UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA HEAD FOOTBALL COACH NICK SABAN
Arkansas Game Week Press Conference
September 10, 2007
“I think the number one thing we want to do is focus on the task at hand here, and I think the task at hand is that every guy does what he can do to improve his role relative to his responsibility and how we execute what we do, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. Help our team improve. Help us get better in every aspect of the game.
“I thought we made some improvement last week after reviewing the film. Offensively we ran the ball effectively. We were good in goal line short yardage situations. We made 11 explosive plays. We’ve got to continue to improve our efficiency in the passing game, scoring touchdowns in the red zone. And we had a couple of penalties when we were trying to take the air out of it at the end of the game.
“Defensively I think we improved. We played a little more physical up front. We were better against the run. We affected the quarterback. We were a little better on third down. We didn’t give up as many big plays or have as many explosive plays, but the thing that we really need to improve on is we had our hands on four or five balls, only got one turnover; had opportunities to recover three fumbles that we had our hands on that we didn’t get and two interceptions that we had our hands on the ball and didn’t get. Turnovers and explosive plays are critical. We were better at making them and not giving them up as a team. But turnover-wise we had opportunities and didn’t cash in on them and that’s going to be something that’s critical in the future.
“I think on special teams our coverage units in general, drive starts, field position, vertical field positionwe were fortunate that they had a face mask holding up the gunner on the punt return. But we didn’t cover that kick very well. We didn’t have very good lane discipline and that’s something that we’re going to have to work on to improve. And also our kickoff coverage, even though the coverage has been good, the drive starts need to be better and we need to improve our execution on that as well.
“The guys that we thought played well in the game on offense: Andre Smith really played well up front. Travis McCall did a really good job of blocking. Those two guys have been consistently good. The offensive line in general did a good job. I know Terry Grant was the SEC Freshman of the Week, and he did a good job in the game as well and had good production, but a lot of that comes because of what these guys do up front.
“Defensively, Wallace Gilberry had a good game as did Bobby Greenwood. Both guys had 16 production points which is pretty good for a defensive lineman. Special teams, Javier Arenas (did) a good job again making a big play early in the game that affected the game. And Kareem Jackson was very consistent in his role on special teams.
“The only new injury that we have to report is Jimmy Johns has a twisted ankle. We’ll see how he responds through the course of the week. I don’t think it’s anything that’s really, really bad or anything like that. We’ll just have to go day to day with him.
“Glen Coffee injured his shoulder a little bit in the game but it should be okay. We may try to limit his contact which means he’ll have a shirt on so he doesn’t get beat up early in the week. But I think that’s pretty much it from an injury standpoint.
“Arkansas is an outstanding football team. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Houston Nutt and the job that he does there. They have some outstanding players. They do a great job of coaching them on both sides of the ball and on special teams. As I said after the (Vanderbilt) game, this guy, I always felt when I was in the league before, that he does as much with what he has in featuring the players that he has and the production that he gets of anybody that we played in this league. I just think he does an outstanding job. They looked very good in their opening win against Troy. (They) ran the ball like they always do for a whole bunch of yards, like 350. They’ve got two outstanding, outstanding running backs. These two guys, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, if they’re not first round draft picks, I don’t know what isboth of them. Both guys gained well over 1,000 yards last year. They’re versatile. They’re very dangerous on kickoff return as well. They’ve both been back there and they’ve both had big returns. It’s going to be a real challenge to us from that standpoint.
“Casey Dick does a really good job executing their offense for them. He started most of the year last year. Pretty good passing efficiency. They don’t throw it a lot but they do make a lot of big plays throwing it because you have to really focus on trying to stop the run and he certainly takes advantage of that sometimes at the big plays they make in the passing game.
“Defensively, they’re very aggressive. They play a lot of man-to-man coverage. They pressure you quite a big with five guys. (Weston) Dacus and (Antwain) Robinson are both good guys returning up front for them that create some problems in terms of being hard guys to block. This is a really good team. We’re only going to see them in one game this year, not having played last week. They’re one of five teams that have bye weeks before they play us. I think the big focus for our team is to improve, prepare well all week so that we have the best chance to execute the plan against a very good football team and some great football players.”
On defining an “explosive play”:
“Over 12-yard-runs and over 16-yard-passes. Big plays are over 15-yard-runs and over-20-yard-passes.”
On what he learned about his offensive line during the 86-yard ground drive on Saturday:
“We’re pleased with the way we’re running the ball. We’ve been pleased with the way the offensive line has played, especially in the run part of what we do. We had a little bit too much pressure at times and made some errors in pass protection as a team, not just the offensive line, as a team, that I think affected our passing efficiency a little bit. Those things we need to clean up. We want to have balance in our offense. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s why we talk about improving our passing efficiency to go with our effective running game. What’s been effective to this point, we need to continue to build on that and improve other parts of our offense so that they complement each other.”
On if he knew his offensive line could take over like that:
“They’re doing a nice job and we’ll see if they can do it with consistency and keep working. It all goes hand in hand. I think our receivers are doing a good job of blocking. Our tight ends are doing a good job of blocking. For the most part the runners are doing a good job of pressing the line with what we do, and the offensive line has done a good job to this point. We just need to continue to improve.”
On making teams defend the middle of the field and how that is accomplished:
“I think we have to have the plays. And I think we do have the plays. And I think we need to make them so we need to do those things: where we attack the middle of the field and make them defend it. And we’ve got to be able to execute those things when we do call it. We called it a couple of times in the game. Maybe we need to call it a few more times. Sometimes we executed it, sometimes we didn’t. So we just need to improve on that part of it. I think vertical passing game is important. Attacking the middle of the field is important, especially when you’re a good running team, and that’s something that we want to continue to work on to improve.”
On defending McFadden with his passing ability:
“Obviously it would be better if he couldn’t pass it and you wouldn’t have to worry about it. The way you have to play, especially when he’s a quarterback, they’re basically from a spread-out offense running a lot of wishbone principles in their zone options, creating a pitchman with somebody going in motion, running a misdirection zone read. He comes out with the ball. So you’ve got to get enough of them down there and have run support on both sides. That’s not always easy to do without loading the box. And when you load the box, then that obviously gives them some opportunities to throw the ball. And he does it off of hard play action which is going to make some many people on your defense cover the people that can run down the field. So it really complements what they do. It makes it much more difficult. And they make big plays doing it.”
On improving toughness on the defense and how important that will be in stopping McFadden and Jones:
“It’s really important and it’s really important to tackle. And obviously some people have problems tackling them because they gained about 2,700 yards between them last year. So that’s important, too. It’s really important to be physical and tackle well playing against two great runners. And it’s going to be important that we keep leverage on them, tackle well, get a lot of people around the ball so we don’t have a lot of one-on-one tackles. And when they run the option, they’re moving the point of attack, so everybody’s got a responsibility so it’s not as easy when they run it because the point of attack moves from the dive to the guy carrying the ball to the pitch. And everybody’s got to maintain a responsibility.”
On what he did in the week between Western Carolina and Vanderbilt to improve the toughness:
“We do it all the time. It’s something that we want to have so we harp on it all the time. We’ve been doing it every practice, every day since we’ve been here. And I just think we made an improvement from the first game to the next. I don’t think we did anything different. It wasn’t like we started out saying, Okay, guys. We don’t really want to be physical up front. This is not the kind of team you want to be,’ and after the first game said, Okay, we’re wrong about that, we want to change.’ We’ve been trying to do that all along. I think the players learn as they gain knowledge and experience of what’s important because they see things happen. And they see that if they do certain things certain ways they’re going to have a better chance to be successful. And I think when you continue to harp on things, they eventually get what you emphasize. And I think we improved on that. Now it’s going to be much, much more important because of the way this team can run the ball for 350 yards in the last game, that we make just as significant an improvement in that regard relative to playing physical up front, playing blockers, controlling blockers, getting off and being able to tackle good backs.”
On Marcus Monk and preparing without knowing if he’ll play:
“He’s a fantastic player in my opinion. He’s got great size. He’s a very good blocker. He’s a mis-match player for most DB’s because of his size. And he’s got great hands. And he does a great job of going up and getting the ball which complements his size. But the big thing is he really blocks well and their receivers all do a good job of blocking but he’s such a big, physical guy that he creates a physical mis-match in that regard, too, when they run the ball in the perimeterwhich this team does an outstanding job of running the ball in the perimeter. And they’ve got great speed to do it.”
On how to simulate player like McFadden in practice preparations:
“If we could simulate him in practice, we’d play the guy. I wish we had one. But we’ll try to take some of the guys who are fast guys even if they aren’t maybe exactly running backs and put some of those types of guys in there so we can get a picture of what we need to get. But it’s one of the things that’s most difficult about this offense, especially their perimeter reverses and options, is, how do you get the speed at which they do it in practice so that the players are ready for it in the game? I think it’s always the case when you used to play a wishbone team in the old days when people ran that, it was the same kind of deal. You could never get the look and the speed that you needed and the players kind of had to adjust to it in the game. We’ve got some young guys that have good speed, and hopefully we’ll get a good look from them so it will help us prepare better for this game.”
On whether it “excites” him, being a “defensive-minded coach” to prepare for a team like Arkansas:
“Excites me? It’s challenging. I will say that. They’re good. I think that’s one of the things that when you’re a competitor and you’re competing, you always look at the next game as a new challenge. And because they’re different in some of the things that they do and how they use some of their feature players, which are very talented guys, it is very challenging and that’ s part of the fun of it. But, we also, because we respect what they do, understand the difficulty of it as well.”
On how much an advantage it is for a team to have a bye week when another is preparing for them:
“I don’t know. Obviously you have more time to prepare (if you are the bye team) and you have more time to make changes that could affect the other team’s preparation. I guess it comes down to, if you’re in a good rhythm as a team, sometimes it’s better to keep playing. Sometimes when you’re (in) not so good rhythm, it’s good to have a bye week to try to get your rhythm together. So it can be good or bad, depending on when it occurs and how your team’s playing. I’ve always thought that after you play four, five or six games, it’s good to have a bye week. You can give the players some extra rest. You can recover a little bit. Your team starts getting run down a little bit when you play tough competition week in and week out, so sometimes strategically where it falls on the schedule can also be advantageous for you. But I don’t have any statistical information that supports whether a bye week is a good thing or a bad thing. A lot of people assume it’s a good thing, but I can’t support that one way or the other. I don’t even know how we’ve done after our bye weeks through the years. Probably a good research project for somebody, and it might help me answer this question better in the future.”
On how to coach DB’s to defend player like McFadden who uses “stiff arm”:
“He’s got long arms and great range and the guy plays with tremendous toughness. But you’ve got to break his stiff arm down, find something to grab on to and try to drag him down. We’ll have to work on that this week. The other guy does it, too. He doesn’t have quite as long arms but he does it pretty well, too.”
On importance of Arkansas game regarding evaluation of Alabama’s team:
“I think the most important thing is where we stand today and that’s what we can do today to improve as a team and get better. I think that every game we play we find out about ourselves. We find out what we need to work on. We find out what we need to improve. And this game will be no different than that. But each day that we go out there and practice we find out things that we need to work on and improve and we need to continue to do that. And this is going to be a totally different type of game relative to what this team does. So it’ll be a real challenge for our players.”
On importance, when facing team like Arkansas, of keeping offense on the field & defense off:
“I always think it’s important in any game that if you can keep the ball and don’t turn it over, it’s hard for the other team to score. I think it affects field position, even if you don’t score every time, if you make first downs and move the chains and have some people say if you have seven plays of offense before you punt the ball, then you’re going to effectively change field position to some degree and that’s going to be effective in possessing the ball and controlling field position. And I think that’s something that’s important on offense. It’s also important to score points. So you can’t go in the bag in terms of what you do on offense. I think you have to play and execute, whether it’s runs, passes, possession passes, explosive down-the-field type passes and continue to be able to run the ball and have balance in your offense. I don’t think there’s any question that that’s important in every game but when a team can run the ball effectively it’s good not to let them have it as much if you can keep it on offense.”
On points of emphasis he may have on UA QB John Parker Wilson after evaluating the Vanderbilt game:
“I think that John Parker has done a really good job for us to this point. When I talk about the passing game and improving in the passing game, I’m talking about everyone that’s involved in the passing game. I’ve talked about this before. It’s a little easier to play quarterback when the people around you play well. We have good pass protection. Route runners are getting open. The timing of what you want to do is there because the depths are being run correctly. And then the quarterback obviously is the trigger man and he’s got to make the correct decisions and deliver the ball where they have a chance to catch it. And John Parker made some outstanding plays in this game. We had a couple of other big plays that we just missed on that could have been good plays for us, and I’m sure that he had a couple of decisions in the game that he would like to maybe have done a little different, maybe made a little better throw. And I think the big thing for John Parker right now is just be patient, focus on the moment, go through the process of what he needs to do to be successful and not get caught up in expectations or anything like that so he doesn’t put this unbelievable pressure on himself to do something. We just need him to execute his position, do his job. We’ve got good enough players around him. If we play well we can be a very good passing team and he can be an outstanding quarterback for us, and he’s done a great job to this point and we just want to continue to improve.”