Q&A with Nick Saban

LSU coach Nick Saban met with reporters following Wednesday's practice to discuss his team's preparation for its game with Tennessee for the Southeastern Conference Championship.

Opening Statement

Everything's going well this week. We've had good practices. I've been really pleased with their effort and attitude. At this time of the year, things really come down to how well you execute and how consistent you can be in what you do.

We certainly had four football games that our players have prepared well for and have done a good job in down the stretch. Obviously we're going to keep our focus on what we need to do to beat Tennessee and not really look at a lot of other things. It's the same old adage about if you you're climbing the mountain, you want to look at the next step. That's certainly what we'd like to do, and I've been pleased that our players have been able to do that so far this week.

I know there'll be more distractions on this trip than there are normally on an away trip so it's going to take some maturity on our players' part later in the week when we travel to actually keep that focus.

I've really been pleased and happy with the way we've progressed. Almost everybody practiced today. Hook (cornerback Demetrius Hookfin) practiced today and did a lot of things with a red (no contact) shirt. With his injury (shoulder), the more that he can do and the stronger he gets, the longer he'll be able to play and the less it will bother him. We can't make a decision on it now, but everything went well for him today. And all the other guys were out there today as well, so we really didn't have any other problems.

Q: Both Tennessee and LSU had big emotional wins last week. Do you think the team that responds better will come out the winner, and how is your team doing in that regard?

A:  I think …any coach will tell you this has been the longest season we've had to endure. NFL seasons are long, but we've had lots of time off and we're a week late. These players have been at it for a long time and I've been really pleased with the way our guys have hung in there and actually shown good focus and concentration on what we're trying to do and continue to practice well.

That's where you see it. You see it in the meetings. You see it in the lack of attention to detail in practice and not being able to focus and concentrate. It's not a physical thing – it's really more of a mental thing. We've been pretty good about it.

The mindset that you go into this game with will be a real key to how well both teams play. There's a lot at stake for both teams, so I believe both teams are going to be ready to play. Hopefully both teams will be ready to play so the game is decided on execution and not a lack of it. That's the way, if you're a good competitor, you'd like to see it.

Q: You practiced on turf today. Will you go back to grass tomorrow?

A: I think we'll probably go back inside tomorrow. I haven't made that decision yet, but I think we'll go back inside tomorrow. I think more than the turf, what the players need to get used to is it's just different playing inside. I don't know if it's the processed air, the humidity in the air…it's drier than being outside. I think that's what has an effect on them. So getting used to that is really the reason we went in there.

I'd rather not go on the turf, but going on the turf is a consequence of trying to get used to the environment of being indoors rather in outdoors.

Q: Tennessee's offensive line has been a big part of its success. What are they doing as far as execution?

A: First of all, they've got some very, very good players. They play well together. They're extremely well coached. They don't get themselves in a lot of bad positions because they play well together. They do a good job of blocking and getting movement in the running game, and they do an excellent job in pass protection relative to what they (the offense) try to do.

They protect the quarterback first, which is probably the smart thing to do. They do a very good job of it, and I think that's probably one of the reasons why Casey Clausen has developed so well for them. He hasn't been affected in very many games by people breaking down and letting him get hit a lot. That's a real compliment to the offensive line and the job that they've done in running the football as well as in pass protection.

Q: Clausen said recently that Florida's defense played eight in the box, like you did in the first half against Tennessee, to shut the run down. In the second half, Florida put four in the box ran a cover-2 and a lot of zone. Tennessee was able to run after it had thrown it in the first half. How tough is it to keep Tennessee off balance? What do you defensively to get them out of sync?

A:  I think you've got to disguise what you're doing a little bit. But when you rob Peter to pay Paul on defense, you always end up in those kinds of situations. People who are patient offensively, like Tennessee, are the ones who will take advantage of whatever you give them. They did that a little bit against us. In the second half, they made quick passes, hitches. If we pressed them, they threw it over our head. When we played off, they threw it in front of us – primarily because we were playing to stop the run.

I think we're going to have to mix it up and play it by down and distance and we're going to have to put a little more pressure on our front seven to be able to stop them without being an eight-man front some of the time because we can't give up the plays that we gave up in the last game. We're obviously going to have to play better when we do that than we did in the last game so they don't have that kind of success.

Q: You've talked about your team being dominant for 60 minutes in a game, and all that started with the games you won last year. What did the game against Auburn last week teach you about their character and what did they' learned against Tennessee earlier this year that will spill into this weekend?

A: I hope that we can build on the things that we learn. The approach so far this week that our players have had gives me no reason to think that it's not going to be that way. But I think every time you win a game like this…I think beating Arkansas was a step up the ladder. Coming back the next week and having to play Auburn, who's a good football team, was another step.

So you've won the division and have an opportunity to play another good team – just about as good a team as there is if rankings mean anything. So it's going to be another challenge for them.

You learn and the guys who come back next year will learn and grow as competitors. Playing in big games is what you should want to do at a school like this, and it's what the players should want to do. Then they'll play well and expect to play well in those types of games.

Q: Is this the biggest game you've coached?

A: It's the biggest game because it's the next game. Last week we were sitting in here talking about Auburn as the biggest game, and t was Arkansas the week before that. And if we win this game, the next game will be a bigger game than that.

I've been in championship games before, and we've won some and lost some. I've been in playoff games before, and we won some and lost some. You just want to do everything you can do to make sure your players have the best chance to be successful in the game. As a coach, that's what I want to do. I want to do the best job I can do from an emotional and psychological standpoint to play the best they can.

…If we can get our players to play the best game they're capable of, I can live with the results. I'm still one of those guys who can really respect the way you play the game. Everybody else just looks at whether you win or lose. That's society now…

I've been doing this for a long time. We've been grinding for a long time, and we're going to keep grinding after this game just to get better.

Q: With this big game coming up and all the attention that it's getting nationally, it is a distraction to you and your team that your name is mentioned every time a head coaching position comes up? Are your players showing any concern?

A: They don't need to show any concern. I'm not involved in (seeking) any jobs. I don't intend to be involved in (seeking) any jobs. I like it here, and I've just been focusing on what we need to do in terms of playing this game. This is a big game for all of us, and we're all focused on what we need to do to win this game. I think the players are and I am.

Now the national attention and talking to the media for an hour every day at noon – is that a distraction? I enjoy the media and talking to them, but I'd be watching film then or trying to prepare for the game if I wasn't doing it. It's something that needs to be done and is important to the exposure of the program and the players, and I enjoy doing it. That's my role on the team.

But then you've got to sit back and refocus on what we've got to do to play the game. And we've been able to do that so far.

Q: You've talked about giving them different looks on defense. Offensively, with the success you had late in the game against Tennessee, might you try a two-minute offense early in the game to get a big play and stun them?

A: I think that from a game management standpoint and a game strategy standpoint you always look at things you had success with in the past in any game and look to see how can you use it in this particular game to our benefit.

That's a possibility, but I think the situation in the game contributed largely to the success that we had. They played a little softer on defense at that time because they had a lead, which enabled us to get some continuity going on offense and some confidence in what we were doing. The momentum in the game changed.  I'd like to have it that way early in the game so we can get ahead.

Q: How do you compare your secondary right now to where it was in the first game against Tennessee?

A: I think the secondary has been playing better. I'm just hopeful that we can get the guys on the field who have been playing because they've developed some confidence and continuity together. If we can do that, I expect to them to play well.

If we can't get those guys together, somebody with less experience is going to have to step up to the plate and show that they can do the job.

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