Tide Must Learn Lessons From Loss

Alabama Coach Nick Saban met with the media Monday for his regular weekly briefing. He spoke of the lessons to be learned from the loss to LSU and of the importance of the upcoming Mississippi State game. Here are his comments and answers to questions from reporters.

Alabama goes to Starkville Saturday to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs of Coach Sylvester Croom. Mississippi State had an open date last week, while Alabama was losing to second ranked LSU, 41-34. The game will be telecast in parts of the Southeast by Lincoln Financial. Kickoff is shortly after 11:30 a.m. CST.

Coach Nick Saban's opening comments:

"Spending a moment to wrap up the last game: I think I said in the press conference after the game that I was very proud of the way our players competed in the game. They really gave a great effort. It was a great atmosphere in the game. I think we had one of the best teams in the country on the ropes for probably about 55 minutes in the game, and when it came to crunch time, when you have to be able to focus, zero in, not really elevate your game but do everything exactly like you need to do it to give your team the best chance to be successful, they were able to make the plays that they need to make and we weren't. (We) Didn't put ourselves in position to do that. And I think that's something that you learn when you're playing games like that and I think there's a lot to be learned by our players relative to that."

"So, saying all that, I really feel like it's not like anybody was out-talented or we didn't have enough good players to do what we needed to do to have the opportunity to win the game. We obviously had done a pretty good job of overcoming adversity early in the game, coming back in the game, playing almost two full quarters where they didn't score. Scored enough points to have a chance to win but gave up too many big plays which is what allowed them to get back in the game. And once the game got in the balance we didn't make the plays that we needed to make in the game to have a chance to put ourselves in the best position to be successful. And that's everyone's responsibility. It's my responsibility. It's our responsibility as coaches, and every player has got to be able to maintain his poise and his focus so that he can do what he needs to do in those kinds of situations to make the best plays."

"I think that we had some outstanding performances in the game offensively. Evan Cardwell has certainly done a nice job in the last four games playing center and did a nice job in this game. Keith Brown made two outstanding catches in the game for touchdowns and also had a pass interference on another one. Rashad Johnson had another interception which is his fifth. He's played very well for us all year and been a really consistent player. (He) had nine tackles. (He) had the highest production point total of anybody this year. Wallace Gilberry had another outstanding game. (He) had eight tackles, three sacks (and) a couple of other quarterback pressures. These two guys have been guys who have been consistently outstanding players for us all year long and certainly need to be recognized that way, I think, relative to the whole body of performance, not just in this particular game."

"Javy (Javier Arenas) obviously did a really good job on special teams. We got positive kickoff return field position as well as the punt return. The 61-yard punt return was a big play in the game and to have 237 total return yards is exceptionally good. And he's also got recognized by the SEC as being the Player of the Week for special teams. Forress Rayford, who has been kind of an unsung hero for us, a senior who has done a really good job all year long on special teams did a fantastic job covering kicks; (he was) good on punt return, good on the return game being consistently getting his blocks."

"From an injury standpoint, I don't think we have anybody that's serious. We may have a couple of guys that aren't able to practice today with minor type injuries, but we feel like we'll have everybody back to be able to practice tomorrow. And I feel like if we had to push everybody to practice today we probably could get that done. But at this point in the season I think it's more important to try to get guys healthy and none of the injuries that we have are significant. Smitty's (Andre Smith) got a little twisted ankle. Cardwell's got a little bit of a back spasm deal. We've got a couple of other guys bruised up but I don't think anybody else will have any issues at all relative to today."

"I think the most important thing moving forward is that we learned from our experiences that we had in this game. We can't be down or disappointed. We can't be hang-doggin'. We can't be wounded. We've got to get ready for the next game. Mississippi State has obviously beaten some good teams this year. Beat Auburn early in the year. Had a great win against Kentucky in their last game on the road. Sylvester (Croom) has done an outstanding job there. They play with a lot of discipline and they're a physical team. They've played very well on defense this year. I think they're ranked fifth in the SEC in defense. They're good on special teams. Offensively they're able to run the ball. They've got a big back. He's hard to tackle. The freshman quarterback, Wesley Carroll has gotten better and better and better as the year has gone on. They've done a good job of allowing him to do the things that he needs to do in the passing game so they've been successful at that as well. And they've got a good return game, especially in kick-off return. (Derek) Pegues does a good job as a return man. So this is like every other SEC game. This will be a battle. It's going to be a tough game for us. We cannot be disappointed about the circumstances we're in and how we bounce back will be as challenging relative to our character and our attitude and how we approach moving forward and looking forward relative to what this team can accomplish, and it all starts in this game."

"So for all of you who sat here last week trying to get me to say that that was the biggest game of the year and it's the only thing that you can understand, my question to you now is, ‘How do you feel now about this game?' It's the biggest game of the year. Right or wrong? So that's good for this week's papers, right? Should be real good for this week's papers."


Talk turnovers a little bit. What are your goals as far as how many you want compared to how many you can give up and why you've been so successful in turnover ratio.

SABAN: "Obviously, turnovers are big in this game. Turnovers got us back in the game when we were behind by getting three in the first half. It certainly set the table. It also had something to do with us getting behind to start the game because we turned it over early and gave them the ball in great field position. It also had something to do with the outcome of the game because we turned it over in the end which actually set up their winning score. So you talk about goals all you want. But it's never good to turn the ball over, so it's our goal on offense to not have any turnovers. It's not okay to say, ‘Okay, we can turn the ball over twice.' We only turned it over twice in this game. They turned them both into scores. So if we took what our turnovers did, it contributed to them scoring 14 points. And usually what we do at the end of the season is say, ‘Okay. Every turnover we had resulted in this. So how costly was every turnover?' If we gave up 20 turnovers for the year, what happened after each one of those? And they average out to 3.2 points. That's how important a turnover is. I'm not saying they did; I'm just being hypothetical. And they usually come up somewhere between 2.5 and 3.2 relative to fumbles, interceptions and all that kind of stuff. Now, obviously, the better defense you have, maybe you minimize that a little bit. And on defense our goal is to always get three turnovers in a game. But a bigger goal than that is always to have a positive turnover ratio. So we did get three turnovers in the game but we had two, so we're plus one. And that wasn't enough. That wasn't enough. Explosive plays, we kind of do the same thing with. What do they do for you? How do they affect the game? They had seven explosive plays and we only had four. So that was a big difference in them getting back in the game. When we had a 10-point lead, that's how they got the game tied up. Now if you count the punt return, that's another explosive play, but I'm just talking about offensive."

Would you assess the game that Jonathan Lowe had, both on offense and special teams? And, also talk about the way his role has expanded.

SABAN: "Well, we've been trying to get him in a position where we could use him a little bit more…Started using him on special teams. He's been hurt for about three weeks now with a bad ankle, a high ankle sprain. So we haven't been able to get him in the running back flow of things like we had planned to do a long time ago. I think he did fine in the game and, obviously, as he gets more experience he'll do better, and that's not to say that anyone else did poorly. Terry Grant did a fine job in the game, and if Roy Upchurch would have played a little bit more we have every confidence that he would have done well. I think Jonathan Lowe is healthy now and, hopefully, he will continue to get healthier and become more of a contributor with his explosiveness."

Kareem Jackson made a couple of pretty big plays in the last game. Could you assess his progress this season?

SABAN: "Certainly, for a true freshman, he's done a very good job for us all year long. I think he's going to continue to improve. I think the most important thing in his improvement is consistency and technique. When he does it right, he can be really good, but when he doesn't do it right he can really get himself in some trouble. I think that would be true of anybody that plays his position (cornerback). He's made some big plays. He's had some pass breakups, especially in the last couple of games, that have been critical and he's also had some big-play interceptions that have contributed to the success of the team. Hopefully, he'll get more and more consistent in his technique and that will help him play even better in the future. When he makes mistakes, they're correctable mistakes. He doesn't make a lot of mental errors; it's more in technique – confidence and technique. Taking all the information, putting it together so you can put yourself in the best position all the time."

I wondered if you could speak about (MSU defensive lineman) Titus Brown and the concerns that he gives you, especially considering the way LSU was able to pressure the quarterback last week.

SABAN: "He's had seven sacks; he's a great speed rusher. He's a guy that you have to certainly manage relative to how you're going to take care of him during the game because he can be very disruptive and effect the quarterback. He plays with great speed and they do a good job of utilizing what he can do well playing on the edge. He's an outstanding player for them and has a lot of production this year."

Mississippi State seems to have evolved offensively as this season has passed. They started out with a West Coast-style of offense and now they seem to be relying more on (RB Anthony) Dixon and the power running game … have you noticed that?

SABAN: "I still think they are more of a West Coast offense, but I think they have run the ball effectively. They have probably evolved into more of a power team, but this whole West Coast thing, there's about five different ways people run the offense. When Bill Walsh did it, the I-formation wasn't a part of the equation. When (former 49ers Coach Steve) Mariucci took over that became a part of the equation, so there was part of a running game that was implement into it. So, I think they're doing a combination of both. They've been effective because they're doing a very good job of running the football."

You said after the LSU game that you were certain that the officials got the calls right on the overrules. Have you looked at that again? And, do you have any opinion about that if you have looked at it on film?

SABAN: "You know I did look at them. I think they were all difficult close calls. Probably Matt Caddell's catch being the one that is the hardest to figure out whether he did or he didn't. It really doesn't matter what I think. It is what it is. I thought he caught the ball on the field. He did double-catch the ball, the question is whether he had possession of it when he hit the ground. Whenever he hit the ground he lost possession of it, but I can't sit here and say emphatically that … I mean they had the same tapes to look at as I did relative to the TV copies and we're not standing up complaining about what was called. We had three circumstances in the game, and I think the other two, for sure, were called correctly. This one was really a close call. It was a close call and I listened to the commentators and they were going back and forth on it, too. It really doesn't matter now. Matt made a great effort and a great catch. It's unfortunate that it didn't count. It could have made a significant difference in the game."

Regarding the suspensions – if the ruling does come down from the NCAA, are these guys ineligible to play as far as you're concerned, or have you handed down suspensions regardless of what the NCAA says?

SABAN: "I think the guys have been penalized. I think the NCAA rules penalized the guys relative to what we've done. I still don't know, in any kind of final circumstance, exactly what that is, so I would be making an assumption that I would rather not make if I said. We're going to continue to do what we've done – hope for the best and prepare for the worst relative to, ‘will we be able to use those players?'. That's all I can really say about it because nothing has been completed and it's not final in terms of what the circumstances are going to be and I'd rather not comment on it until that occurs."

Going into the season, we all thought that Keith Brown would be a big factor in this offense but, until last Saturday, he has not been. Why hasn't he been? And, do you think you can rely on him the rest of the way?

SABAN: "I think Keith has a lot of ability and is a very explosive player for us, and we certainly want him to be a big part of what we're doing. And I think consistency in performance is really important for us to do that. We've certainly had a lot of receivers play well this year. Matt Caddell has played well, you know, we've had a lot of guys play well at that position and we have a significant amount of depth at that position. So the competition is keen. I think that can make everybody better, but we try to play the guys who have been the most consistent relative to week-in and week-out, practice-in and practice-out. Keith did a fantastic job in the last game and, hopefully, Keith will continue to do that because he is an explosive, vertical threat that would certainly complement the guys."

Javier Arenas is a special player, very explosive, after seeing him on tape, how much of it is him just making plays and how much credit can you give the special teams unit for creating opportunities?

SABAN: "The special teams unit has done a very good job of giving him opportunities. Now, I am going to say all that to say this: when they have that spread-out punt and we actually, on the return, we actually pressured four or five guys, which they have three guys back there in the shield – so he made about three guys miss to get it started. So he did a lot to get it started on his own. Because we were pressuring, those (three) guys were all kind of at the same plane. So, when he made one miss he made them all miss. So when he broke that plane he was … and there were some good blocks made so he could go the distance. He's got great quickness. He can make a guy miss, which you look for, especially in a punt returner. If you can make one guy miss, that usually is what it takes to get to where your blockers can help you and be effective. Javi's been very good at doing that and the other guys have been. I think they have a lot of confidence that, if they do a good job, we can make a big play. So everybody's been working hard to do that."

It seems like you are losing some yards in the punting game, in the exchange of punts. It seems like P.J. (Fitzgerald) has been struggling. Can you talk about that?

SABAN: "I think that all goes back to that same word we use all the time – consistency. He does punt well in practice and his consistency in the game has not been what we would like it to be and it's not been what he would like for it to be. We had a great sky-punt situation where Rashad (Johnson) caught the ball at about the three-yard line and we had a couple of other situations like that where we didn't get enough on the ball to get it inside the 20. So those are all things that I think not only the average, but the situation that you're in relative to how you control the vertical field position is really important. And specialist execution really plays a big role in that and we need to do that with a little more consistency. But it also goes with protection, snap, timing, direction, where we want the ball placed and kicked, especially against good returners. All those things contribute to that, but we need to do a more consistent job relative to our net punt. It starts with how well we punt it, what the hang time is, and those types of things."

You have talked about your players getting past the LSU game, you talked about the 24-hour rule, other than saying that what do you do to prevent them from not getting over that game?

SABAN: "You talk about lessons learned. I think a big lesson in this game, which I mentioned before, is how do you play at crunch time? You're playing against a team that's been in a lot of big games. That's the third game they've come back from being 10 down – versus Florida, Auburn and us – so they have confidence they're going to make the plays in crunch time. Obviously, Michael Jordan was pretty good at making game-winning shots so how does that affect people? Well, its confidence and belief in yourself that if I focus on what I am supposed to do I am giving myself, my team and my unit the best chance to be successful. And that's a big lesson to be learned in this game. And we want them to learn those lessons because you have to experience those things to get to be that kind of team. The other thing is you learn from those things, and you challenge the players relative to (the fact that) we've all had an opportunity or occasion in life when things didn't go like we wanted them to go. So, how do you respond to that? To me, that says as much about your character as anything. Competitive character, what kind of person you are, who you are. How we respond to this is going to say a lot about how we overcome adversity, which is going to be important in the future of the program. This is something we need to do, and learn to do, and understand and have respect for the people we're playing because it is a good football team. Fully understand what it is going to take to win this football game and fully understand that the pain goes away only when you have success, so how do we focus on what we need to do to be successful so we can have success against another good team. Players have to learn, you have to prepare and have the same mindset relative to everybody that you play. Because it's really not about who you're playing, it's about how you play and who you are. That's pride, and that's where consistency comes from, and it all starts with preparation and how we go about what we do in practice, in terms of our preparation. Sometimes you have difficulty dealing with success. We need to deal with the frustrations (of losing). But there's also a lot of things to be said on the positive side, which I also mentioned, that we had one of the best teams in the country on the ropes with the players we have here who have done a really good job of playing hard, competing well in the game, fighting, scratching, clawing, doing a good job on special teams, doing a good job on offense, defense, … We did a lot of good things in the game. We had one of the best teams in the country on the ropes and had an opportunity to win the game, so there are a lot of positives in that. The players should get some confidence in that they accomplished that. Are we pleased with losing? Absolutely not. There's no such thing as moral victories, there's no such thing as any of that stuff, but we came up short. The lesson to be learned is how did we play at crunch time? That's what everybody's got to grow and develop, in terms of their confidence and what they focus on and believe in at those times in the game. So we can make those winning plays we need to make. So, it's about who you are. If you've got pride in your performance you will play well in the next game, you will prepare to play well in the next game, and you've got to put it behind you. That's what we need to do. It's a challenge to everyone in terms of how they will overcome adversity."

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