McElroy Becomes Blocker For Julio

One of the plays of the game in Alabama's 49-7 win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando Saturday was when the Tide tacked on its fourth touchdown late in the second quarter. Here are comments from Alabama players about that play and other aspects of the game and the season.

Alabama was leading 21-0 late in the second quarter against Michigan State when the Tide pulled out a trick play for a final first half touchdown against the Spartans. Quarterback Greg McElroy pitched the ball to Trent Richardson, who was headed towards the right end. Wide receiver Julio Jones came back towards Richardson and took his pitch, ducked inside, then went back outside and finished with a 35-yard touchdown run.

Although it didn't leave anyone crippled, McElroy did have something of a block on the play.

Crimnson Tide Coach Nick Saban said, "I thought Julio set the block up pretty well the way he dipped in and then went back out. That was pretty classy move, but the runners always set up the blocks for the blocker."

McElroy enjoyed the moment. "The one time I could probably get credit for making a physical play is because Julio set it up," he said. "I'm surprised I didn't trip on myself running around the edge. I debated briefly whether I could cut him and go up top. I figured he would probably jump over me if I tried to cut him. I got lucky."

In a serious vein, Saban pointed out that the play had been borrowed from one LSU ran against Bama for a touchdown in a critical win for the Fighting Tigers in Baton Rouge this year.

He said, "As coaches sometimes you call it copy cat, but we actually had a session the other day in practice where we ran every play even though Michigan State didn't. That was some kind of a different play we had not practiced that was effective against us and the play that LSU ran against us was one of those plays because you figure the other team is going to look at what hurts you all year and they may do some of those things."

Julio Jones was asked if he saw the block.

"Yeah, I was trying to set him up," he said. "I had come around and saw Greg as the leading blocker so I slowed up a little bit.  He made two good blocks I think.  I think he hit two defenders so it was pretty good."

Michigan State players and coaches talked about how physical Alabama was in the game. One of the most physical was jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was named the game's most valuable player. Two Spartans quarterbacks were knocked out of the game. Upshaw was asked if he thought Alabama's defense had affected the Michigan State quarterbacks.

"I think we affected him real good.," he said. "Once we had the opportunity to get a hit on him, we wanted to take it. Once it was there, we took the hits. We were put in the position to make plays and that's what we did."

Saban added, "One thing about that, especially now having Mark Barron who's been a leader in the secondary, very good player but he makes all the calls and actually having two different guys playing, you know, Will Lowery playing all the time when Mark plays and then Jarrick playing when Mark plays on third down, the pass rush up front was really important and I think that that made the biggest difference in the game, because once we started getting pressure, we affected the quarterback, whether the coverage was good or not, they didn't complete the ball, so I think that was a real key to the game and these guys did a good job up front. We had a good plan, did a good job executing."

Upshaw was also asked about the Tide being motivated.

"Yes, sir, I think so. Coming into the game coach talked about being inspired and dominating the person in front of you. We wanted to dominate and finish the game."

Saban added, " I thought we played really inspired in the first half of the Auburn game. We just didn't finish against a really good team, so I don't think that this team has ever not come out and played. In the games that we didn't do well, it was because we didn't finish. Every game that we lost we got ahead in the game and we didn't finish. That was the big lesson about getting too satisfied with winning and looking at your score board and not trying to dominate the competition. When you get ahead, you let up. When you have a good month, you don't work as hard the next month. It's life. It's the human condition.

"When you're a great competitor you got to challenge yourself every day to be as good as you can be. That's a special thing. When you get that you got something special on your team and even though I'm really proud of this team that's the biggest difference."

McElroy said, "Courtney has always been physical. I remember this story, we were in fall camp and one of our biggest, toughest guys, he got a concussion because of a head-on collision with Courtney. He's always been a play maker and athlete. I think now -- and I think when you play smart in this defense, it will put you in position to make plays and Courtney does such a good job playing his role, whether that's rushing the passer, being effective in the passing game, and things like that. He's done a great job and the progress is significant. He's just going to continue to improve and I'm looking forward to following him and seeing that development over the next six months."

Mark Ingram addressed the assembled media in the tunnels of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium clutching the game ball signifying the new school record of 42 rushing touchdowns in a career.

Mark, Coach Saban said he challenged the offensive line today.  Could you tell early on in the game today the way they were blocking you were going to have a big day running the ball?

"Yeah, sometimes we were struggling this year trying to establish the run so we just wanted to put an emphasis on establishing the run game early being physical and knocking them off the ball.  Because when we can run the ball it opens up everything else for our offense.  They did a great job today."

  Did this team really show what you guys are capable of and have you analyzed why you haven't seen this all season? 

  "We put together a good first half, a great second half but we haven't put two halves together.  When we do that there are not many teams that can beat us.  We just showed what we were capable of doing today when we play our best football."

  Could this team have played for a national title? 

  ‘Definitely, like I said we were four points from being in the national championship game.  For a play here, a play there, you know it just shows how fragile the season is."

  If you decided to leave, what would you miss most about The University of Alabama?

  "Everything from A to Z"

Tight end Preston Dial had a nice game with four catches for 55 yards. The senior had one notable catch and run, a 24-yard play that led to Bama's fifth touchdown, and first of the second half. Dial caught the pass near the sidelines and hurdled a defender to get extra yardage.

"I told the guys in the locker room after the game, ‘I've got hops. I've just been waiting for the right time.'"

Julio Jones isn't giving anything away regarding his future. It seems to be 50-50 on whether the junior wide receiver will return for his senior season or turn pro.

"I'm playing for a top coach," Jones said. "I still don't know what I'm going to do yet."   

Was this the best the offense has played all season long? 

  "I think this is the best the team has been," he said. "We went out and played a 60-minute football game.  We got up early the first half and we wanted to show people we could finish for the 2011 season next year."  

How satisfied were you to end the season on a positive note and get that third straight ten win season?  "Very proud.  We played a complete game and dominated the competition we had.  This is for like 2011.  You saw what kind of team we can be going into next year."

Tide safety Robert Lester had his eighth interception of the year to stop Michigan State's first potential scoring thrust. He said, "I just dropped in a zone and read the quarterback and anticipated on where he was going to break on it and make the play."  

What was it like playing without Mark Baron out there?  

"It was difficult but with him not back there, we had to get Will (Lowery) and me to step up to make sure we were communicating and getting the calls and make sure we were on the same page."

Could you see the quarterback starting to get shaken? 

"I have to give the credit to the defensive lineman.  They were putting all the pressure on him getting sacks and forcing him into bad throws.  That was a key to our victory."  

Did you see the MSU quarterback was starting to get rid of the ball earlier?  

"Big time.  The pressure they were putting on him, he was forcing throws and making bad throws all game."  

Were they similar to any SEC team?

"They kind of favored their tight ends just like Tennessee did."

A fun bowl game? 

"We had a lot of time to get things going and know our game plan. and a lot of bonding time with guys I've never played with.  Will Lowery this is the first time he was started.  Just building that chemistry with each other throughout the practices.  It was good for us to go out there and play like that."

How much did the play of the big guys up front like Courtney Upshaw take the pressure off you and the secondary? 

"It took a lot of pressure off me.  Getting pressure on the quarterback creates bad throws.  I was able to get an interception.  Getting sacks is a big momentum changer."

  As a first time starter did you ever envision leading the country in interceptions?

  "I had a goal.  The more interceptions I got the closer I got to that goal.  I couldn't be more excited than I am to be able to grab that many interceptions this season.  Having eight interceptions is just amazing.  I never thought I'd have that."

That was the hardest hitting game as a unit this season.

  "We had about six games where teams came up with a bye week.  It didn't really give us a chance to fully recuperate.  We had a lot of time this week to actually get back to 100 percent.  These guys were able to get the real 'BAMA."

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