McElroy Discusses Teacups To Texas

It's mostly business, but following Alabama's first football practice in Southern California Saturday, Crimson Tide players were headed to Disneyland. The Crimson Tide is practicing at Orange Coast College in Newport Beach.

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy said before leaving Tuscaloosa that he was looking forward to practice perhaps more than the West Coast Mouse.

Alabama had a handful of practices prior to Christmas and had five more workouts in Tuscaloosa following a short break for Christmas.

"I think it's been pretty good," McElroy said before leaving Alabama. "I'm a little disappointed in our progress in the sense that it feels like we've just had a couple of sloppy practices. Not so much sloppy, but just the energy level. I think just the monotony of practice is starting to wear on people.

"But I think once we get out to California, it will be obviously a new setting and I think we'll be a little bit closer to game time, so people will be able to tighten up a little bit.

"I think energy has been decent. I just don't think it's where it should be for a game of this magnitude."

The "game of this magnitude" is Thursday. Alabama, ranked number one in the nation, and Texas, the number two team, both 13-0, will play for the national championship. Kickoff from the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena will be at 5 p.m. PST (7 p.m. central time) with national television coverage by ABC.

McElroy said the emphasis in California "is on the game. I'ts pretty much the first time I've been in a bowl game where the emphasis is completely on the game. There aren't a lot of activities for the team, but what they have are very nice."

The trip is Disneyland is a staple for teams bowling in this area. McElroy said his participation will be limited. "Probably not the teacups," he said. "I get dizzy, and I'm scared of heights. So I‘m kind of up the creek without a paddle at Disneyland. But I'll find a ride that suits me. Maybe ‘It's a Small World,' or something like that."

One of the battles within the battles against Texas will be Alabama having suffered only four interceptions all year and Texas leading the nation with its defenders having picked off 24 passes. McElroy said the Tide's low percentage of passes intercepted is a tribute to the entire offense.

"I think our interception percentage is like one percent of my passes have been picked off," he said. "That's obviously a great statistic. It's something we take a lot of pride in, and something that Coach (Nick) Saban obviously stresses in the passing game is not to give up the short field and maintain ball control, and we've done a great job in turnovers this year.

"That's why our turnover differential (plus 16, which ranks fifth in the nation) is really as good as it is."

Alabama players have won a number of awards this year, including Mark Ingram winning the Heisman Trophy and Rolando McClain winning the Butkus Award. In the acceptance comments, all players have emphasized that these are team awards.

McElroy pointd out that it's the same with the interceptions mark. "Stats can be misleading," he said. "It's not just my stat. It's everybody's stat. The wide receivers, you don't see a lot balls getting tipped up and intercepted. And you don't see me getting hit as I throw and the fall flutters up and it leads to an interception. So I think that's everybody's statistic. I think it's definitely probably as good an achievement as we've had all year."

McElroy knows why Texas has 24 interception. The Tide quarterback said, "They're very, very fast. They do a great job running to the ball."

And, he said again, that statistics can be misleading.

"When you have guys throwing the ball that much against them, a lot of times people are playing from behind, so they're going to be aggressive. They (Texas defenders) very opportunistic. If the ball's up the air, you see orange flying to it. That's a staple of a good defense. Any time you see a defense that rallies around the ball and gets to it the way they do, they've had a lot of success. It's kind of difficult to say. I think it's obviously just a tale of two conferences. We'll see which one is going to be the best. But they have a lot of talent, a lot of speed. They play with great technique and incredible confidence. Those are the things you've got to have as a defensive back."

That also figures into Texas being number one in the nation in rushing defense, McElroy said. "I think some of it is because a lot teams aren't running against them. I think a lot of it is they get out to an early lead so much. Teams are trying to rally and try to come back."

McElroy said it will be important for Alabama "to get out to an early lead, and at least just not fall behind. I think that‘s something that can hurt you, and the style of offense we play, it's something we haven't really been used to with the exception of a few games. I think they do try to stop the pass because they have great secondary players.

"They really don't do a lot of blitz schemes. They just have a really good front seven, and their ability to stop the run is based strictly on talent, not so much as what they're actually adding into the game to do, just based on watching it. I don't know what's in their locker room. I don't know what's being said as far as what they try to take away in a game. But watching them on film, it appears that they stop the run because they have such great players, not because it's something they go into the game really trying to do."

McElroy said the presence of Ingram in the Alabama backfield makes opponents make the Alabama running game the focal point.

"I think it has to be. It's obviously a team game, and when one part of the game is trying to be taken away, like our running game for example, our passing game has no choice but to step up. We've been successful in the past and have been able to do that. Sometimes teams just sell out to try to stop the run, and we try to make them pay through the air.

"It's not a bad way to do things, considering the type of running backs and offensive line that we have. So it's something that we're ready for. It's something that we‘ve obviously seen a lot of this year. And we've obviously had a good game plan going into the last few games, because we have been able to step up and make plays through the air. When we've stepped up and make plays through the air after they try to take away the run, they drop back into coverage a little bit and Mark (Ingram) gashes them for a 50-yard run or whatever. So it's kind of just pick your poison. I know it sounds clichéd, but that's the only way I can describe it, because when you're on an offense like ours that require balance, when one thing has been taken away, the other thing needs to step up."

McElroy said the Texas defense is not designed the way most Southeastern Conference teams set up defensive strategy.

"It's just a little bit different," he said. "I think they're built mostly on speed, and they're built strictly on stopping the pass in their conference. Some of the numbers can be a little bit misleading, but they do have great talent.

"When you have teams that are throwing the ball 45 or 50 times a game, it doesn't give a lot of teams the opportunity to run the ball against them. But they are very good up front. They're very talented. They're very fast. Across the board, this is probably the fastest team we've played from defensive end all the way up to safety, I think it's just the fastest team all around. They're real similar to Florida, just in their personnel and things like that. They do a good job in their scheme. Obviously, Coach Muschamp (Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who previously coached under Nick Saban at LSU), he obviously learned from the best in Coach Saban, so he does a good job."

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