University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban
Press Conference Vanderbilt Game Week
Monday, September 3, 2007
“I guess it’s a happy Labor Day. Just a couple things, comments about the last game. Really pleased with the effort, the intensity in the game. I thought we competed well in the game. Finished the game. Played hard for 60 minutes. Got a lot of players involved in playing in the game and I thought, for the most part the intangibles we played with were good. Obviously, in the first game there’s some execution things that we need to clean up and some things that we need to improve on. On offense we didn’t turn the ball over. We were pretty good on third down. We had a 94-yard drive when we were backed up, so we moved the ball coming out pretty good. Had a pretty good start to the second half. In the red zone, we scored a lot but the two times we didn’t score they were our mistakes, whether it be a penalty or a lack of execution or something like that. That hurt us a little bit and that’s something we need to get fixed.
“Defensively, we didn’t give up any touchdowns. We handled adversity well in the game. One of the things we did poorly was we gave up too many big plays, and those came on missed tackles and a couple of mental errors. But we managed the game pretty well, tackled for the most part pretty decently, and one thing we didn’t handle very well was they went quick sound on us in the second half out of their no-huddle and a couple times we weren’t ready play, and I think that’s something that we have to improve on. We need to improve on third down. We had two takeaways, but we had opportunities for more takeaways in the game. Special teams, we felt like our return game was pretty good. We need to improve in some areas of coverage, as well as in field goal protection so we can gain some confidence and consistency in kicking the ball.
“We were pleased Terry Grant was the (SEC) Freshman of the Week, but our players that we felt played extremely well as coaches were Terry Grant and Antoine Caldwell on offense, Zeke Knight and Darren Mustin on defense, and Javier Arenas and Rashad Johnson on special teams. We don’t have any significant injuries to report, or anyone out of practice that you don’t know about. And there’s nobody that is coming back from a previous injury that you don’t know about.
“As for Vanderbilt, Bobby Johnson has done a fantastic job there. These guys have a lot of starters back from last year’s team, they’re very well-coached, they play smart, and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. They could have won four or five games very easily last year and have almost their entire team coming back, including their kicker and punter. A big part of their starters...their quarterback Chris Nickson is an outstanding player, not only as a passer, but he’s very athletic and does a great job of running. There’s always a threat of an option or a quarterback draw. Earl Bennett is arguably the best, or one of the best, at least you could say one of the most productive receivers and big-play players in the SEC.
“They also have quite a few guys back on defense. They have a scheme they play on defense, they execute it pretty well, they’re not afraid to pressure you at times. Jonathan Goff had over 90 tackles last year at linebacker. Curtis Gatewood is a good defensive end and can rush the passer. They have a lot of people, a lot of experience on their team.
“When you play teams like this, your preparation has to be supreme because they are a well-coached team, they don’t make a lot of mistakes, and they have a lot of experience and a lot of confidence in their scheme. Our readiness to learn has to be at a fever pitch right from the beginning so that we’re going to master what we can execute and do the things we need to do, and not make mistakes that would create an advantage for them. So, that will be the challenge for us this week.”
You had two players who missed last week’s game for reasons other than injury. Are those players set to return? And, how do you handle players in that situation?
COACH SABAN: “Those players are returning. They had one-game suspensions, and I think it’s up to both players to work their way back to where they make a contribution to the team. I think both players are capable of doing that. They’ve served their penance, and they’ll have an opportunity to compete and get back and help the team any way they can. But I think it’s up to them to show that they’re ready to do that, and they’re prepared to do that. In fairness to the guys that competed in their place, they should have to compete with those guys to be able to play.”
You talked about your defensive front seven being soft at the point of attack on Saturday. How do you go about making that area better?
COACH SABAN: “I think you’ve got to strike up front and dominate the line of scrimmage. If you’re going to be consistent in stopping the run you have to be very aggressive in how you strike and come out of your hips and attack the offense. We try to attack the offense. I think there were times in the game where we kind of caught the blocks, instead of attacking the blocks. That’s something that we can improve on, and we’ll work hard to improve on it. We just have to play a little more physical. There were times when we did a good job of that, and there were times when we didn’t. So, the consistency that we do it with has to be a key with how we proceed in the future.”
How similar is what Vandy does offensive with what Western Carolina did out of the spread, and is that something that would help you guys a lot after having faced it last week?
COACH SABAN: “There are some similarities, but Vanderbilt runs a little bit more option-type plays, more quarterback running-type plays, but they’ve got a good running back as well as some good skill guys that can make plays in the passing game. The straw that broke the camel’s back last week was the big plays they made throwing the ball. That’s not something that bodes well to being hard to score on, if you’re giving up big plays. But the way you have to play sometimes to stop those things and do a great job in the back end, because you are going to have to put guys in the box to stop all those runs. Being able to run the football is the balance that creates problems for the defensive team, and that’s something they’ve done very well with the players they have.”
How much does a receiver like Earl Bennett put a premium on the play of your defensive backs this week?
COACH SABAN: “They have several skill players that can make plays. Most people we play will have players that can make plays at receiver. Skill players that are exceptionally good. Earl is really a good player and we’ll have to play sound fundamentals against him, and know where he’s located all the time because they move him around quite a bit. They’re going to get him the ball in every game. It’s not one of those guys that you’re going to shut out, it’s just if we can keep him from making the really big play that would be a good job by the secondary.”