Dan Mullen Monday Press Conference

“We’re excited, this is a big game. Obviously the opportunity to play big games late in the season is what it’s all about, what you work for, to get these. When you’re looking at mid- to late-November and you’re playing important games, it’s going to be fun. And hopefully that becomes the norm as we continue to move forward.”

”We’ve got a great challenge this week with Alabama. They are one of the best if not the best defense in the nation. They do it how they’ve always done it. They’ve got great players, they’ve got depth, they rotate a lot of guys through. They’re big, they’re very physical, they’re strong against the run. They can get after the passer with great pass rushers. They’ve got great size in the secondary and can cover you really well. So really a complete defense, and it will be a great challenge for us.”

”On the other side of the ball, just as much talent. Their quarterback I think has the highest passer rating in the league. They have the top receiver in the country in Amari Cooper. You look at the running backs, they roll through there. I mean they’re five-deep, five-star running backs coming back at you. And with (T.J.) Yeldon probably one of the top tailbacks if not the top tailback in the league.”

“So they have the top-rated passer, the top receiver, and the top running back, it’s a pretty good combination with an enormous offensive line to play with. Great players on special teams that are threats. I look at it, they probably have more five-star players sitting on the bench that can’t get a rep on their team than we have on our entire roster. So they’ve got more of those guys sitting on the bench than we have on our team.”

”So a great challenge for us, with a lot of talent they have. It’s going to be a great environment, a tough place to go play at Alabama. Our guys are going to have to come out, play well, and execute at a very, very high level.”

What have you seen from Chris Jones after moving him around? “He’s done a good job for us, adding depth there to us, and that size. And especially when you’re playing big, physical teams, that allows us to put more size on the field and the defensive line as a whole. And I think he’s doing a pretty good job out there with his length and weight size and how stout he can be on the edge.”

You have talked about the turnover ratio, with good teams do the statistics really matter or do you worry that will bite you? “If you continue down the path, they’ll get you. If you look, we’ve capitalized on turnover margin in some big games. You look at all the important things; you look at turnover margin, you look at the field position battle, you look at red zone scoring on both sides of the ball, percentage of touchdowns when you get in the red zone. I think we’ve lost a couple of those battles the last couple of weeks and have still found a way to win. So they’re not the all-deciding factor.”

”But I think they certainly can be a huge factor in games. When you’re playing in a big game like we’ve got on Saturday you’re going to have to do a good job at all the important statistics in the game of football.”

Is this a week you have to rein the team’s energy in? “No, we’ve had really good energy the last couple of weeks at practice. And it’s a long season and these are young kids. We’ve been at it now since July 30 or whenever we reported for camp. So they’ve guys have been going at it pretty much ever day for quite a long time now.”

”So you want that energy to stay high. But I think a game like this the energy is going to be high all week at practice and I don’t really have to worry about it. This is a game our guys have been looking forward too.”

How do you gameplan to maximize Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson against Alabama’s run defense? “You’ve got to block them. You’ve got to block them. And they’re big and physical up front. But if you’re going to have success you’ve got to block their guys, and capitalize when you have opportunities. When you’re in a big game like this you might not have every play going to be a huge hit or a big opportunity. But when you have an opportunity to get a big hit you have to take advantage of it.”

How do you try to slow down Cooper on the outside? “One, what you can’t do is do the same thing over and over on him. Because they’ll find out what you’re doing, they’ll get in a rhythm and go take advantage of you. So you’re going to have to change it up, change your look, change the people that are covering him. And get some help to the guys that are covering him.

”And most importantly, is he’s going to catch the ball. When he catches it get him on the ground. Because a lot of what he does, is he’s really good before the catch; but he’s even better after the catch. So you have to limit the damage to just the catch.”

Can you assess the play of the kickers? “I thought they’ve done a good job for us. I always want more, I always want to be better. But they’ve been very, very consistent in their performance, which is one of the most important things at that position. They’re coming in a skill position and in specific situations. So we need consistent performance out of them when their number is called. They come into a game, most guys know they’re going to play. Devon (Bell) doesn’t know how much he’s going to play; Logan (Cooke) doesn’t know how much he’s going to play. Evan (Sobiesk) doesn’t know how much he’s going to play. But they have to be ready for that moment. In a three-and-a-half-hour game, their five or six plays they’ve got to go be ready for.”

Alabama has a couple of backs banged-up, does that change their running game at all? “They’ve got more and more and more coming out of there. I think they’ve still got a couple more five-stars. I don’t think the well is going to run dry for them on talent any time soon.”

You mentioned their five-star guys, and that you sign guys and develop them. Is this an example of your way vs. the other way? “I don’t know about that. Just two programs. If you look at how we’ve built our program, and I think we’ve done a good job building our program here. Obviously Nick (Saban) has kind of the model program in the country right now. Because I think as a program you want to go win consistently. We want to be competing for championships every year, they seem to be a team that is always in that championship discussion every single year. And that’s a credit to what type of program he’s built.”

”Now I don’t think there’s one exact way to build a program. You have to look at what your school is, what you are, who you have, who you can recruit, how you can build it and how you want to design your program. He’s done a great job, kind of the model to do that. I don’t know if that’s the exact model, there’s a lot of different ways to do it. So we hopefully are building a program to be a consistent winner like they are.”

De’Runnya Wilson didn’t catch a ball last week, was he held out or just the game? “No, kind of the coverages. I think every game is kind of unique. That’s what has made our offense pretty good this year. If you’re going to try to take one guy away, there’s other guys out there that can beat you. So if you’re going to try take someone away, we’re going to go to somebody else and that person is going to have a big day. So I think more of that than anything else.”

Do you expect to have Jameon Lewis and Justin Malone available? “We do. We expect them both to be at practice 100%. That was part of the reason we didn’t play last week. Meeting with the trainers, not just get them back for Saturday but they’d be able to go through a whole week of practice and get them ready to go play. So hopefully that plan worked and they’re ready to go practice this afternoon.”

Even though the team is ranked #1 the national perspective is back in the underdog role? “That’s what I guess every article you read or everywhere you look, that we’re the big underdog going into this game. We’ve done that before, and we know that role. We’re going to be OK with that. And our guys will come in and play with great effort, play with that chip on our shoulder that we try to play with every week no matter what the rankings or everybody else is predicting. We want to come in and play that way as a team.”

What allows Dak to excel in these games compared to previous years? “Well, I think his experience. Obviously you’re going into a hostile environment, he’s played on the road in tough environments. That’s always tough as a quarterback. Your communicating all that stuff, calling plays, getting the cadence and the ball snapped. All of those different things are a challenge when you’re on the road. That’s why it’s so important for us, and we stress that our fans give us a homefield advantage to make it difficult on the other team.”

”But I think he’s been in that situation before. He’s played over there a couple of years ago, he got in the game. And now he’s played in big games. So I think for him, just knowing that he’s going to walk on the field with confidence that he’s comfortable and the situation, the moment is not too big for him.”

Other players were in that (2012) game, how much does that help going into a big game like this? “I think it helps. Not just this year, in games we played on the road last year that those guys got to play in. This year we’ve had to play at LSU on a Saturday which is a tough place to go play. So our guys have been in big stadiums with loud, hostile crowds. The Kentucky game, they were sold-out and it was probably as big an environment as they’ve had this year at Kentucky. Our guys handled that situation.”

”So going on the road for all our guys, they’ve been in the position before. I think that gives you some confidence as a player. When you’re walking a big stadium, a hard place to go play with a loud, hostile crowd. The fact that you’ve been in that situation before, you’ve played in those circumstances before gives you confidence.”

Alabama has struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks, is that something you want to exploit? “I would say struggle is a relative term statistically speaking when you look at them. Even struggling to them might be a great game for a number of people! (Johnny Manziel) is a special type of player, there’s other dual threat quarterbacks gone in there and they’ve contained them pretty well.”

”I think it’s just something in our offense, we’re going to need guys like Dak and Josh and all our guys to make plays if we’re going to have an opportunity to win. When you get in these big games that’s when guys step up and make plays. This is going to be no different. You talk about in the big games who is going to make the plays. There’s going to be a lot of one-on-one opportunities across the field. Whether it’s in the run game, in the pass game, it’s blocking up front; who is going to win, who is going make those plays when there’s a great opportunity one-on-one to go make something happen.”

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