Saban's Comments From Atlanta
The Southeastern Conference Championship Game is at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. CBS will televise the game between Alabama and Florida, both 12-0. The winner is headed for the national championship game.
The SEC requires the head coaches of the participating teams to hold a press conference on the day before the contest. Here is the result of Alabama Coach Nick Saban's meeting with the media.
COACH SABAN: First of all, I'd like to thank especially the people from Alabama and the national media as well for the fantastic job that you've done in terms of covering our team and creating a lot of positive self-gratification for a lot of our players in terms of your attention, your time and the exposure that you provided for them. I think they probably don't really know how to say thank you. But I know they appreciate it. I know it's important to them. We're very proud of the fact that we have guys up for national awards as well as four guys that made All-American yesterday and I think it's the exposure and the things that you do that helps those guys be able to receive those kind of awards and that kind of positive self-gratification. I'd like to thank you for all that you do for The University of Alabama as well as college football.
We've had a good week this week. And we're certainly excited about having the opportunity to be back in the SEC Championship game. This is a little bit like a title fight. And you know the other team's going to be pretty good. You know they're going to know how to win or they wouldn't be here. You know they're going to be well prepared and probably pretty well coached.
And I think that hopefully we learned a few things last year about what it takes to be a champion, what it takes to win a championship. And it's a very good team that we're playing. All the things that I've said above are true about the team that we have an opportunity to play. So it's just going to be a matter of every player being able to focus on what they need to do each playing the game for every play in the game because each play or any play can affect the game and the outcome of the game.
Regardless of the circumstances in the game, you're going to have to be able to compete through that and play every play in the game that way.
So I know you have a lot of questions about the specifics of the game, but I just think that's really important to understand what it takes to win a championship, the team togetherness that it takes, the discipline to execute in an emotional environment and being responsible for your own self-determination, the positive energy and attitude to affect your teammates, the kind of resiliency and effort that it's going to take for every play in the game to be able to compete in a championship game.
Q. You're familiar with the population in Alabama that thinks football was invented there. I'm wondering if you look at it in any way tomorrow as an opportunity to toss this usurper off the throne and for Alabama to regain its position as the king of football in the South?
COACH SABAN: All the things that you would assume I would think about, I don't think that. So it's hard for me to answer a question where, first of all, I think our fans have great passion. But I think the fans in the SEC have great passion for their teams, regardless of where you go and play. And I think that's why a lot of people and a lot of players want to be in this league, and that's why I think the league is as great as it is.
We sort of know that the expectations at the University of Alabama are relatively high relative to the tradition that they have there and the passion that they have there, and I would probably even go as far to say our fans think that's unique and they're proud of that.
But the fact of the matter is there's a lot of passion, a lot of other places for their football, too, and we understand that all the love that we get is conditional on one thing. And that's that we win the game.
So that's the way I look at it. We don't really get affected by all the rest of it. And we really want to win the game for the players on the team who have it's their blood, sweat and tears that's created this opportunity for themselves. And that's who I want to do the job for, is the players on the team. And I know if the players on the team can do it that will make a lot of people happy as well.
Q. Although Florida does so many things offensively, it seems to be really adept at running the option right now. Could you comment just maybe on the difficulty of defending Florida's option?
COACH SABAN: I think that what you say is very true. I think that to probably summarize their offense, they have a quarterback who can run the ball. They have some very good running backs who have great speed on the perimeter. And they are reading their plays almost each and every play as to whether they hand the ball off or option the ball, or even create a pitchman sometimes to option the ball.
Or even when they run a shuffle pass sometimes they have the option to pitch the ball. So that in itself is an option.
And so it is difficult to defend, because it's about numbers. So you really have an offense that the point of attack can change from out there to out here, to running it in here or throwing it down there. And that's about -- and all those things can change in one step, whether it's play action pass or how they create their options.
And the fact that they have a quarterback who is unique in terms of his ability to run the ball, execute their offense and be a very efficient, effective passer, makes it very important to play very disciplined team defense in terms of everybody keying, being in the right spot and making sure you keep the right side boards on the defense and they do it out of a lot of different personnel groups and different formations that so that makes it even more difficult for the defense to adjust to each one of those things correctly.
Q. First just a housekeeping, Coach Saban, could you talk about how Mark Ingram is after yesterday's practice?
COACH SABAN: Mark is fine and practiced well. We think he's ready to go. Sometimes you don't know when guys go into games with injuries what their situation is going to be right until game time.
But we have a good feeling about it right now. And I think Mark has a good feeling about it as well.
Q. And second, for both you and Florida to have to go through this league, play eight games, go undefeated and still really neither one tomorrow have the championship, is this the toughest league in terms what you have to do to become a champion, do you think?
COACH SABAN: Well, I haven't played in all of them, but certainly -- think about it, whether it was last year or this year, you're going to have to beat two of the best three teams in the country to be able to win the championship, which they were able to do last year. And we would have to do the same. And we would have had to do the same thing last year.
So I don't know how it could get any tougher than that, especially last year, and this year. Now, there may be some circumstance, some situation down the road or you might talk about Texas and Oklahoma and they're 1-2 and they play in their league, so I'm sure they would claim the same thing.
But in this moment in time, that's the way it is.
Q. Last year's disappointment of walking off this field with a loss, was that mentioned much this week? Is that something that's been boiling since last December?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think our players learned from their experience last year. Florida's a very good team and we're interested in playing our best football game of the year. And we want each player to play each play in the game like this is my best play I have to play and be responsible on and give effort to and knowing that every play can have an effect and impact on the game. And hopefully our players learned last year what it takes to win a championship. But these are two good teams playing. And it can be a great football game. And it's probably too bad that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose, based on what everybody's accomplished.
But that's the way it is. And I want our guys to give a championship effort and be champions in the way they go about their effort as a team in terms of their responsibility to execute their attitude and relentless competitive attitude and how they compete in the game, knowing that just like I said in my opening statement, the other team's championship team, too, or they wouldn't be here.
So it's disappointing always to lose and not be successful. But I think our focus is playing our best game of the year.
Q. There's been a lot of speculation in the media this week about your particular mindset, the last 364 days of the year, possibly have you sat there and brooded over this loss. I'd like to get it straight from the horse's mouth. You have a pretty good record when it comes to rematches but get your mindset over the past 364 days?
COACH SABAN: I usually don't respond to media speculation. So maybe I shouldn't respond now. Look, we're competitive. We want to do the best job that we can for our players in every game that we play. And we didn't brood over this game because we had a lot of other challenges between then and now that our team was able to overcome.
That's what we've been focused on. We focused on those things with the idea and goal in mind that we wanted to get back to the championship game and have another opportunity to win an SEC Championship.
So I'm proud of the players for what they're able to continue to do for that. But my mindset has been to do what we can do to help our team play the best football that they can play and make us the best team that we could be so we would have the best chance to do this.
Q. Florida's given up a whole bunch of sacks this year. You've obviously got some monsters on your defensive line. Talk about the match-up in the trenches, please?
COACH SABAN: I think on both sides of the ball it's going to be really important to who can control the line of scrimmage is going to have a huge advantage. And I think it's going to be critical for us to be able to do that, as well as affect the quarterback to some degree when they do pass the ball.
And I think that's important, probably, in every game. And I think that some of -- you say Florida gets sacked a lot. They make a lot of plays in the passing game, and they have very good passing efficiency as a team. But they're in "empty" a lot, which means they only have a limited number of guys protecting.
So they're more difficult to defend when they're spread out. But it's also more difficult for their offensive line to protect.
So I think it's going to be really important that we can pressure the quarterback. When I say pressure the quarterback, in this game it means a lot of different things. It means make them throw the ball from the pocket, because there were two or three occasions last year where he ran for first downs on third down situations, because we got out of our pass rush lanes or got pushed back by the quarterback or whatever.
So affecting the quarterback doesn't mean just sacking him. It means making it hard for him to throw based on the presence that you have in pushing the pocket and the contain elements of what you're doing.
I think that that's going to be a real critical factor in this game. Very critical.
Q. How has Trent Richardson lived up to the expectations you have of him as a true freshman?
COACH SABAN: You obviously don't cover us that much but I didn't have expectations for him. He's done a great job for us. He's worked hard. We feel like he's contributed to our team extremely well for a freshman.
I guess an explanation is in order. You all create the expectations for the players. We don't. So we don't live in that world. We just take the player where he is and try to make him as good as he can be. That's what we do as teachers and coaches. as a person, as a student and as a player. We don't create expectations for players. That's what you do.
And then we spend our time trying to get them not to live up to the expectations that you've created for them and focus on what they need to do to be the best player they need to be. That's what we do.
Q. So much attention on the two great defenses going into this game. The numbers back it up. Seems like everybody's expecting such a low-scoring game. But very often games like that don't go according to form. Do you expect a low-scoring game yourself? And why do games like this --
COACH SABAN: I think both teams are capable of scoring points. And I think both defenses will get challenged in the game. And it's going to be the teams that can play with the best consistency in terms of responsibility football to me on defense with discipline that are going to have the best opportunities to be successful.
Especially in our case, because of the option, because of the passes, the play passes, you know, and the multiples of things that they would do from formations, and I'm sure they'll do something that we're not prepared for that we'll have to adjust to in the game.
So I don't really anticipate any kind of game whether it's low scoring, high scoring, whatever. I just think that they're a difficult offensive team to stop and I think it's going to be important that we control the ball on offense so they don't have it all the time.
To do that, we're going to have to move the ball effectively on them and score points.
Q. A moment ago you mentioned third down. Last year they were very effective on third down, particularly in the red area. Getting touchdowns. Can you address that and the need to get off the field when you have an opportunity on third down?
COACH SABAN: They made the plays and we didn't. We had close coverage on them. They made good throws and good catches. There were three occasions in the red zone where we had them third and 5 and third and 6 and third and 8 something like that and they converted all those for touchdowns.
We obviously need to do a better job in that situation, but we also had circumstances in the game where we had them third down and whether they scrambled for a first down or whatever, we didn't get off the field like we need to in the red zone or on third down.
And I think that's always a critical part of the game, because it continues drives, and now you've created a new set of downs for all their skill players to have an opportunity to win or make a big play. And I also think that big plays, you know, contribute to, in the game last year, big plays on their part, contributed to most of their scores.
So controlling those are going to be critical in the game as well.
Q. Can you talk about Mark Ingram, just the season he's had and the things he's done that have put him in the short conversation for the Heisman trophy?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that Mark has had a phenomenal year. Mark is a great competitor, outstanding person. He's been a team guy all year long in terms of knowing that all of his success has been because of his teammates and what the other players on his team have done offensively to help him be successful.
But he's had a phenomenal year because of the hard work. And the guy's a great competitor. And I think that his resiliency as a competitor has contributed to his great physical ability as a running back. He's got quickness, change of direction, got speed, good instincts. He can run behind his pads. He has good hands and is a good receiver.
He's had one of those years that probably make him a legitimate -- he's one of the best players in the country.
Q. You and Urban are good at coaching in these big games. I'm sure that's an acquired skill. But can you talk about, I guess, when you got past the anxiety in coaching in big pressure games like this, or do you still get butterflies before a big game like this?
COACH SABAN: I get butterflies before every game. I get butterflies before every game that we play. I'm shaking my leg right now. And I would be shaking it on any Friday of any given game that we play, because to a coach, you feel like that game that you're playing that day is the biggest game that you have that particular year. It's the most important game because it's the game that you're playing now.
And your struggle as a coach is to always keep the people in your organization, including the players, the coaches and everybody else that works, not to think like regular people think; that it's time to take it easy this week because we play so and so.
You know, you're constantly trying to keep everybody playing to a standard of excellence to be the best that they can be so you can continue to improve as a team so that you will be in a better position when you do get in a game like this, if you can create that opportunity to play your best football. And that you've done it on a consistent basis and you have confidence in your ability to do that.
So I know that externally this game means a lot to a lot of people. And we never lose sight of that. But from our standpoint, how we get our team ready really can't change that much, because if there was a better way to do it, why wouldn't we do it the fifth week, or why didn't we do it against Ol Miss or LSU or whoever else we played. I think it would be an indictment on us if you discovered we didn't use the best techniques to win every one of those games.
Q. Urban was asked about an assistant that might possibly have another opportunity. At this time of year when there's so much at stake, what's the best way to deal with that on your own staff when you have coaches that may be getting interest from other places?
COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, you know we want our coaches to advance. And I think that if we have someone on our staff, it should be their motivation to do a good job to be able to create a better opportunity for themselves.
In other words, if you're a coordinator, you can become a head coach. If you're not a coordinator, you could go someplace and be a coordinator and actually gain more responsibility.
I don't necessarily think that just a move to move sometimes when it's not really an advancement in terms of responsibility is something that you like to see on your staff, because you hope that the people that are there are working to move up the ladder so they can create an opportunity for themselves that will give them an advancement based on their performance and what they achieve and what they do by doing a good job in the job that they're in.
Because the issues and the problems are the same everywhere. So we always want our coaches to be able to do that. We want to help them do it. But at the same time we want them to stay focused on what's best for our team and our players right now and this situation because those are all things that can be managed after the game.
There's a time and place for all those things. And I don't think today's the right day.
Q. I think the other day at your press conference you mentioned that the Gators had 162 different formations alone. I was just wondering how that compares to other teams in terms of how much you have to prepare that way and how that compares to your team?
COACH SABAN: Well, I would think that those are quite a few more multiples than what you would typically see. And what we would typically see and probably quite a few more multiples than our offensive team would be presented or we would present ourselves when we do our own self-scout.
And I think the reason I said that was trying to make a point of the problems that their offense creates in terms of how they use their personnel and the multiples that they use that personnel in.
They don't even run 162 different plays, but it's the way they present the plays to confuse the defensive players that is the point I was trying to make.
Q. You said after last week the team might have come out a little flat. Is there a potential for them to come out too high this time and is that a bad thing?
COACH SABAN: You know, I don't know. You really want your players to -- and sometimes you can't explain why they're flat. And sometimes you can't explain why they're too high.
We would like to keep our team in an emotional balance that allows them to make good choices and decisions about what they do and what they don't do so they can execute their job and channel their emotion into positive performance. Because I think you can get too emotional and make poor choices and decisions and lose your discipline because of the emotion that you have.
And I'm hopeful that our team doesn't get there.
Q. Having coached a lot of good teams in a lot of big games, do you ever recall a game where there was as much talent on both defenses as it is in this game?
COACH SABAN: Well, you know, I think it's probably unique circumstance that the two defensive teams that are playing in this game are statistically, at least, on par to be in the top categories in a lot of different situations. That's probably a little bit unique in and of itself.
I remember playing in this game once when Tennessee had John Henderson and that group, and they probably had as talented a team as I've seen to that point, defensively as well as offensively, with the receivers that they had Stallworth, Washington, I mean they really had a lot of talented guys. I'm not comparing teams, but when you asked me the question, we had some pretty good players on defense in that game, too.
But I think that this Florida defensive team, with the experience that they have now, and as long as they've played together, the talent that they have and having I think all 22 guys back from last year's team, I mean not just the starters, but the back-ups, too, is a pretty unique circumstance in and of itself and I think they've played extremely well because of the talent level and experience they have.
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