Iron Bowl: Nick Saban on crowd noise and more

Alabama football coach Nick Saban spoke about the importance of crowd noise at this year’s Iron Bowl, defending against Auburn, protecting McElroy from Auburn’s defense and other important things to watch for in the annual Alabama-Auburn game. Alabama Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban Press Conference Transcript (courtesy of UA Media Relations):

Head Coach Nick Saban
Opening Statement:
“Well just a brief comment about the last game, not much different than what I said after the game: I’m pretty pleased with the standard that our team played to in terms of the effort, the toughness we played with. There was a lot of good hustle in the game. There were a lot of good things to teach from in terms of having an opportunity to learn, grow and improve. I was pleased with the players’ attitude relative to how they approached that game.

“I would really like to congratulate Greg (McElroy) on being one of the 12 finalists (in his district) for the Rhodes Scholar. I think it was a great experience for him. I think it’s an honor to him and his family that he was in that position. In my opinion, as a person, a leader – I know the competition is tough – but this guy is one of the best guys in the country relative to anything that anybody would want to pick for anything. Sometimes you don’t control all the factors when you get into this arena, but he’s been great for us, our team, and he’s a great leader. I don’t see how you can be any better of a person. I know he’s very intelligent. I know he’s going to be extremely successful. I know this experience will be something that will be a positive for him in his future.

“We had some players of the week: William Vlachos, and Darius Hanks on offense; Chris Jordan and Dee Milliner on defense; Brandon Gibson, Chavis Williams and Jerrell Harris on special teams. All those guys did a really good job in the game. You have some guys who are players of the week here who have not been starters, for whatever reasons.

“From an injury standpoint, Barrett Jones is probably the only player who will not be 100 percent today and probably will not practice much today, but he is making progress. We’re still hopeful that he will be able to do a significant amount of work as the week progresses and have an opportunity to play in this game.

“This is obviously one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. The Iron Bowl has been going on in this state for a long, long time. It’s kind of unique in that everyone in the state is on one side or the other. We have two great schools with great football histories, and obviously pretty good teams this year. A lot of players have played against each other in high school, knew each other, played in good programs and were developed well. I think it says a lot for football in this state to have two teams of this caliber playing in the Iron Bowl this particular year.

“The focus this week is on the Alabama-Auburn game. It’s not about anything that’s going on outside. It’s not about what happened last year. None of that really matters. It’s about this week, this time, this game, and our focus is going to be on the preparation for our team to play the best football and give our guys the best opportunity to be successful against a very good team. The culmination of your season sort of gets judged by how you do in a game like this, so we want to play our best football and do our best job of executing. If there are any distractions that don’t affect how you perform in the game, you should get rid of them, because that’s not going to help you play your best in the game. Your focus should be on your preparation and what’s going to help you play – that’s coaches, players, everybody involved in the program.

“Auburn’s done an outstanding job this year. I know how hard it is to go and win 11 games in a row. They have been consistent and effective. Their offense is one of the best in the country in terms of their production. (Cam Newton) does a tremendous job for them. His versatility is excellent. Their team executes well. Their offensive line does a good job. They’ve got good skill-players on the outside. They’ve got other guys that compliment (Newton) as runners. They do a very good job of utilizing their personnel offensively. Defensively, they’ve got quite a few guys back from a year ago. They have played extremely well on defense, and have always been able to make plays when they need to make them. They have a lot of turnovers, a lot of negative plays. They’re a very capable team. They’re very good on special teams. So this is a good all-around football team that we’re playing, and we’re going to have to play our best game to have an opportunity to be successful.”

On concerns with Alabama’s young defense versus Auburn’s complex offense:
“I don’t think there’s any question about it. They do a lot of things offensively and do them very well. It’s not like they do a bunch of junk, it’s well-conceived what they do. They do a good job of executing their offense. They present it to the defense in various ways that requires a lot of adjustments that need to be made. Obviously, it’s a little easier to defend when you have an older, more experienced team. But at least I feel better about the practice time that we’re going to have this year to get prepared for the game because we’ll at least have a normal week. It’s going to take some real maturity on our players’ part to be able to handle and manage this because the multiples – you don’t want to make mental errors on – because they’ll take advantage of it if you do.”

On coaching in a game against Auburn and the effect of the rivalry on his coaching:
“I don’t think as a coach you really look at it that way; that’s one of those external things that you don’t want to affect you. You have to be disciplined in your approach to sort of stay focused on the moment – that play in the game, that situation in the game, that time in the game – so that you make good choices and decisions to help your team do the best they can. I think those kind of things can be a distraction, but I think those are the things that you work really hard on as a coach to make sure they are not affecting your team. We want to focus on playing our best football, which means how we execute on that play at that time, as if that play has a history in a life of its own, and all that other stuff doesn’t really matter. It’s out there and it’s there. It’s great to have an opportunity to play in games that are meaningful like this to so many people with so much interest, and it’s a great opportunity to play against a great team, but at the same time you want to focus on the game, not on all the other stuff.”

On Nick Farley:
“Well he’s got 7.5 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss or whatever. He’s a very dominant player on the inside. He’s very athletic and plays hard. He’s very physical and plays with a lot of toughness. He’s certainly a guy you have to handle on the inside – run and pass. He’s probably as good an interior lineman, in terms of being a playmaker, as any guy we’ve played all year and probably in the country.”

On defending a diverse running game:
“It takes a tremendous amount of discipline all around. You can’t just play good gap control on the inside and fit the plays exactly like you’re supposed to. The perimeter players need to do a good job as well. Probably as many good plays as they have are because of their perimeter plays. I think that’s a real key. The way you play to stop the runs, you can’t give up big-play passes, which we gave up a couple last year, and they’ve hit on numerous occasions this year against people. This takes a lot of discipline for everybody to exactly what they’re supposed to do and be exactly where they’re supposed to be because Auburn attacks the perimeter just as effectively as they do the interior, so every play you’ve got to be sound in both areas.”

On how to defend Cam Newton:
“He’s a great athlete, there’s no doubt about that. You have to do a great job of tackling. He’s a big guy. He’s got long arms. He’s got a good stiff arm. He’s really good at changing direction and has deceptive speed. I think when they spread you out on the field and he scrambles or even when he’s running one of his set running plays, you have to do a good job of tackling; you have to a good job of leveraging and tackling. That’s what great players do; they make themselves hard to tackle and he’s certainly one of those guys.”

On Cam Newton compared to Tim Tebow:
“Both guys are great players and were great players for their team. They certainly impact the game. Even though there are some similarities in some of the plays that they run, their styles are completely different in how they do those things. It’s not to say that one is better than the other, it’s just that they’re different. Cam’s very athletic, deceptive, makes people miss, changes direction, and plays with toughness – he’ll put his head down on you, too. But I don’t like to compare players. They’re both very, very good players, but a different style, even though they were both effective runners.”

On the impact of the Bryant Denny crowd:
“The crowd noise has been a factor, no doubt. It’s harder to play offense when there’s a lot of noise. It’s harder to hear the snap count if you have to go on silent, sometimes guys get off the ball late. It certainly affected us when we played on the road a few times. I’m sure there will be a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for this game, and hopefully it will be a benefit to our players.”

On using man-to-man or zone defense and how it’s used to defend Auburn:
“It’s very similar situation to the other running quarterbacks we’ve faced this year. They get in empty and you’re trying to play man-to-man, or they free-release the back and the guy’s got him. You run out of there and they run a quarterback draw or he scrambles with the ball and all of a sudden you’ve got four guys playing against five. You have to play a certain way so that you don’t give opportunities to a great player. (Newton) recognizes it like that, and he knows exactly what he wants to do. It’s difficult to defend so you’ve got to make sure that you’ve always got enough guys in there to stop them.”

On the advantages/disadvantages of speeding up the offensive tempo:
“We just seem like we’ve played better, that’s the only advantage that I can say. We’ve always sort of practiced a lot of no huddle. We’ve always thought it was a good thing to set the tempo, but it seems to help us with our tempo on offense. We seem to play fast and get going a little bit better when we set the tempo, so that has been the advantage. I don’t know what the disadvantage is because we haven’t really made a lot of errors, it hasn’t affected our execution. We’ve actually played better when we’ve played sped up.”

On Josh Chapman’s play this year:
“He’s played really well this year, especially in the last few games. He’s always been a strong guy, a hard guy to block – good at holding the point – but I think his mobility has improved and he’s making more plays. He’s playing with a little more quickness, and I think that has been very beneficial to him. He’s been probably as consistent of a performer up front for us as anyone has.”

On the other playmakers outside of Cam Newton:
“It’s pretty obvious. #5 is a really good runner. #23 is a really good player. #27 is a really good pass receiver. #89 is a really good player. #81 is really good at running reverses and catching balls. They all do a good job of blocking. Their offensive line is probably as good a bunch as we’ve played against all year. Their tight end is a really good receiver. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.”

On how critical it is to score early:
“They score a lot of points. They’ve scored a lot of points on just about everybody they’ve played. I think getting off to a fast start is always important in a game. Getting off to a good start is important; it certainly won’t be any different in this game. I think that people that have been in ballgames with them have been able to score enough points to stay in the game, and I think that’s going to be important in this game. You need to play all phases of the game well. We’re going to have to play well on special teams and control the field position, which may affect how far they have to go to drive it. Ball security is very important, getting some turnovers and not giving it up to them. Playing well on defense where you don’t give up a lot of big plays and a lot of points. Hopefully, offensively, being able to move the ball, control the ball, keeping it away from them, and scoring points at the same time. It’s really going to be every guy in his role on the team, whatever it is, doing a great job and that’s going to contribute to stopping them from jumping ahead early.”