Coach Saban After Win Over Georgia
Alabama Coach Nick Saban asked the media what the date was. Everyone knew what was coming, that he was going to explain that it doesn't matter where a team is ranked early in the season. (That's not entirely true, but his point is a good one.)
"September 29th, " a few of us answered. I had a cheat sheet. I always write down the date at the top of my legal pad when I'm interviewing anyone or sitting in a press conference.
But he stumped us with Part II. "Who was ranked second in the nation last year on September 29th?" Saban asked. No one ventured a guess. Last season the number two team in the nation lost about eight times, so that spot was fruit basket turnover.
Although Saban said he didn't know where Alabama was ranked this week, it's probably more than coincidence that he pulled out "number two" for his question.
Alabama is number two in the Associated Press poll after its 41-30 mauling of Georgia in Athens Saturday night.
This week the challenge is Kentucky. Alabama, now 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play, returns to Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium after back-to-back SEC road games. Kentucky is 4-0 and will play its first SEC game this week. CBS will televise the game, which begins at 2:30 p.m. CDT.
Saban said, "It will be interesting to see how our players respond. We have learned how to respond to adversity around here a little bit and now we need to respond to some success and maintain our intensity, focus on what we need to do and not be distracted by things that don't matter. It is September 29. I don't know what we are ranked and I don't really care."
Regarding the 41-30 win over Georgia, Saban said, "In reviewing the game it was certainly hats off to the players for going into a very difficult place to play, handling the noise, maintaining intensity. We played a very good first half of the game. Momentum is a little bit fleeting. You have to understand that, you have to maintain intensity. I don't think we were able to do that in the second half against a good team. They always kind of mount those runs, in basketball great skill players, and in football they did it to us. The biggest thing I think we need to improve on is finishing and consistency.
"The special team errors were huge in terms of field position and allowing the other team to get back into the game. They are all things that are correctable. We need to do a better job playing with consistency. That is something we have worked hard at, coached hard at, we have young players playing on special teams that need to do a better job in making some improvement, finishing some plays, whether it be kickoff coverage (or any other area). Two weeks in a row we have made mental errors in punt protection - it is nothing that cannot be corrected. This week it cost us a blocked punt. Kickoff coverage has been good sometimes and bad sometimes. We need to fix that.
"We had some outstanding performance in this game. John Parker was the Player of the Week in the conference but him, Julio (Jones) and Roy Upchurch all did an outstanding job on offense from a coaching standpoint. Rashad Johnson and Rolando McClain played well defensively. Leigh Tiffin was our best performer on special teams with his consistency in his kicking.
From an injury standpoint, Mike McCoy is probably going to be out for today. His injury is day-to-day. There will be some questions whether he will be able to play in this game or not. Preston Dial after getting his knee scoped is day-to-day, but will be very questionable for this game as well."
Saban later said that wide receiver Darius Hanks had not made the trip to Athens "because he was not 100 per cent. He could have played, but we decided to take someone who was healthy." He indicated Hanks would be back this week.
Saban said, "We are certainly looking forward to playing at home. Being on the road in tough places to play for two weeks has us looking forward to playing in front of our fans. I know they will create a great atmosphere for us in this particular game.
"Rich Brooks is a really good coach. He did a great job at Oregon for a long time and he certainly has done an outstanding job in his six years at Kentucky. They are maybe the best defensive team in the country. They are certainly first in scoring defense. They have a lot of guys back from last year's team. They are physical, they play with toughness, and they make good sound adjustments in what they do. Obviously giving up five points a game they are hard to score on which makes you a good defensive team.
"Offensively they have done a nice job controlling the ball. Their new quarterback, (Mike) Hartline has done a good job of managing the offense, keeping them in the right place and have them doing the right things. Their offensive line is good. They have been able to run the ball effectively against everybody they have played against. They have shown the capabilities of beating good teams in beating LSU when they were No. 1 last year.
"They are very good on special teams. (Dicky) Lyons is a good punt returner and is their leading receiver and they lead the conference in kickoff returns.
"This is going to be a challenging game for us. It is no different than the game we just played relative to maintaining intensity in terms of your mental energy, not only in how you play the game but how you prepare to play the game and get ready to play the game."
Saban then took questions on a variety of subjects. They included: On Roy Upchurch and the running back situation:
"Roy Upchurch has played very well for us all year long. Not just as a running back but he is probably one of our best special teams players week-in and week-out. Mark (Ingram) got a bruised knee in the game. He could have played in the game. It happened early in the game on the second or third carry. They checked him out and said he was ok and could play in the game. He will practice today. The way the game was going, we just decided Roy and Glen (Coffee) could do it and we would only play Mark if we needed to. Roy did have a role in the game and he carried that role out very well in some third down situations as a third down back which he would have down whether Mark got hurt or not. We didn't have a plan to change the rotation but Roy has done a really good job. This is a style thing with the three runners we have right now that are all playing. Most of the plays that we run are direct runs. We are running downhill and the physical square to the line runners that can make the cuts are the guys that do that the best. It is just how we have evolved. The three guys that are playing are the guys that can do that and done it the best as their style as runners. We are not disappointed in anyone else who is not playing as much but their style lends itself to a different type of play and there may be a circumstance where that becomes something we want to do in a game as well and we will use that particular guy."
On the first quarter success:
"First of all the coaching staff is doing a pretty good job of getting our players prepared to play the game and start the game. Our players have been ready to play the games for the most part. We have done a good job of executing. That is probably the biggest reason for it. The key to the drill is how we maintain that for 60 minutes in the game so that we don't allow people to make runs on us and come back on us because good teams will do that. It is not just in the game it is game-to-game to maintain that. That is going to be critical in terms of developing consistency down the road."
On what goes into preparing for the first drive of the game:
"We plan it. We practice it. Our players are aware of what will be called whether it is 8-10-12-15 plays. Obviously it doesn't go completely towards the script because you have some situations that are short yardage on third down or whatever. We do that and we try and play a way on defense where we make simple adjustments early trying to get through their script if they are a script team. They will probably come out and give you some stuff you haven't seen before so you try and make it simple for your players to adjust to it and play through the script."
On the effect of getting up early on teams:
"Moreno (Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno) is a great player. We practiced a lot against stopping him as a runner. So if you take the time you invest in practice against doing that which may have been 50 percent of the time and the game goes 90-10 the other way, where all of a sudden No. 8, No. 1, No. 82 and No. 7 are doing plays all vertical down the field so you can say we wasted a significant amount of time trying to stop Moreno when he is not running anymore. It kind of goes both ways, when the game changes you need to change the style of what you are going to play to defend but sometimes when it goes that way it is more difficult because you maybe don't have enough bullets in your gun to change it up enough. We worked hard on their screen game. They started off the game with screens but after we got ahead the screens were gone. We are defending screens when we should be rushing the passer and worried about throwing the ball vertical down the field. They had to change their style but we were defending a different style than what we practiced against and had no way to predict that it would happen."
On wishing the ranking was not as high;
"I don't know how we were ranked and I don't really care. It is the same old thing. You can read what (Mark) Sanchez said at USC about not being prepared for the game or what Percy Harvin said about how we let this happen. It us up to the players and the staff and human nature and overcoming being satisfied with what you have done up to this point. When you get satisfied and fall in love with yourself, you get complacent, you lose your desire, you don't prepare, and you don't have the mental intensity that you need to perform well. The last game showed that as well as anything. We had it in the first half, we were up 31-0 but we didn't have it as well in the second half. You can make any excuse you want for the circumstance but we lost the second half 31-10. It means something. Once you lose it, momentum swings, it is hard to get back. That is why you have to maintain throughout. Your season, game-to-game, play-to-play for 60 minutes in a game and it is not human nature to do that."
On special team breakdowns:
"There is not a common thread. Specifically in punt protection we have one guy who is not blocking the right guy two weeks in a row and he is the guy who calls who is blocking who. So that is a hard one for me to understand. In kickoff coverage we had some young guys running down the field and when they do it correctly we have great success in getting good field position and when they run the same return and do it incorrectly the ball breaks out and they get better field position. The punt coverage in the last game has not been that bad. There were a couple penalties that were not called and that as verified by the SEC. I am not talking about the officials they have a tough job and they just missed it. The two guys that could have made the plays there were infractions on the particular play. We need to clean up our coverage areas. On our return game, people are not kicking to 28 but our drive start has been good. In other words they are squib kicking all the time and sky kicking. We are getting the ball in good field position, it affects your return yards just not your drive start. So that is the most important thing – where do you start the drive. That part of it has been ok. I hope when we get opportunities we will be able to return the ball."
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