Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he had planned to play both Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts at quarterback. “At the end of the first quarter,” he said, “I was asking myself, ‘Was this really a good plan.’”
It turned out to be good enough as freshman Jalen Hurts ignited Alabama to a 52-6 win over Southern Cal in the season opening game Saturday night at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Afterwards the Crimson Tide head coach met with reporters.
Saban also said the quarterback decision was “for now,” and that it could change in the future.
Earlier in the week he had said he would choose between Cooper Bateman and Barnett to start. He didn’t reveal that the plan was to choose one who could best managed the game, and that there was also a plan to play Hurts.
But Saban thought that Hurts played well after he settled down, and that Barnett came back late in the game and played better.
Asked about how he felt after his team had beaten the USC team that played for last year’s Pac-12 championship, Saban said he didn’t think Alabama played very well. But, he said, he was happy for the win.
“Consistency and execution need to be improved,” Saban said. “We need to improve as a team, we need to get more guys who can contribute, build depth, get buys who can contribute on special teams. But we need to be more efficient in execution so we don’t have mistakes.
He said the kicking game was very good.
Saban said, “We obviously played well on defense against what we think is a good USC offense. Our defense probably doesn’t get enough credit.
“I could make a long list of things we can do better.
“You can win the first game and lose the next 11. That’s not our plan. We want to improve.”
Regarding the running game, he said it was inconsistent. “We’ve got to get more movement.”
He said he wanted to be able to stop the USC run, but didn’t really think it would be possible to do as well as it did. (The Trojans were held 64 yards on 30 runs.)
“We're obviously proud of the team for the way they played in the game,” Saban said. “And it was a great win for our team and our program. We got off to a little bit of a shaky start in the first quarter, especially on offense. But defense did a nice job of playing really well early on after the first series when they hit a big play and got three points and finally settled down on offense a little bit. And we scored a lot of points, made a lot of big plays, but still our consistency in execution needs to be much improved. And my message to the team afterwards was, if every guy self-assessed and you didn't look at the scoreboard and just say, ‘How did I play in the game and how could I do better,’ that's what everybody needs to do.
“We need to improve as a team. We need to get more guys that can play winning football and create more depth on our team, more guys to contribute on special teams. We have got to build around the very good players that we have, but we have to get more consistent execution, I think, from a lot of the players so that we don't have the negative plays; we don't have, you know, some of the things that we had early on on offense.”
Following his opening statement, Saban responded to some questions from reporters. Here are some of those:
Q. I wonder what you thought of Damien Harris tonight and, overall, how would you assess the running game?
COACH SABAN: Inconsistent. We had big play, explosive runs. And I think, as the game went on, we did a better job. But early on in the game, you know, we didn't execute very well in the running game. And, you know, we could have had a critical, critical sack fumble, you know, early in the game on a blitz on one of the first third downs in the game. So we have just got to get more consistent. We have got to get more movement at the line of scrimmage. We have got to get more movement out of our inside guys. We have got to play with more power up front. You know, Shank was suspended for this game, even though we brought him on the trip. He will be back and playing after this game.
Q. Talk about the pressure you were able to get after the first possession for them and how that kind of changed the momentum for the rest of the defense.
COACH SABAN: Well, I think two things were really important. I mentioned the fact that they couldn't run the ball and we were playing split safety coverages. And we really weren't loading the box to do it, which is a real credit to our front linebackers. And that really helped us in the back end, because they make lot of explosive plays. And we limited that to a large degree. But I think, when you can affect the quarterback -- we got a couple of sacks early on and changed field position -- that's always important in the game.
And, you know, I was really pleased with the job we did in that regard. We lost our pass rush lanes on one, and they scrambled for a first down. And that was a problem for us early on. They converted third and seven, third and ten. We weren't getting off the field on third down. We did a better job after the first quarter.
Q. Jalen settled in after the first couple of drives. So did you say anything to him, or why was he able to maybe settle into a rhythm at quarterback?
COACH SABAN: You know, we kind of expected both guys to -- first time out playing, we think both guys are talented, and we wanted both guys to play in the game. And when the first quarter was over, I was wondering to myself, "Was this a good plan or a bad plan?" Both guys were a little shaky in the beginning. But I think Jalen, each series that he played, got more and more comfortable. He adds a dimension with his athleticism and his ability to run that I think is very effective, and I think that that actually opened up the running game. You know, when they can crash the ends and they don't think the quarterback is going to pull the ball on his own reads. And, when you're spread out, that's one of the better plays that you have, you know, it really shrinks the inside runs. Well, when the guy stays out there because the quarterback might pull the ball, it kind of opens up the inside runs. And that's how we broke a couple of those runs.
So I thought he settled in and did a nice job, threw an interception that I'm sure he will learn from. But I thought, when Blake came back in the game, he settled down and played pretty well, too.
Q. Do you think there could be a rotation with both guys next week similar to the way it played out tonight?
COACH SABAN: You know, I made a decision for this game that whatever we did at quarterback was for now. Did you ever make a "for-now" decision? So we made a decision today for now. That's the only decision we made. So I'm not speculating on what we're going to do in the future. And everybody here wanted to know who the quarterback was going to be, all right? But did anybody write when one of Southern Cal players said, "I wish we knew who was going to play quarterback for them"? And isn't that the object, to make it hard for the other team, or to make it good for you guys to write about?
I'm wondering. I don't know. It's one of those hypothetical questions that you always ask me.
Q. Nick, the obvious is you lost the Heisman trophy winner, your starting quarterback from a championship team, five of your front seven. You just beat a ranked team that played for the Pac-12 title last year by 46 points. How do you like your prospects this year?
COACH SABAN: If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn't pleased with the way we played. And, again, you know, if you look at your internal scoreboard rather than the external scoreboard and you say, "What do we need to do to improve? What do we need to do to get better?" Well, you just get satisfied with the result that we got. So you don't take coaching, you don't try to improve, you don't think that there are things that we can improve on, then we've got some really tough games with some really good teams. If we don't get better, we're going to struggle. And we play some of those teams in very tough places to play.
So my focus with our team right now is what can we do better? How can we get better? How can every guy improve? How can we get more guys to play better? And, look, I'm happy that we won. And I'm proud of our team for beating a good team. And I don't want you to think that I'm not.
But, at this point in the season, I'm really focused on what we need to do to get better and how we need -- we have a lot of young guys playing out there now. If you notice, when those second teams went in, there was a whole bunch of freshmen out there. Well, those guys are going to have to grow up, all right. Because they're going to be the depth of this team. And, if we lose players, they're going to have to play. So we're going to need those guys to improve dramatically. And I think every guy needs to look at what they can do to get better and make their unit better and their team better.
Look, you've got to trust in the plan, you've got to trust in your teammates, and you've got to trust in yourself that you can do your job on a consistent basis. And our consistency wasn't always great, you know, tonight, especially on offense. So it's definitely something we need to get better at.
Q. Coach, on Monday, you said you had narrowed it down to Bateman and Barnett. So what is Bateman's status right now considering Hurts and Barnett played?
COACH SABAN: Well, you know, what I was really puzzled about is I said that we were going to pick a starter between Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett. I never said Jalen Hurts wasn't going to play and y'all never asked. I never said he was going to play. It was the plan all along to figure out which one of those guys are going to start and manage this game the best, and Jalen Hurts was going to have a role in the game. We had a special plan for him. And he practiced his plays all week long, and he was going to go in the third series of the game in my mind no matter what. And that's what we did. Y'all never asked. I wouldn't have told you if you would have asked, but you didn't ask.
[ Laughter ]
But, look, we have confidence in Cooper Bateman. I wanted to see what the young guys would do, how they would play in a game. And that's the only way we can make an assessment about the future of what we do at this position.
Cooper has had several opportunities to play in the past. He has had a good camp. It was a very, very difficult decision for me. And I don't know what the future holds and the direction that we will go relative to when we look and assess the film and see how the guys did.
Q. So you mentioned the defensive four, and they only allowed field goals, but no one is perfect; so where do see this defense going from here on out?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that we had a really good plan for these guys. And I think the players did a really good job of executing it. But we would not have been able to execute that plan if we could not stop the run, which I was concerned about, because they had a really good offensive line, and they have two really good runners. And we were able to do that, really to my surprise, to be honest with you. I thought we would have to play more eight-man fronts and get more guys in the box, which would have opened up some of their outside throws and throwing the ball down the field. So I was pleased, you know. But I think we need to improve on defense, and I think we have to get more guys to be able to have roles on defense.
Look, when you play against no-huddle teams and your defense plays lot of plays, last year we had seven, eight guys -- we had 15 to 17 guys that made a contribution in the front seven. They had some role, but they did something, on third down or whatever.
We don't have that many guys this year. And when you go through the season, can your defense sustain that kind of performance if you don't get more guys who can contribute? Because they can't play that many plays in the game, especially the big guys.
You know, when you don't have big guys rolling in there, because once their gas tank is out, it's out. The little guys out there, they can run 100 yards and be tanked on the sidelines and two minutes later come back up and say, "Coach, I'm ready to go," and run just as fast as they were before.
But when the big guys run out of gas, that tank is not getting refilled until tomorrow. So you have to keep them fresh and you have to have enough guys that you can do that with, and you can't let the season wear your players out, and it starts to affect their performance. So that's why I keep talking about more guys being able to contribute and play.
96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE At the end of the press briefing, Saban announced that Alphone Taylor, last year’s starting right guard, “was suspended for this game, even though we brought him on the trip.” He said he expected Taylor to be back next week.