re going to red shirt and he came in and Deonte Thompson went through about a month long issue with a hamstring, and we made it through some really tough games. And Riley Cooper is our go to receiver, one of our go to receivers. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without him.
Q. Earlier you had talked about the dedication that a team has to have to go through an SEC undefeated. And I was wondering if you could tell me: Is this any surprise that this game has kind of developed into the equivalent of a national championship semi final?
COACH MEYER: Now that we’re here, I have to say what you just said, I can feel that. People were trying to make it that type of game back in September. I think if I remember right, both teams were picked to make it to the championship game. Now that we’re here, but that’s just great story line. And we’re not concerned about that. But it is going to be I can’t think of a bigger football game that I’ve been a part of, that we’ve been a part of.
Q. A lot has been made over the last year about the fourth quarter of last year’s game and how it’s going to go down in history as one of the greatest quarters and greatest endings to a game of all time. I wanted to know your recollections of that quarter and what was it like sitting on the sidelines watching it happen?
COACH MEYER: I remember the third quarter when we punted the ball down there and Alabama took the ball right down our throat and scored on a 90 plus yard drive and then we came back and really tightened up on defense. And then we had two drives in the fourth quarter. That’s really all I remember.
And all those quality great players they have, I just thought our guys played really well in the fourth quarter.
Q. And the fact that it’s a rematch this year, that Alabama might have a revenge factor from last year, does that make it even tougher of a game for you guys, even on top of how good Alabama already is at 12 0?
COACH MEYER: No, I think it’s the fact that they have great players and great coaches, that’s the only thing that matters. Last year is last year. And we have a lot of new players. I’m sure they do, too.
Q. Considering this year for you all on offense, a lot of times it’s more about field position as opposed to just putting 50 up all the time. How has that style prepared you for a game like this with two great defenses that would be more for grind it out style?
COACH MEYER: I’m not sure. Alabama came out, and I’ve not seen that last drive. I’m going to watch it here in a minute. We play a certain style of play that maybe was different this year than last year. I don’t think it was that much different. We maybe just didn’t hit some of the big plays.
But that kind of I do believe this will be one of those type of games where there’s two excellent defenses playing, but I think you also look at the stats and basically the two top offenses in the SEC in a lot of the categories. And I think the defense may be because they’re 1 or 2, I think, in the country, usually offense gets a lot of the recognition. Both of these offenses are very powerful.
Q. Emmanuel Moody, he’s missed the last two. Is he going to play this game?
COACH MEYER: He’s still questionable. Saw him today. Said he’s feeling a lot better. Tried to practice last Thursday/Wednesday. And it wasn’t right. So we’re hoping to have him available this week.
Q. I know you just spoke a bit about the defenses. And I was wondering if you could kind of, from what you know about Alabama’s defense, what’s their strength there? And are there any similarities between their defense and yours?
COACH MEYER: I don’t know enough about them yet. I know from last year, and I’m just starting to watch them as we speak. Very multiple.
Their coverage scheme, from what we’ve already had a guy break down third downs, are very multiple and very complicated. The thing that we think Alabama defense, you think of the great linebacker and you think of the two giants inside. And that’s what I see on film so far.
Q. You’ve had a lot of players that have played in two national championship games, two SEC title games. Could you just talk about maybe the experience factor, the edge you might have there?
COACH MEYER: Well, I think Alabama has played in some big games, too. And I think that’s big because I remember the first time we went up there in ’06 to play in this atmosphere.
And with all due respect, the championship game, I think it’s very similar. It’s not a whole lot of difference between playing in the big game and then playing in the SEC Championship. I mean, the way our conference does this to support crowd noise, this is every bit as big as the national championship game and we treat it like that.
So I think you will have a little the guys that play in this game know what to expect. We’ll also have some bright white eyes going into it. But we’ll just do what we need to do to prepare them and get ready to go.
Q. Just wanted to ask you about Charlie Strong, and I was wondering what characteristics do you see in him that could possibly make him a good head coach?
COACH MEYER: Oh, I think one of the things is his ability to focus on the task at hand, and that’s obviously to defeat Alabama, or play Alabama.
Probably the thing I always look for, and it’s a man’s character. And he’s a great husband and a great father, and that’s the thing that stands out. So a lot of times you might not be the best schematic coach, which I think he’s very good, but I think the thing that makes Charlie such a special guy is the fact he has impeccable character and a great leader and great husband and a great father.
Q. Have you given him any advice on just how to navigate these waters since his name obviously I’ve covered you and his name has been floated around for this job. Have you had to maybe pull him aside at all to talk about it?
COACH MEYER: Not really this year. In the past I have. And we’ve had a couple of guys on our staff last year I want to say at this time last year we had three coaches interviewed for head positions, one in the being interviewed. And obviously we don’t do it until after the SEC Championship game.
But, no, we talked briefly. And he’s a very close friend on top of being a great coach. But other than that we’ll talk after the Alabama game, that’s all we said.
Q. Someone asked about that fourth quarter last year against Alabama. But what beyond Tim Tebow had to go right? And do you ever just like take a deep breath at the beginning of a quarter like that and say: Here we go, this is for all the marbles? Or are you just too busy concentrating?
COACH MEYER: No, I remember telling our kids those are the moments you remember, when it’s the fourth quarter against Oklahoma or fourth quarter against a team like Alabama. And those are those great moments in college football.
Those are the ones that coaches cherish, where you get to grab the team on the sidelines and say: We have to pound it in here or do this or that and stop them. But I think the offense gets a lot of credit. The defense played so well in the fourth quarter last year. They gave us the opportunity to win that game.
Q. And also you mentioned after the South Carolina game, the anxst and the stress of defending a national championship started the day after the game last year. Is there any more sense of calm now that you’re in this place; you’ve gotten to it again?
COACH MEYER: I think there is. We haven’t had a whole lot of opportunity to reflect on that. But I feel that around here, that I made a comment in the press conference that the longer I’m in this, weeks six, seven, eight, those are tough. When you start getting near the end of the season, the focus and the kids can see the light all the young people can gauge and see that it’s coming to a close.
And the effort level and focus is the last couple of years has been phenomenal, including this year. And so the fact that we have had to deal with all the expectations and now it’s right here in front of us, I do feel a sense of, hey, we’re here let’s not worry about it, let’s go play.
Q. I know you returned just about everybody from last year’s defense. I’m wondering what difference have you seen in the way they’re performing this year versus last year and what way have you seen the most growth in your defense?
COACH MEYER: I see a little more of a rotation in our defensive line. We went into the Alabama game last year with really two and a half healthy interior defense linemen. We had four that were very confident, that are playing in a little bit of a rotation inside.
So we have just a little more rotation and depth that we didn’t have a year ago. Other than that, I think they’re playing very similar than they did a year ago.
Q. I’m wondering, in the ’90s, there was kind of a separation where Florida and Alabama kind of took over the SEC. Are we seeing that happen again, where Florida and Alabama are kind of separating themselves from the rest of the pack?
COACH MEYER: I think maybe this year. But certainly not I think it’s so close in the SEC that I don’t see it that way. I think a lot of people might. But I don’t. I just know it shows up every day on the doorstep when we go play in this conference, a bunch of great football players and some very good teams. So I can see where people think that. But I think it’s just more balanced than that.
Q. A lot of people were concerned last week that the emotions of everything might get in the way of your team. And obviously it didn’t. Do you have any concerns that the emotions of the whole week now are going to drag over and be a hangover into this week?
COACH MEYER: Yes, I do. I think I was very concerned about that last week. And I can see the fatigue factor, whether it be fatigue, whether it be how many times can you play at an emotional level like we did Saturday. But I also have great confidence, what are we talking about here, we are talking about the SEC Championship game. We’ll be okay. I do worry about that, though.
Q. Obviously you guys are trying to finish unbeaten this year. There was a Florida time in 1979, 40 years ago, that didn’t win a game. That was Charley Pell’s first year. I was wondering, a lot of people credit Pell with getting the facilities up to snuff and creating the Gator booster circuit. Do you think any of the success today could be tracked back to those times 40 years ago?
COACH MEYER: Absolutely, because I’ve done a lot of homework on that. I actually became friends with Ward Pell. And obviously Coach Strong had some history back in that time. And Florida was kind of a school searching for an identity. And there were some negative things that had gone on, but there were also some great things that happened there.
That’s a great question. You look at the history of this place, and that’s when the Gator boosters and all the facilities and fundraising became significant. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re at where we’re at today.
Q. I know you clinched the Eastern Division a while back. Have you had anybody on your staff break down the Alabama game film or look at it the last three or four weeks to get a jump on this because of the short week?
COACH MEYER: No. What we did do is have it all ready to go. And what you do is you have our graduate assistants did put it into the computers, it was all logged in and ready. But other than that, no, we just were it’s a little bit ahead of schedule because we had it all on tap ready to go.
Q. You almost feel that you can look at film all week but you understand there’s no surprises in this game; it’s all about execution with these teams; you know each other so well?
COACH MEYER: I don’t know how well we know each other. It was a long time we played. We certainly are a different offense than we were a year ago in some respects. And I don’t know enough about them yet. I think this is just a one game season. Last year is last year. But this is really a one game season.
Q. Can you elaborate more on what you’ve seen out of Javier Arenas? I don’t know how much you’ve watched him this year, but what you’ve seen in the past and compare him to Brandon James?
COACH MEYER: They hurt us really bad on a punt return earlier in the game and later a kick off return in midfield. I just got done watching the Auburn special teams with our guys. And he nailed a 50 yarder, came right through and has great speed. He’s tough. 200 pounds, low center of gravity and he’s aggressive. I think Brandon James has a lot of the same characteristics that great returners do, but I think he’s obviously one of the best returners in America.
Q. Is this what Javier is able to do himself, or how does Alabama special teams match up with who they’re going up against?
COACH MEYER: No, they’re right on their game. One guy can’t do that. Not in this conference. And they take great pride in the return games. I told you both teams are one’s 14th and one’s 6th in the return schemes. And that’s pretty good.
Q. I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to get to know Coach Saban a little bit better in the year since you guys played in the SEC game?
COACH MEYER: Coach Saban and I know each other from the meetings and we talk and we’re very cordial. And one thing about Coach Saban is he’s not a guy that’s going to chitchat a whole lot. And I’m probably very similar. But we talk quite often about how to make our conference better, how certain maybe issues he’s had to handle and I’ve had to handle. And we have a very good relationship.
Q. Also I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more on the comment you made about you can’t think of a bigger football game that you’ve been a part of. Can you explain how this 1 might be bigger than playing in the national championship games you’ve played in?
COACH MEYER: I got asked a question that it’s almost a relief that we’re here and the expectation level was almost I don’t want to say it felt like it was on you the entire year. To finally get our goal was very simple, to get to Atlanta. Now we’ve got to go and play a very good team.
But when 1 versus 2, I’m not sure if it was 2 versus 1 last year, but 1 versus 2, college football wants this game. I’ve been hearing it for a long time and trying to ignore it and push it back. And I know our players have been. That’s what I meant by that.
Q. I know it’s early in preparation, but wondered if you could describe the challenge that Cody and McClain present in the middle?
COACH MEYER: I’m watching them. I’m sitting at my desk watching them. There’s just no movement. And you start talking about I mean, gigantic human beings. Our strength is really the interior offensive line. I think it will be a good match up. The big issue is how much movement.
Q. How do you simulate or what did you do last year when you’re facing a nose guard that’s that size, 6 5, 350 plus, what do you do to get ready for that in practice?
COACH MEYER: We’ll put a big guy in there. But you can’t really simulate that. We’ll have them press. We’re not going to beat up our players in practice. They just finished 12 games. We have Pouncey and Pouncey and Carl Johnson. So played two of the three no, all three did play interior last year against them. They’re very well aware. They made comments to me how strong and how big he is as well.
Q. Just in terms of preparation, how much can you really draw from last year’s game, what went right, what went wrong, or is the personnel and schemes maybe a little different to kind of make that a wash?
COACH MEYER: No, we’ll go back and watch, because you still have very similar coaching styles. They have a lot of returning players, and we run a similar style of offense. So we will watch that. How much we’ll pull from it, I don’t know yet.
Q. When you talked about the expectation level that’s built up all this season, can you talk about how it’s differed from ’06 and ’08; you guys lost a game early and the national title didn’t come into discussion until maybe the very end. What’s it been like this season playing with that expectation that the public has that this team is supposed to win the SEC and national title?
COACH MEYER: It’s completely different. In ’06, you know, we were just rebounding. I thought we had a good football team but we had a lot of issues on offense. I knew we had a good defense. And there certainly wasn’t expectations like we had this year. Then following the ’07 season we played very poorly in a Bowl game and our defense was not very good. And we had a lot of sophomores turned juniors.
So the expectation level maybe from some areas were there. But not like it was this year. So just a completely different feeling and a different this was you just played it back those two years. This year if you didn’t beat a team we beat a very good SEC team early in the year. So what happened, why you guys didn’t play very well. And as opposed to let’s just find a way to win that game.
And that’s where the biggest difference was. But it was the players felt it and the coaches felt it.
Q. You talked about how when you’re inside a game like the fourth quarter last year, but everyone notices, at SEC Media Days people talked about that fourth quarter and that game with all the players, Alabama and Florida. Reverent awe. Have you looked at the fourth quarter much since then or the game and said: Man, that was an incredible football game we played?
COACH MEYER: You don’t have a whole lot of reflection time. You’re in recruiting. We had a very similar fourth quarter against Oklahoma. We made a huge point, recruits, to our offseason program with our players.
But to play that well in the fourth quarter against two great teams, I’m not sure that’s been done before. So we haven’t like this year been spending too much time talking about that at all.
Q. Your starters this season, guys that were not starting in the SEC title game last year, I know it’s a short list, but can you run through a couple of those guys, what kind of year they’ve had for you?
COACH MEYER: Okay. Offense or defense or both?
Q. Both, if you can.
COACH MEYER: Riley Cooper has moved to X receiver where Murphy has, so he did start at the flanker spot. We were playing a true freshman at left tackle. Against, obviously, a very good defense, that’s an area that is a concern. Tight end, quarterback, receivers. And Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, there’s a lot of carryover on offense and defense. Basically the same crew on defense. Now that you said it, we have a lot of experience getting ready to go in this game, to play in this game.
Q. Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes get so much attention, and rightfully so. But has really anybody played better than Joe Haden this season, and what kind of match up does he have this week, assuming he’ll be maybe even shadowing some Julio Jones?
COACH MEYER: To answer your question, I don’t think anybody’s played any better than Joe. Joe’s played at a high level, special teams. He’s a force for us and obviously he’s played excellent in the defense at secondary. He’ll have his hands if you mean with that big old receiver Julio. But to answer your question I don’t think there’s a guy that played better.
Q. You’re probably not surprised, but the rise from here’s a guy who played offense in high school, comes in and struggled a little bit, thrown in there as a freshman and is now all of a sudden talking about being a top 10 pick, and that kind of stuff.
COACH MEYER: When you get to know Joe, you know he’s one of the hardest working guys. He’s got a Tebow type work ethic. So it doesn’t surprise me that he’s been doing this for this long. He did shock us when we first got him. We thought he would be a very good offensive player, but he comes in and starts three years at corner. Played at a high level. But once you get to see the way he works, he’s blessed, has a lot of freakish ability. Great worker, one of the best workers I’ve ever been around.
Q. What’s the toughest thing about preparing for Nick’s defenses?
COACH MEYER: The personnel is the toughest part. The second is the complexity of the back end, I think. But the personnel, it always goes back to. You know, you take those two big defensive linemen out of there and Arenas out of there and it’s still going to be a very good scheme. Always personnel based they do a good job coverage wise and we have to be on our game on that.
Q. What’s the story behind Moses Jenkins leading the team onto the field?
COACH MEYER: I have no idea. Probably first guy in line. There’s no intent. I don’t really worry about that.
Q. So total games he’s led the team out of the tunnel
COACH MEYER: I’ll make sure he doesn’t for the SEC game.
Q. How is Emmanuel Moody?
COACH MEYER: I would say he’s probable for this one. We’ll know more tomorrow.
Q. And how is the health of the team this year compared going in compared to last year, going into the title game?
COACH MEYER: Boy, oh boy, seems like six years ago. I can’t remember. I know we had some real issues on the defensive line. Other than that, I think we were fairly healthy. And I’m glad to see Jermaine Cunningham come back the way he did. But I think we’re a little more healthy this year. I think. But I really can’t remember, though.
Q. With the team’s matching up so well, how do you think special teams will play in the outcome of the game?
COACH MEYER: It will be like it was last year, field position game. My biggest concern right now on Sunday is their returner. And both punt return and kick off return. It’s going to be a huge part of the game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time today.