Nick Saban on the SEC Championship Game

SEC Championship Game

SEC Championship Game

Monday, November 30, 2009 Alabama Press Conference Transcript; Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban talks about the SEC Championship Game between the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban’s Weekly Press Conference Transcript (courtesy of UA Media Relations)
Opening Comments:
“Well just very quickly, its seems like old news now, but after reviewing the Auburn game, I am still very proud of the way our players responded during the game to get them stopped and to get the ball back defensively, as well as put together a great drive. I think our team showed a lot of character and resiliency in converting some big third downs and making the plays they needed to make to win the game. Probably not one of our best games all the way around, in terms of energy, intensity, enthusiasm and execution, but we responded in the game and we have to be proud of the resiliency that our players showed to do that.

“We had some outstanding performances in the game. Julio Jones and Colin Peek on offense. Defensively, Eryk Anders, Javier Arenas and Rolando McClain, who was also the SEC Player of the Week. Javy also had another really good day on special teams. P.J. (Fitzgerald) and Ali Sharrief also did a good job on special teams.

“From an injury standpoint, Mark (Ingram) will practice today, probably non-contact. I think every player that we have will be able to practice. We’ve got some guys that are bumped up a little bit, but everybody will go out and be able to do something in practice today, even if its non-contact, which it may be for Mark.

“This is a great opportunity for our team to play in the SEC Championship Game, especially for the second year in a row. This is a great competitive venue and one of the best competitive venues that I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in. I’m sure our players feel the same way about that. I think if you’re a great competitor you love to play in these types of games. They have a lot of great players and had an undefeated season and have a very good team. It’s certainly a challenge for our guys and everybody should be really motivated. There’s a lot of motive as to why you would want to play in a game like this. The action part of it is stepping up and executing and doing the things you need to do to play your best football.

“It’s certainly an honor for us to represent the West (SEC Western Division) in this game and it’s certainly a great opportunity to play against a great Florida team that has won two out of the last three national championships, have a 22-game winning streak and virtually have pretty much the same team we played last year. They have 20 starters back and the punter and the kicker. They are very good in every phase of the game. They are good on offense. They have balance. They can run the ball probably better than anybody that we played. They have a great leader in (Tim) Tebow, who certainly directs and does the things he needs to do to help his team be effective. They’ve got passing efficiency. They make big plays in the passing game as well as do a good job from an efficiency standpoint of not turning the ball over and being a very effective passing team. Defensively, they are probably number one in just about every category. They have good payers. They have a good scheme. They play well together. There is not part of the defensive team that is not really exceptionally good. They have good guys up front. They play the run, they can rush. They have very athletic linebackers that can run and are very instinctive and probably as good a secondary as we have seen all year. On special teams they have a lot of team speed and that usually contributes to having very good special teams. In this case, there is nothing different about that. They are outstanding. They have good returners. They have big-play potential and they do a very good job in the way they coach their special teams and the way they execute all the way around. It’s a great opportunity for our players and I am pleased and happy that we have the opportunity to play in this game.”

On the unselfishness of Trent Richardson and him waiting his turn:
“I think that is something that can be said for a lot of guys on our team. Everybody is a little bit self-absorbed in thinking about how things affect them. The fine line between selfish and self-absorbed is guys that are willing to do their job for the betterment of the team and to help the team be successful. Trent has always been a really good team player. I know he is a younger player who had a lot of high expectations and he has done a really good job for us this year. He’s certainly met all of our expectations, in terms of what he has been able to accomplish and what he’s been able to do this year. I think Mark has had an outstanding year and the combination of those two guys sharing that position has made our team better. I think both guys should know that and understand that and know that the combination between them probably makes them both play better. I think that’s a good thing for our team as well.”

On what makes Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes so good:
“He’s big. He’s fast. He’s very athletic and he is very instinctive. He is sort of their leader on defense and he understands very well what and how they do what they do. He’s an outstanding play maker, but he is a physical, tough guy. I think he does a good job at directing their defensive team and being the leader of their team, as well as being the guy that has outstanding ability to make big plays. He makes a lot of them.”

On offensive line struggles in the Auburn game:
“Well, I think that Auburn did a good job of loading the front. It was something we hadn’t practiced a lot against, which is always more difficult for players to adapt to and adjust to in the game. I thought the players did a pretty good job adapting in the game, but we did not probably execute and finish things as well as we have in the past to contribute to that and their guys played really well. They played hard. We’re going on silent, they jumped the snap count and beat us to the punch a couple of times, all things that we need to work on and improve on. You always learn as you go that when you see something, you better be prepared for it the next time.”

On difference between Florida’s offense this year and last year:
“I don’t think there is a whole lot of difference, other than the way they probably utilize their personnel. Their personnel groupings are a little bit different because they are getting two or three in there now instead of Percy Harvin being the guy that joined those guys in the backfield last year a lot. They do a lot of the same things; they just put them in there and do it. That doesn’t make it any easier to defend. So, I would say conceptually, they run the same plays. They always give you a lot of multiples in formations and adjustments. They get in a lot of empty and reload. They do a lot of the things they did a year ago, I think the way they present it is a little bit different. Last year, they hardly ever got in regular, just regular two back, tight end and two receivers, they do that on occasion this year. I think it’s all a function of utilizing the personnel that they have. It’s not really conceptually changing the philosophy of what they do on offense.”

On the progress your defense has made against the spread offense since last year:
“I think we played fairly well against these guys last year for three quarters of the game and didn’t get things done in the fourth quarter like we needed to. We didn’t make some plays on critical third downs, especially in the red zone that they were able to convert into touchdowns on three occasions. We’ve probably played against more of that type of stuff and I think that hopefully we understand what we need to do better, but it’s still when they spread you out it comes down to the personnel mismatches that they create and how your players respond to what they need to do to try and get them covered. Sometimes when you get these guys covered, 15 (Tebow) takes off running with the ball, which is another issue and problem you have to try and solve defensively because not only do you have to play pass defense, but you have to worry about him running for a first down as well.”

On importance of red zone and struggles both teams have had this year:
“I think there is good and bad in the red zone. You did something to get it down there. You can start with that, but you also want to finish when you get there and maximize the number of points that you get. They move the ball effectively and have gotten down there, which I think it’s a credit to their offensive team. I think it’s critical that last year the difference in the game was they scored when they got it in the red zone. I think they scored three out of four times, or maybe four out of five times, but I’m talking about touchdowns. We didn’t always do that and it’s going to be a critical part of the game as to who can finish in the red zone. The multiples add up between seven and three. In close games it always comes down to how efficient and effective you were on both sides of the ball. Did you get them stopped and were you able to convert and finish.”

On Bob Stoops visit with you this past off-season and what did you talk about:
“We are good friends and it goes way back to when I used to recruit Youngstown and Cardinal Mooney and even back when he was a player and his dad was the defensive coordinator there and his brothers were playing. We just got together and we talked a little bit of ball, nothing specific. We are both defensive guys. We enjoy talking defensive football. Will Muschamp is my good friend too and we usually get together at the lake once a summer, but we don’t just talk about golf and the weather, we sort of gravitate to talking about ball some of the time.”

On increased playing time for Ali Sharrief in the Auburn game:
“Cory Reamer wasn’t able to practice much during the week because of the strained hamstring he got in the Chattanooga game. We thought he would be O.K., but he wasn’t able to practice a lot, so Ali ended up taking most of the reps at nickel for him. So when we got to the game, Cory thought he was O.K., but we had to make a decision on how to manage the guy to make it through the game. So, we played Cory in regular, which minimized how much he had to play and what he had to do. He did not play on special teams and we played Ali in nickel instead. So it was really a matter and function of here’s the guys that have practiced the most and we thought would do the best based on practice. That was affected by Cory’s inability to take a lot of reps in practice because of his hamstring. And that’s the kind of thing you don’t want to push the guy then you lose him. So hopefully he will be better this week and we can keep building on the number of reps he can take and what his opportunities are.”

On your approach to SEC Championship Game and is it different from other games:
“It’s really a one game season. I don’t know the way you go about preparing for the game or practicing for the game really can change. I think the point of emphasis to the players is it’s a one game season. We need your heart, we need your spirit, we need your mind and we need your commitment to everybody trying to do their best job in this particular game because the opportunity that you created for yourself is certainly the action that we should be anticipating and expecting and everybody wanting to do. But other than that, I don’t think, if there was a better way to practice, we would do it so we could get in the game. Having an extra day off, we will end up practicing 15 minutes longer today than we usually do on Monday and maybe end up getting a little more point of emphasis to get ahead a little bit, but other than that, I don’t think there is anything different that we do.”

On Julio Jones’ performance at Auburn with the struggles you had in the running game:
“I think that all players need to know how they affect other players. Obviously, the team we played was geared up to stop the tailback and when that happens it creates opportunities for other players. Julio has been a great team player all year this year. A lot of people thinking he did not have the production that was anticipated, even though he was injured for a while. He had a very productive game in this game and played probably his best game of the year, not only in the number of passes that he caught, but he blocked, played hard and really competed well in the game in all aspects of the game. He did a great job and I think it’s a great lesson for all players. Just because you do what you’re supposed to do all the time, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always going to have success. You have to believe that’s going to give you the best opportunity to have success and doing your best all the time is going to enhance you to be able to take advantage of your opportunities when they come. I think Julio has done a great job of that in the last three or four weeks and he’s got some opportunities in this game and took advantage of it.”

On why Julio is so good across the middle:
“I think size. He’s difficult to tackle and he’s also a good vertical guy. We’d certainly like to make plays down the field, I think everybody would. Big plays are always a significant part of scoring a lot of points and have something to do with outcomes of games. I also think in critical third down situations to have a guy that can do all things makes you a complete receiver. I certainly think Julio is a complete receiver, in terms of his ability to get down the field as well as intermediate and short crossing patterns.”

On whether Florida matches Joe Haden with the other team’s best receiver:
“They can. I haven’t had a chance to watch all their games on defense yet, but it would not surprise me if they did. He is a very good player.”

On the confidence that last drive against Auburn can give your team:
“Well, I think anytime you come back in a game and overcome adversity and put together a drive like that, it has to help the players confidence and believing in themselves, especially in the situation they were in. I know it can’t hurt. I just hope that everyone understands when you don’t play your best and you still have success, you still have to have a willingness to learn and grow from the mistakes that you made. Hopefully our team will not only gain confidence from the way they came back and won the game, but also will gain knowledge from some of the things we didn’t do well in the game so we can continue to improve.”

On your relationship with Florida coach Urban Meyer and are their similarities in the two programs:
“I don’t really know a lot about how Urban does what he does. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, the program he has put together and the team that he has put together and the coaching job they do. I know they work hard. They do a great job of recruiting. In every dealing that I have had with him, he is absolutely a first-class person and represents our profession with tremendous honesty and integrity and I have a lot of respect for him from that standpoint. I really don’t know how he does what he does; I just know he does a very good job of it. I do know this, and get Terry (Saban) to tell you this story. I’m not sure which job it was or where it was, maybe it was when I became the head coach at Toledo, he was I think a graduate assistant at Ohio State. When you get a job, you usually have hundreds of people calling you for a job. This is the University of Toledo, so it’s not like we were going to Notre Dame or anything. He called the house and he might be able to tell this better, and I know Terry could, because I wasn’t really a part of it, and Terry talked to him and didn’t know him from Adam’s house cat. And when I came home, she said ‘this guy named Urban Meyer called and I think you should hire him. I really liked him.’ So, Terry throws that up to me every now and then that she is really a good evaluator of coaches that she could talk to a guy for five minutes when we were both a lot younger with less experience and make a determination that he was a good one.”

On the improvement of Javier Arenas:
“He has been one of our most productive defensive players, but he played well defensively for us last year. I think the knowledge and experience has gotten him better and better and better. He understands the system and doesn’t make a lot of mental errors. He is a great competitor and he has done a really good job as a defensive back. We have had to play so much nickel this year, which he is really good at, because it puts him on the slot guy and that’s where a lot of his production comes and he becomes an effective blitzer and he uses his speed and his quickness to his advantage to make a lot of plays. He’s done a really god job in both regards playing corner and nickel back. So, we’ve been really pleased with his progress and I think he is one of the best defensive backs in the country as well as being one of the best returners.”