UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA HEAD FOOTBALL COACH NICK SABAN
Georgia Game Week Press Conference Transcript
September 17, 2007
“After reviewing the film of the Arkansas game, I’m obviously proud of the players for the way they came back in the game. (They) finished the game; competed well. Overcame a lot of adversity which, as I said after the game, if you are going to have outstanding victories in your life or in sports, most of the time the competitive environment that you are in to get those requires you to be able to overcome a lot of adversity. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew Arkansas would keep coming back, and I was proud of the way our players overcame that.
“On the other side of it, excellence is a habit. You’ve got to do things right all the time so that it becomes a habit. And you can do things out of habit with discipline to do the right stuff all the time. And I think that when the game went 31-10, even though we weren’t playing a perfect game, there was a significant difference in how we played. Arkansas came back and that got us reeling a little bit and that is something that if you do things right all the time, there is no scoreboard, maybe those kinds of things wouldn’t occur in the game. Especially when you’re playing good football teams with good football players who have the ability to make plays and come back on you quickly in the game. As I said after the game, the fans, the atmosphere of the game was special and I know well-appreciated by us, our players, everybody involved. But now, just like I said, 24 hours later, we’ve got to get focused in on the next game. Georgia is an outstanding football team. There’s no doubt about that, so that requires our focus.
“We did have some Players of the Game in this game, D.J. Hall on offense, breaking the receiver record here; Matt Caddell with nine catches. I thought our receivers played their best game of the season as a group and these two guys especially made a significant number of plays.
“Defensively, Keith Saunders and Darren Mustin, even though Mustin only played half the game, the half the game that he played was outstanding. He really played well. And even though he may not have had the production points of some guys that played the whole game, for what he did in his part of the game, I think it was an outstanding performance. Ty King did a great job on special teams and Leigh Tiffin did a much better job kicking off. Made a big field goal, came back in the game after being injured. So we were really pleased with those two guys on special teams, Ty King caused a fumble and recovered a fumble on a kickoff.
“Terry Grant was the SEC Freshman of the Week again and D.J. (Hall) being Honorable Mention as Offensive Player (of the Week) is great for our players to get that kind of recognition and self-gratification.
“From an injury standpoint, I think Tiffin will be able to kick. That shouldn’t be a problem. Mustin will probably need a day. D.J. Hall may need a day. We’ll re-evaluate that before practice today. I think everybody else will be okay.
“It’s certainly an honor for us to have GameDay come to the University of Alabama. It’s special exposure for us. It’s special to have those people come and be a part of our program for a day, and we certainly want to have nothing but the greatest hospitality, respect and admiration for what they do so that they have a positive experience here, and I think that goes without saying that our fans welcome them and create an atmosphere that’s special for everyone to see.
“Georgia is an outstanding football team. Mark Richt has done a fantastic job there. His record speaks for itself, the number of championships they’ve won. They have outstanding players on both sides of the ball. Even though they’ve been a little bit hot and cold on offense, they’re a little more hot than anything else right now in terms of how they’re playing. Quarterback’s an outstanding player. They’ve got good skill guys. They’ve got very good runners. Even though they have an offensive line that’s a little bit young and inexperienced, they have done a really, really good job allowing some of these people to make some outstanding plays. Defensively they’re second in the league in just about every category. They’ve always played great defense there. They’ve got great players. They’re aggressive in their style, so this is a good football team all the way around. And they’ve always been very, very dangerous on special teams in terms of how they play, what they do. They’ve got very good return guys. Twenty, Thomas Brown, is very, very good as a back, but he’s also very good as a return man.
“Very athletic team. Very active team. Very capable of making lots of explosive plays on offense and very aggressive on defense. So we need to re-center our focus here and get busy on playing another outstanding team.”
On Keith Saunders coming back into the Arkansas game after being injured and what it tells about Saunders’ drive:
“He had a shoulder stinger. The medical staff always makes the decisions based on the health, safety and welfare of the player. Keith had strength. He felt like he was okay and he felt like he could come back. But I do think it shows a lot of mental toughness on his part, a lot of competitive character to come back. He played an outstanding game. He has had a little bit of an on and off problem with this. It’s something that comes and goes, so we’re pleased that he heads back and we need to continue to work on his strength so that’s not a reoccurring problem in the future.”
On what went into decision to send him back in game:
“I don’t make those decisions. I listen to what the doctors tell me, what the medical staff tells me in terms of what a guy can and can’t do, and then the decision - they clear them to go back in the game based on their medical information. I never make any decisions relative to that, and then sometimes I’ll even ask the player, Are you okay? Can you go back? Do you feel okay,’ because they think they should have some input in the decision as well because if they don’t think feel like they can go in and do their job effectively, it’s unfair to put them in the position regardless of what the medical staff says.”
On Matt Caddell’s progress and on his play in the final drive of the Arkansas game:
“Matt’s had an outstanding camp. He’s been very consistent. One of the big things we worked on over the summer was consistency in catching the ball, and he certainly made some great catches in this game. He’s great separating out of the break. He’s a very good slot receiver, a difficult match-up, hard to defend. They played a lot of man-to-man; he separated. John Parker (Wilson) made good throws. Matt certainly delivered in the clutch and made a fantastic play at the end of the game in the end zone to take the ball pretty much away from one of their guys on a jump ball situation. So he had a fantastic game and he’s been consistent that way all the time. Sometimes you don’t always get an opportunity. You never know when your opportunity is coming but you’ve got to prepare it all the time to take advantage of the opportunity. He’s been playing well all year long, and he had his chances in this game and he certainly took advantage of it, made a lot of plays.”
On importance of having processes the coaches have been teaching validated in a game like Arkansas:
“All the stuff is learning. There’s opportunity to teach in everything that you do. We talk about playing for 60 minutes in a game but there was a time in the game when we didn’t play like we’re capable of playing. There was a stretch there where we turned the ball over, gave up a couple of explosive plays on defense, turned the ball over two plays in a row, fumbled a snap and threw a pick which gave them great field position on the plus side of the fifty. And we were reeling a little bit as a team. And that can’t happen. So there’s something to learn from that in terms of creating the right habits, the right psychological disposition to go play the next play and compete and respond to those kinds of plays in the game so you don’t start reeling. And there’s also something to be said and a great lesson to be learned for the fact that, okay, for the last four-and-a-half-minutes of the game, we do what we have to do to stop them.’ We get it back with 2:13. The offense does a great job of executing the two minute drive. The kicker has to make a field goal. I mean there’s a lot of things that, you know, you believe in your players that they can get done that you practice that you do that they did. And they did it right. And they came back and did it right. So there’s lots of positive lessons and there’s a few learning experiences where we didn’t do it exactly right and didn’t play with consistency in the game and had some ups and downs. And those you want to avoid. And hopefully we can learn from that.”
On 2nd half of Arkansas game, beyond McFadden, the biggest issues facing the UA defense after looking at video:
“We did not line up properly on a number of occasions relative to their formations. I think the formation multiples may have created a little confusion in some of the most basic things that they did. What Arkansas hurt us worst within the game was their regular, basic, most basic things. We adjusted to all the crazy stuff pretty well but five at quarterback whatever it was, but when they just got in regular formation and five was playing tailback and they ran it down hill on us, we didn’t execute very well. All those things are correctable. We certainly need to get them corrected. We’re playing a team that can run the football in the same kind of scenario, so that’s important that we get that corrected. But I think that was the biggest issue.”
On controlling momentum during a game:
“I think you can control what you can control which is how you play. And, hopefully the things that I’ve been talking about, I think when you rely on emotion, emotions are going to go up and down. When you rely on your competitive character and attitude, then that’s what I’m talking about today here about understanding excellence as a habit, and you do things a certain way all the time. And you recognize the importance of doing that. And it’s the same way whether it’s going to class, being on time for a meeting, being where you’re supposed to be a the right time, doing the right things on the right plays, it’s all a part of your competitive character, but it’s a habit. And excellence is a habit. It’s a work in progress. And we’ve got to continue to use these examples of things that happen in the game where we lose momentum that who you are and the competitive character that you have is what helps you work through those with a minimal effect.”
On whether how physical the Arkansas game was will affect how team prepares this week:
“It was a physical game and we’re doing a few things a little different today, not from a time standpoint but from an emphasis standpoint. This is not a hitting day for us so we won’t do a lot of hitting, but we have a lot of teaching, a lot of learning to do, a lot of corrections to make and that’s always our approach on Monday. And we like to get our kicking game plan in as much as we can so we can practice it throughout the week.”
On John Parker Wilson’s style and play to date:
“He obviously did a good job. I know there are a couple of plays he’d like to have back. He threw two interceptions in the game but he made a lot of good throws in the game. He made a lot of plays. He handled the blitz well. There were a few protection errors that things should have been picked up that he got hit on that we need to correct. They did a few different things to us, but I thought all in all he managed the game very well. He got us in the right plays for the most part and we want his focus to be on continuing to improve and feel more and more comfortable and confident with our offense and his ability to play with a consistency and a confidence that will help us be more efficient and effective in eliminating some of the bad plays that we’ve had the last couple of weeks.”
On penalties and how they are addressed:
“We show them on the film: hand placement, how we set which is another discipline thing---taking the right steps, taking the right set, having the right hand placement. Probably if we’d eliminate those, and you’re talking about a guy now that has been a very good player for us, played very well in this game and had two circumstances where he didn’t do it right and it affected us. And we stopped ourselves several times with penalties in the game. Those two were both drive stoppers for us. We don’t just tell a guy, 'Don’t hold.' Like, I hate to hear a coach say, Catch the ball.’ To me that’s the worst coaching point in the world. A receiver drops the ball coming over the middle, he’s wide open like they always tell me, They’re wide open.’ The ball hits him in the hands and he drops it. The first thing out of everybody’s mouth is, Catch the ball.’ I say you’re not teaching the guy anything. Why didn’t you catch it? Did he have poor hand selection? Did he take his eyes off of it? Did he not look at him? Why did he miss it? Why did the guy get on top of you when you’re playing a coverage? Why did we not fit the gaps right? You didn’t line up right. So it’s not just a matter of the result and saying we didn’t get the result we want so catch the ball. There’s no teaching in that. There’s no teaching. And very little learning will occur and very little change will occur unless you tell guys what they did incorrectly and show them why it’s important to do it that way. Then I think you can make progress and improve.”
On what stands out about (Georgia’s) Matthew Stafford:
“For a young guy, he’s been successful as a quarterback. I think he’s something like 9-3 as a starter, and for a young player that’s outstanding. He’s got great arm talent. He’s very accurate. He seems to have a great understanding of their offense. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes out there. I seem him getting them in and out of plays and checking protections and doing things that veteran quarterbacks do, so he shows a lot and plays with a lot of maturity at his position. I think the guy’s a fantastic player and is already one of the best quarterbacks in the league but probably soon to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
On whether win like the one against Arkansas gives team “added fire” going into the Georgia game:
“Added fire? We’re hopeful that what’s in the past is in the past, so what happened in the last game is not going to have any effect upon on the next game. The team we are playing is where our focus needs to be on what we need to do to execute and get it right. So we have getting it right, standard of excellence, understanding that is a critical factor in being successful in anything that you do, and that’s what we need to focus on. We’re not talking about the last game. We’re talking about the next game. And we need to focus on that and play with consistency because what happened last week is an external factor now relative to this week. And we need to focus on what we need to do to be successful in this game against a very good football team.”
On importance of Alabama being able to overcome mistakes and in the fashion it was done as a team:
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned in getting down; coming back. I think the biggest example is the guys played for 60 minutes in the game and even though all 60 minutes weren’t at a standard that we’d like for them to be, they kept competing in the game, they believed in themselves. We showed a faith, trust and confidence in them and they responded well. I think that’s a critical factor in being successful, too, that they didn’t stay down and that they came back in the game. My hat’s off and I’m very proud of the way that we finished the game.”
On Javier Arenas and the spark he provides and role he sees, be it offensively or defensively, in future:
“He’s a defensive player for us right now. He’s a very good back-up player for us. He may have some role defensively. We have not tried to utilize him as an offensive player. That’s not to rule that out. I think there are offensive positions that he could contribute to our team at. It’s not something that we feel is necessary right now. It could be necessary later in the season. I think just about every game he has made a big play on special teams that has contributed to the success of the team. It’s not just that he’s an outstanding returner, but I think the special teams have done a good job of blocking. I think that we’ve had pride in performance. We had a good plan against them to get their gunner to come in to double them and then return the ball to that side. We got a poor punt but we got a lucky hop, a good hop that came right to them, and we had the wall set up and we made a big play. So he did a great job of fielding the ball and following the blockers. But there were a lot of good blocks made by the special teams on that particular play as well. But he has contributed with a positive big play in every game, and that’s something that has changed field position and been significant for us relative to our special team performance in every game so far this year.”
On rundown of specific and obscure situations team practices (like Get the Ball Back at the End of the Game,” etc.:
“You try to cover every situation in the game that could happen. We do two minute before the happen which we’ve had two opportunities to do this season and I think came up with field goals on both of them even though we had the ball inside the 10 yard line. We do the last 15 seconds of the game, which came up in the last game. We do get the ball back. We do last play of the game that we’re going to run inside the 10, last play of the game that we’re going to run inside the 25. We have a litany of things that we do on Friday in walk-through that are situational that can come up in a game that are not typically practiced. Even though you do all these things, there are still situations that come up in a game where maybe you didn’t practice it. Like getting the ball in the middle of the field with six seconds to go and calling timeout at Vanderbilt. That’s something we practiced on Friday. So, just through the years you develop an accumulation of all these situations. I think if you just cover them even in walk-through the players can anticipate and respond to them a little bit better in the game.”
On entering Top 25 this week at No. 16:
“That really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where you’re at today; it’s where you end up. It’s how you improve. How we keep making progress as a team. That’s another one of those external factors that you guys love to talk about that has no effect on the outcome of anything. It’s great to be recognized as a Top 25 team. It’s good recognition. It’s good exposure. We certainly appreciate the fact that we’re in that position, but it’s not something that we can allow to affect how we go about our work or what we do because it’s an external factor that will have nothing to do with the outcome of the game.”
On fans expectations after weekend and how they are now “starting to say crazy” things about how season could go:
“They’ve been saying crazy things ever since I’ve been here. What else is new?”
How do you keep such talk grounded without dampening spirits & enthusiasm?
“I don’t want to dampen their spirits. I don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm. I just want them to be positive and supportive and realistic about what we’re doing game to game and play to play and what we have to do as a team to get it right to have the best chance to be successful. That’s what we should be focused on. And if people aren’t focusing on that, their ability to be positive probably won’t be as good and the positive energy that we have together, everyone here together, which I’ve talked about a lot, which has been outstanding so far in everything that we’ve done, is going to be the key to building the kind of program that can be consistently successful in the future.”
On young offensive coordinators in this next game with Alabama’s Major Applewhite and Georgia’s Mike Bobo and his assessment of how the two have done so far:
“First of all I think Coach Bobo has done an outstanding job at Georgia. Mark Richt is a great offensive coach and I’m sure he’s learned a lot of good things from him but I think their diversity in what they do is certainly something that’s challenging to defend. I think Major Applewhite has done an outstanding job here. We’ve scored an adequate amount of points each week. There are certainly a lot of things we can improve on on offense, and I think our ability as a staff, an entire staff, to recognize those things, work on those things and get those things corrected is the most important thing. I called games for a long time. I think I was a coordinator for 12 years before I was a head coach. And there’s never a game that you play where you don’t wish you had one back. I don’t care if you blitz and they hit you, I don’t care if you cover and they hit you, you drop eight and the guy scrambles and hits you. You always wish you did something else when it doesn’t work. It’s the way it is because you want to do what you can execute and it usually comes down to execution, and most calls do. But when they don’t work, you always kind of inherently analyze, How could I have done it better? What would have given us a better chance to be successful?’ And I’m sure all coordinators do that. But I’ve been pleased with what we’ve done and how we’ve tied things together. And I think we’ll continue to improve on that as we grow as a staff together.”