Jan. 3, 2009
Box Score |
THE MODERATOR: At this time we'll go ahead and get started with the Alabama press conference. We have been joined by the Alabama head coach, Nick Saban, and quarterback John Parker Wilson and Rashad Johnson and Antoine Caldwell.
COACH SABAN: First of all, I have to give a lot of credit to the Utah team. They played an outstanding game. Their defense was outstanding in the game. We could not run the football against them. They pressured the quarterback extremely well. We had a tough time blocking the edges. We didn't block the pressures very well. And their quarterback, Brian Johnson, sort of just, you know, picked us apart in the secondary. We got off to a very poor start in the game, got behind 21-0.
I was proud of the way the players fought back in the game and had an opportunity to get back in the game at 21-17. But, you know, we're still building quality depth in our program and lost a couple of offensive linemen, probably two of the three best offensive lineman we had for this game for whatever reasons, and we didn't get it done like we needed to get done. I am responsible for that. You know, I'm responsible to have the team ready to play. I don't think we were ready to play today. I don't know why. They were a very good football team. And I said they have a very good football team 100 times, and I believe that.
I am very proud of what this team was able to accomplish this year in terms of winning 12 games, going undefeated in the season, winning the west. This is one of the teams that I would consider being the absolute best team to coach that we've had an opportunity to be involved with relative to playing to their capacity. Maybe not today, I don't think we played our best football today. But I'm talking about for the season. And I'm really proud of the guys up here that provided leadership for it, our seniors who provided leadership for it, and the way that all of our players competed and made a commitment to do things a certain way. And we made a tremendous amount of progress as a program from last year to this year, and I'm really proud - prouder than the players can know. And I appreciate it, and we appreciate it so much, the way they represented the University of Alabama, the way they competed all year long for the University of Alabama, and the way they played together as a team. Had very few problems on this team. This team was a pleasure to coach and I can't tell you how proud I am of them.
We didn't finish the season like we wanted, and I'm sorry for that for them. I think they deserved better. We wanted better for them. And we failed them in not being able to help them get where they needed to get so they could have a chance to be successful in this game. That's to take nothing away from Utah. They played great. Their quarterback was great. We didn't match up with them very well in the secondary, didn't get him covered like we needed to, didn't get enough pressure, got off to a horrible start and just didn't overcome it very well.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. This question is for Coach Saban and Rashad. I know that you all spent the first four days or so in Tuscaloosa on fundamentals. Tonight it seemed like the other team had more yards after the catch and broke more tackles than anybody else you played all year. How did the layoff affect tackling tonight for Rashad and coach?
COACH SABAN: You can ask Rashad. One of the things we talked to the secondary about, getting in position to thud in practice, working on tackling drills. One of the things that hurts you in bowl games if you don't really focus and concentrate on that and get yourself in position to tackle and finish plays is tackling. And we didn't tackle. Missed tackles in the secondary hurt us badly in this game. Broke the game open for them when they got to 28-17. We had missed tackles on two consecutive -- not consecutive plays, but two big plays that were consecutive that led to a touchdown.
Rashad Johnson: Pretty much like coach said. Stressed every day about tackling, and that's the biggest difference in the bowl games is tackling. I think that was the difference in the game tonight, we missed some tackles on drives and they were able to keep some drives going and able to keep some points on the board. And it was definitely a big issue. And it was practice, and we did it in practice every day, and I don't know the reason why it didn't carry over to the game tonight.
Q. You guys scored on a special teams' play and a turnover really that set up your touchdown. My question is, why do you think you weren't able to drive the football down the field and really sustain good drives against this team?
COACH SABAN: Well, I thought I answered that already, but I will answer it again.
We're still building quality depth on our team. We lost two of our three best offensive linemen in this game. And we struggled to block their pass rush and their pressure. We didn't give our quarterback here a chance too many times in the pocket to be able to throw the ball effectively. We were basically ineffective running the football for the most part, which is the first time all year that somebody has kept us less than 100 yards rushing. We have 31 yards rushing or something. So, that's pretty much why.
It starts up front. I don't think we did a very good job up front in this game, and we've done a great job all year up front. And that's been sort of the trademark of our team, is our ability to run and not make bad plays.
We turned the ball over a couple of times, too, that led to their scores. So I think they got 10 points off of turnovers. But, we are disappointed. We're disappointed in the way we executed. We're disappointed in the way we helped our players prepare so that they could execute effectively.
Q. Rashad, could you talk about Utah's opening drive in particular. It seemed like they were playing at such a high speed with their no-huddle. Did it catch you off guard? How did it affect you all?
Rashad Johnson: It didn't really catch us off guard. We expected it before we came in. The coaches told us be ready for a hurry-up because we knew what type of offense they had.
But when they came in, it was some plays where we just miscommunicated. We had the right calls, and it was just a couple of different things here and there that caused some problems. I mean we was in the right calls. It was maybe if, you know, they ran a certain route, a certain guy didn't drop back or we didn't take the right leverage, then they were able to capitalize. The quarterback did a great job of noticing when we were out of place.
Q. Nick, two questions for you. First, you played Florida, now you played these guys. In your personal final poll, where would you put Utah? The second question is, now that you have been there two years at Alabama and all of the good things you did this season, what has it positioned you for next year in the future?
COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, I don't like to make comparisons in teams, but I thought Utah was an outstanding team. I mean, I said this is the best quarterback we played against all year systematically. It is a difficult match-up for us, four and five receivers in the game. You know, systematically we will have to do some things different in the future.
We didn't get any pressure early in the game. We probably tried to keep it too simple early in the game and didn't create enough problems in pass-rush, you know. But this is really a good offensive team. I mean, they've scored a lot of points for the most part. And, you know, we take a lot of good players off the field when we players off the field and put what we call rabbits in the game to pass-rush. And it was a good match-up for them and maybe not as good of a match-up for us. We didn't execute like we needed to. We didn't tackle well.
You know, we're building a program, all right? And I am really proud of what this team accomplished. But we played, I think, 16 total freshman this year, 14 that played enough to letter, two guys that got injuries that they didn't play that much. So we had a lot of young players on this team. We had nine seniors on this team. The seniors did a great job for this team. But we need to continue to improve as a program for the future. We need more good players, more depth in the program. We need quality big people. We need quality skill guys. We need a lot of things for us to continue to improve to be the kind of program that is recognized as kind of a dominant program on a national level.
And I was really pleased with what this team did. We were very fortunate this year that we had very few games missed by starters. That helped us have the success that we had because we didn't have a lot of depth.
Q. Antoine, their front seven did a lot of shifting, especially late in the play clock. Were you guys ready for that? Was it more of how you guys responded to it?
COACH SABAN: Antoine can answer that because we did work on it a lot.
Antoine Caldwell: We definitely did. We were prepared for it. We just didn't get it done. We practiced it all week. We did it in every drill, every situation we had in practice. We just went out there today and for whatever reason we weren't focused in and made some key mistakes at key times in the game, and you just can't do that in a big game like this.
Q. John Parker, falling behind 21-0 after the first quarter, can you talk about the impact it had on the game and what you all had to do at that point?
John Parker Wilson: It was tough starting off 21-0 but we still had a lot of time left to go. Nobody panicked. And we were just going to stay with our stuff and stay with our game plan because at that time, I mean, it was the first quarter and that's not any time to panic. We didn't change anything up.
COACH SABAN: We actually fought back to 21-17 and, you know, just didn't finish.
Q. Nick, the Utah guys on the field were saying they played with a lot more intensity and played faster because they posted and read your comments after the SEC game about being a real BCS league, not being 12-0 from a real BCS league. They took that personal.
COACH SABAN: Well, you know, I apologize if anybody was offended by that. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Utah. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their team. And I apologize. I certainly misstated that.
I don't think our guys played with enough intensity. So, if that's what gave them all their intensity, then I guess I'm responsible for the way they played and I'm responsible for the way we played. So I'm responsible for the whole damn kitten-kaboodle.
Q. John Parker, would you talk about what you think you have left behind and where Alabama goes from here?
John Parker Wilson: Where Alabama goes from here? Well, you know, I think we have kind of turned things around from the first few years I was here. We won six games and then seven games. This year we were able to win 12 games. I think we changed the attitude, the mentality of the team, that we can go out there and play with anybody.
You know, it was a lot different my freshman and sophomore year than it is now. With the kind of guys, the kind of attitude we have, everybody has bought into the system and everybody tries hard. We had a bunch of young guys that played this year and had every opportunity to excel and be leaps and bounds better than we were this year.
Q. The same question to Antoine. What do you want your legacy to be individually and as your senior class?
Antoine Caldwell: Individually I guess I just want to be known as one of the guys that turned the program around and a leader that kind of put everybody -- put this program back to where it needs to be.
And, you know, I guess the senior class is about the same thing. This is the best senior class I have ever been a part of, the closest group I have ever been a part of. I think all nine of us did a great job of leading this team and kind of picking up the slack.
So, I think that's what our legacy should be, is that the team that kind of turned the corner for Alabama.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, thank you, guys.
COACH SABAN: And I'd like to thank all the press that covered us this week. I think you all did a fantastic job. I think you always do a fantastic job of giving our players a lot of positive self-gratification for the hard work that they do. We certainly appreciate that.
We'd like to thank the Sugar Bowl once again for the great hospitality that all the people that work to make the Sugar Bowl what it is. It's a great venue. We were pleased and happy to be a part of it. We really enjoyed the hospitality that the City of New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl Committee offered us. Thank you.