Bama Football Still Work In Progress
Alabama will meet Utah at 7 p.m. CST Friday in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. (Kickoff will actually be about 7:17 after pre-game events). Bama is 12-1, Utah 12-0. Fox will televise the game.
In his final briefing before the game, Coach Nick Saban was reminded that he had credited much of this year's success to Alabama having finished last season with a 30-24 win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl. He was asked if this game had that same relevance, particularly considering the senior leaders that will be lost from this squad.
Saban said, "I think circumstances were different. I made the statement before that change is inevitable, but growth is optional. I think that somewhere during last year's Bowl game, there was a significant number of guys on our team, critical mass of players, maybe more younger players than even seniors at that particular time, that started to want to make a change, that would affect the future.
"I think, even though that's a work in progress, I think that change had a significant impact on, you know, the success, the commitment that was made to the success of what this team has been able to accomplish.
"I think the circumstances are entirely different now. The challenge of playing a game after you lost a game certainly is something that great teams can do, and do well. That's a challenge for our team. But it's going to be important for this team to remember what they did to have success and be willing to make a commitment to that to duplicate those kinds of efforts in the future, not lose sight of the process, not be satisfied with what was accomplished.
"So this is a totally different circumstance to where we were a year ago. And psychologically. We're going to have to have a little different approach to be able to continue to grow and develop the culture of success we want to have and the standard of excellence we're trying to aspire to. Players are going to have to make a different kind of commitment because they can't be satisfied.
"We certainly hope they won't be. Our expectation is the demands on them are going to continue to be high. I hope they have the same personal aspirations to continue to improve and get better."
Here is the rest of Coach Saban's briefing, beginning with his opening statement then questions and answers:
COACH SABAN: First of all, I'd like to wish everybody a Happy New Year. Certainly a time to reflect on things that last year brought us all, and certainly the expectations we have for the future.
I'd like to thank the Sugar Bowl Committee, all the people who have worked so hard to show our team a lot of positive self-gratification for the efforts they made and the success they had in the season this year. We certainly enjoyed the week, tried to keep a balance in terms of what the priority is, which is to play good football in a great football game that has a lot of tradition - especially being the 75th Sugar Bowl, a BCS game, playing against a very good Utah team that is I think the only undefeated team in the country. It's certainly special to be here for us. It's a special venue to have the opportunity to participate in.
I'd like to say something about our team. You know, our team has really given a lot this year. In some ways they've received a lot of positive self-gratification for what they've done. But, you know, this team has been a work in progress. You know, change is kind of inevitable sometimes; but the growth that people make and the team makes is really optional.
This team shared in some values that, from the very beginning, has helped them play to a high level on a pretty consistent basis. Probably one of the teams that I've had the opportunity to coach in my career that you feel good about the capacity that they play to on a pretty consistent basis.
We have a lot of resources at The University of Alabama that we use to try to help players develop as people, as students, as football players. I'm going to use those resources to help them launch their career. But this team was willing to do what successful teams do. Sometimes teams aren't willing to do that. They did what unsuccessful teams won't do.
This game is about players. The players' priority, how important this game is to them, will certainly reflect how they go out and perform tomorrow night in what is a great opportunity for them to be in a BCS game and have an opportunity to win 13 games in a season and have an opportunity to win a BCS game in the Sugar Bowl.
Our hats are off to our players, our coaches, all the people who have contributed in a positive way to the success that we have had this season. We want to finish the season the right way. That is something we've emphasized to our players throughout this Bowl preparation.
Here is the question and answer segment:
Q. There's a couple of potentially intriguing matchups in this game. One is Sean Smith against Julio Jones, the other is Paul Kruger against, now, Mike Johnson. What needs to happen for Alabama to get the best of these matchups?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that obviously they do have a good guy that has an -- outstanding player at corner who we assume will match up against Julio in the game. Julio, he's a young player that has made a tremendous amount of progress this season. They have a very good player. But I think it's these kind of games, these kind of matchups that great competitors look forward to.
They're going to play us a lot of man-to-man and close coverage. It's going to be important, not only for Julio, but for all the players on our team to use technique, good speed, play fast, be able to create some space so that we can throw the ball effectively. I'm sure it's going to be their goal not to let that happen.
I think their quickness on defense is going to be a challenge for our front. Certainly their defensive end, that Mike is going to have to block, is a guy that's had a lot of production, is a good pass-rusher. We have a lot of confidence in our player. Hopefully Mike will do a great job against him.
Just got to play with good technique and good fundamentals.
Q. We've talked a lot about the Pacific Institute, the other mental conditioning stuff you've done throughout the season and the summer. How well has that prepared you to handle, not just this week, but also the other situations that have kind of come up around the game?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think part of this is all about self-actualization: who you are, what you want, how you channel your energy in a positive way into accomplishing what you want. I think that's what this is all about. The respect, the trust that you have for each other on a team, the responsibility that everybody has to do the right things, not only for themselves, to help themselves be successful, but also for the team to be successful, the commitment that everybody makes and has a trust and respect for, relative to the work, the pride and performance, the perseverance it takes to overcome adversity.
There's always adversity. There's always circumstances and situations that come up that are challenging for everyone to stay focused on the things that they can control so that they have the best opportunity to be successful. To do all that with positive energy and positive attitude, to affect each other in a positive way, is something that can also be beneficial. That has a lot to do with leadership. I don't think you accomplish what this team accomplished in winning 12 games in a regular season without having a lot of positive leadership on your team.
Q. It was announced yesterday you won the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year award. What is your reaction when you hear you win AP Coach of the Year or Home Depot or any of these?
COACH SABAN: My reaction to it is I think these should be Team of the Year awards, "team" being everybody associated with our organization. We have a high standard of what we want to try to aspire to, me personally as well as everyone in the organization. Everyone in the organization has contributed in a positive way. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. All the people in support roles have done a phenomenal job. The players have done a phenomenal job.
You can only accept these types of awards with all those people in mind, who have contributed significantly, and you do it all honoring them because, you know, they made it possible in terms of the commitment, the hard work. That's certainly appreciated.
I think these awards are for all of us in our organization, and it shouldn't be specific to one particular person.
Q. Utah doesn't get the chance to judge itself against top-level BCS competition nearly as often as Alabama does. Now that you've had a chance to dissect them in detail, where do you think they would stack up if they played a schedule similar to an SEC team?
COACH SABAN: I think they're a top 10 team in this country and I think rightfully so for what they've accomplished and the competition that they've played against. We feel like they're one of the best teams we played against all year. They're ranked to respect who they are and what they've accomplished and what they've done.
I certainly feel like this is a very challenging point for us. I think they've got as fine a quarterback with as good a passing efficiency and accuracy as we've played against all year. Their production on offense is one of the top teams in the country. They're one of the top defensive teams in the country. They have one of the top turnover margins of any team in the country. They have very good players. They're very well-coached. They play with a lot of discipline. They execute extremely well.
I think they would be very, very competitive in any league that they would have to play in.
Q. Has the Andre Smith situation put a stain on this season for the program and for you personally?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think it's disappointing any time you have a circumstance like this. It's unfortunate that we have circumstances like this. But it goes right back to the same thing. You know, everybody has a responsibility to do what's right any time anybody violates their Code of Conduct, their principles and values of what is right, and that supersedes nobody, including me. There can be consequences for that. When you to the right things, there can be consequences that are very positive. Sometimes when you don't do the right thing, there's consequences that aren't as positive.
I think it's an opportunity for a lot of players on our team to learn how this particular situation impacted one of our players and could impact them in the future. Hopefully they'll learn and we'll be able to teach them better to be able to manage circumstances and situations like this so it doesn't happen again.
But, you know, this provides an opportunity for somebody else to be able to play, and we're going to support the players that are playing in the game to do the very best job that they can. Nobody enjoys negative circumstances. But I think that it's a little unrealistic to think that everything's always going to run smoothly. And I do think it's a challenge to overcome that adversity. It will be interesting to see how our team responds to that.
Q. What are a couple of the things that you've seen from John Parker this season that have impressed you about his maturity, his growth?
COACH SABAN: Well, he's done an outstanding job, first of all, managing our team and being a leader, having a positive impact and effect on the players that play with him, which I think is signified by the fact he was elected captain by his teammates for this year. You know, I think his decision-making, his judgment has been a lot more businesslike. He's made fewer turnovers, had better passing efficiency, even though the total yards and touchdowns may not be what they were in the past. I don't think that's attributed to his performance as much as it is the style of our team this year compared to last year.
Last year we had a lot of good, experienced receivers. This year the strength of our team has been the running game, because of the tight ends and offensive line, and inexperience at receivers. I think he's managed his way through that and helped those guys develop and improve. He's played the kind of football that you would say this is winning football: don't turn the ball over; do what you need to do; don't force it.
I think that's been the biggest difference, is his businesslike approach to the decision making and judgments that he's made, not only in throwing the ball, getting us in the right play offensively as well as his leadership and how he's affected other players on the offensive team.
Q. With the resources both financially and from a facilities standpoint that Alabama has, what sort of advantages does that give a program like Alabama over a program like Utah that doesn't have the financial advantages and facilities?
COACH SABAN: Have you ever been to Utah?
Q. I'm talking about what I've heard from Utah people.
COACH SABAN: Well, I've been to Utah. I went there to work out Alex Smith when I was at Miami. It's a beautiful place. Salt Lake City is a beautiful place. It's a beautiful campus. They have fine facilities: nice, indoor. I mean, it's a nice place. They have a lot of tradition. They've won seven straight Bowl games. They're undefeated. They're well-coached. Urban Meyer did a great job there. Kyle (Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham) has done a fantastic job there carrying on. So they have resources and they do a fantastic job with what they got. We have a tremendous amount of respect for it.
In the two years that we've been able to take advantage of our resources, we're still building. We're going to continue to do that. We're happy to have the opportunity to do it.
Q. You spoke glowingly of the Utes today. Is there a curiosity level to see if your players play that way tomorrow night? The sense is that they're supposed to go in and dominate.
COACH SABAN: Well, that's why you people are in the media and you make predictions. You have a pre-season poll. When the pre-season poll comes out, I say it means nothing. When you're ranked No. 1 the seventh week of the season and you ask me what it means, I say it means nothing.
So can you tell me what the pre-season poll was this year and where everybody was ranked? Can you tell me who was ranked No. 2, 3, and 4 the seventh game of the season?
I appreciate what you all do in creating interest for our sport, which is very, very important to the players and everybody else. But this game will get decided on the field by the players. Our players need to be ready to play their best football of the season if they want to be successful regardless of what y'all think, because I don't think you have the proper respect for the team that we're playing.
But it's only because they don't have a big name, play in a big-name conference. But they have good football players that have beaten big-name teams from big-name conferences this year. Our players need to respect that and understand what they're going to need to do to play and try to dominate the guy they play against for every play in the game like it has a history and life of its own for 60 minutes in the game or they won't have the success that they would like to have.
Q. You touched on a couple individual matchups on the offensive side. Is there a matchup on defense that could be a key for y'all?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think their quarterback is the key. I think they have a very good runningback. Obviously, you got to be able to stop the run to create situations. But their quarterback to me is an outstanding player, great accuracy, athletic, can get away from the rush in the pocket and make plays. He can run the ball if he's asked to do that. They have a good scheme offensively in terms of how they attack the defense, whether it's multiple personnel groups, empty formations, four wide-outs to match up against.
So the challenge to me in this game is you obviously need to stop the run, can't give up big plays, got to affect the quarterback in the game. They've been a very good red-area efficiency team because of their ability to run the ball in the red area as well as throw it.
Third down is critical in the game. I mentioned that before, with that was one of our failings in the Florida game. Two of the things that I just mentioned: we gave up a couple of big plays that were all on scoring drives, we had three third-down situations that they all scored touchdowns on. So that's going to be critical in the game for us. Turnovers always have a significant impact on the outcome of any game.
I think a lot of those things, maybe they're not a specific matchup, but they're all going to go back to one thing, and that's how we affect the quarterback in the game with the skies, with coverage, with pressure, can we create pressure with the four-man rush, all those types of things, after we hopefully can stop their running game. They force you to play the pass some, so it's going to be a real challenge for our defensive players.
Q. Your coaching staff has obviously worked very well together this year. Is this a group you'd like to see stay together for another season or is change inevitable there?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think continuity is always good for your coaching staff. But I also think the other side of that is, you know, your coaches work hard so that they can -- they have goals and aspirations that they'd like to achieve. I would like for each and every one of our coaches to continue to be motivated because they can reach some of those goals and aspirations in terms of what they want to achieve. So change becomes almost inevitable, you know, on every staff.
But the other side of that is, if you do have change, it's an opportunity to bring in new enthusiasm, fresh ideas, people who can really complement the staff that you have.
So it's probably inevitable that there will be some change. Continuity is great. But also when you do have change, there are some tremendous benefits to that in terms of new experience, new ideas, new enthusiasm.
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