Countdown to Kickoff
Week 4 Press Conference Transcript

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks with the media Monday.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks with the media Monday.

Sept. 19, 2011

Head Coach Nick Saban

Opening Statement:
“I think there’s basically one thing to talk about from the last game. When we did things correctly, we had a tremendous amount of success. I hope what we learned is when we didn’t do things correctly, we had some negative consequences. I think the lesson to be learned is you need to elevate your intensity, preparation and practice habits, so that you get it right and have a better chance to focus and feel comfortable and confident that you get it right in the games. I think as you play better teams, those consequences get magnified a little more, and the emphasis to do things correctly becomes even greater. That’s going to be the emphasis and point of focus with our team internally in terms of what we need to do.”

“We had some guys that played really well in the game. Offensively, Brad Smelley, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy were the offensive players of the week. Mark Barron, Dont’a [Hightower], Courtney [Upshaw] and Robert Lester on the defensive side. Will Lowery and Jerrell Harris on special teams. We had a couple guys that probably may be a little slow or limited in practice today. Robert Lester would be one of those guys. Dee Milliner is sick today. He’s not hurt; he’s sick. I’m not sure whether we’ll let him out to practice, or if they’ll keep him away from everybody else. We’ve got a couple of other guys that are probably a little limited today, but we expect everybody to be full strength and ready to go tomorrow for sure.”

“Arkansas has a really good football team. Bobby [Petrino] has done a great job there. Each and every year, they have made improvement as a team in terms of their total team. This year, in all phases, they may be the best team that they’ve been, when you take everything into consideration. They’re a really good offensive team; they’re very productive. He’s a great offensive coach. The quarterback [Tyler Wilson] has played well for them. They probably have the best four wide receivers—I haven’t seen all the wide receivers in the country, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to say the best group in the country, but I guess I would like to see the group that’s better than these four guys, even to match their previous performance and production, in terms of what they’ve been able to do for their team. They’ve created balance in their offense. They could run the ball a lot better last year and they’ve continued to be able to do that this year. Their defense has improved each and every year since they’ve been there, and I think this is the best defensive team that they’ve probably had. They’ve got like seven starters back, and they’re one of the top 20 teams in the country in scoring defense, so they’ve made a lot of improvements.  They’re really good on special teams—very, very good on special teams. They’ve had three kick returns for touchdowns. They’ve got a really good punt returner in [Joe] Adams. [They’ve got] a really good kickoff return guy. [They’ve got] one kickoff return for a touchdown and two punts for touchdowns. They’re very, very explosive because of the skilled players that they have at all positions, but this now shows up on special teams. They’re very good and certainly a challenge for us on special teams as well.”

On if it’s fun and challenging as a defensive staff going up against Petrino who runs a tough offense:
“It’s certainly a challenge. They are probably as good of a passing team as there is in the country. They certainly have the right kind of players to do it, and they are very well coached. They have a very good system and scheme. Each and every year, this is a very challenging game for the defense. How are you going to affect the quarterback? How are you going to pressure the quarterback? How are you going to cover their guys? This is a lot like pro football. This is what you get ready for every week because that’s how most of those teams are built. This is certainly a pro-style offense, and they have some very good players. They do a really good job, and they want to start fast. They are going to challenge you vertically down the field as well as get everybody running and send somebody across and hit them on the run. Every mistake you make in pass defense, you have a little bit of an issue with in terms of getting them covered.”

On liking the nickel defense because it is flexible against different formations and personnel groups:
“When you play regular defense and you only have four defensive backs and when you play a three-four and you’re symmetrical, you don’t have problems in adjustment. As soon as you try to play over and under, you’ve either got to slide backers out on spread out formations, or you’ve got to walk somebody out because you only have four defensive backs. When you play nickel, you’ve already got a guy built in so that’s how he makes his living being walked out on somebody and covering somebody outside the formation. You don’t put a player who is not used to being in the position. It’s easier to make adjustments because you’ve got five guys in the game instead of four, so you can have defensive backs on both edges, so no matter what they do, you are set. Now when they get in tight formations with a whole bunch of guys in the backfield, then you have a harder time getting eight-man fronts. That usually doesn’t happen when they have three receivers in the game.”

On the confidence Robert Lester and Dre Kirkpatrick got after last year’s game against Arkansas:
“I think the experience of playing last year, making plays and not only learning from the plays that they made, but also the mistakes that they made, helped them develop as good, consistent players. That’s what impacts their confidence and ability to perform more effectively in the game. A combination of all of those things can help contribute in a positive way to a player’s development. We made a lot of mistakes last year, especially early in the game. We didn’t adjust the formations right, busted a long touchdown, and we didn’t have anybody dropping a flat. There’s a little more consistency, knowledge and experience, and I think a little more ability to adapt to circumstances and situations. I think when you play a team like Arkansas, they do a lot different things. Conceptually, they’re the same things, but it is typical NFL style where they do it in a different way than how you practiced. Last year at this time, we weren’t very adaptable relative to the knowledge and experience that we had. I think we have better knowledge and experience now, and I hope we’ll make better adjustments in this game and not make those kinds of mental mistakes.”

On how Barrett Jones played at right tackle on Saturday and was that the result of trying him out as a backup option:
“No one did anything bad. It doesn’t have to be the result of a negative. It was an opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of to get Cyrus (Kouandjio), who we think is very athletic but needs development, to play left tackle. Barrett is the swing tackle. It gave us the opportunity to have him play some on the right side. It was really about, ‘If we lost our best lineman, how would we be able to get our best five guys back on the field?’ We’re trying to develop a guy who we think can be one of those five guys sometime in the future. He was able to play 40-some plays in the game, which is good for his development. You only learn so much in practice, and we were happy to get him to play that much and I’m sure he’ll learn and improve because of it.”

On Will Lowery’s performance:
“He does a great job on special teams, and he does well in dime situations for us. We got to play a lot of guys in the secondary, and we have some good, young players who continue to develop, but Will Lowery is a staple for us and has done a really good job. They’ll all get tested this week.”

On how to address the red zone problems from this week:
The problem all goes back to the same thing. We stopped ourselves in the red zone by not executing what we were supposed to do. Those 50 and 70 yard runs that we had were all the same play against the same defense that we would lose five yards on. It’s not a systematic problem. It was a lack of execution problem in terms of what we did, and we have to correct that so we can execute better. It’s too simple a problem to make a story about; it is what it is. If we can block the right guys, it will work out right. Just like my wife said, “Why did you run that play instead of a different one?” She says that if that play doesn’t work, we should run another play. Well how about we just run that play right? Because when we run it right, we made 50 yards, so then she didn’t have anything to say about that.”

On the impact of having Darius Hanks back and how the receivers are doing this year (particularly Christion Jones):
“Having Darius Hanks back, with his knowledge, confidence and experience, was helpful to the entire group, even though he only caught a couple of balls. We had some other opportunities that we just missed him on where he was open, but we didn’t quite get the ball to him. Christion Jones has been the kind of guy who’s progressed since the beginning of camp, and we want to continue to use him and hope that he continues to develop. He does have speed and is good with the ball in his hand. We obviously need to continue to improve. I’ve been pleased with Kenny Bell’s improvement, and DeAndrew White has gotten better each game. As a group, I think we’re making progress.”

On Arkansas starting a true freshman at left tackle:
“Well they have, I think, three new starters on the offensive line. They’re all very capable guys. They have two new starters at tackle and both guys are capable guys. We have to do a better job of rushing and challenging their front people, so we can affect the passing game not just with how we cover, but how we disguise, how we pressure, how we can rush with four guys. I think all those things are really important. How many yards have they thrown for? However many yards they’ve thrown for, both those guys have been playing tackle so they must be doing something right.”

On evaluating Alabama’s pass rush thus far:
“Well, I think we’ll see this week. Most of the plays that we had in the first game and the last game, the ball came out of the quarterback’s hands so fast. We had guys running free in the A gap, and they couldn’t sack him because he was going to get rid of it. He wasn’t going to get sacked. They weren’t running any vertical patterns down the field that took much time to develop where the rushers had a chance. When you face a lot of quick game, I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of quarterback hits or quarterback pressures. In the Penn State game where they threw the ball down the field, we got a little more pressure on the quarterback even though we didn’t get the sacks. But again, sacks are not something that is a critical statistic in winning. I think pressing the pocket and pressuring the quarterback is, but it’s something that we definitely need to improve on, especially for the game that we have this week.”

On Cyrus Kouandjio’s development:
“Cyrus is really doing a good job for us. He’s certainly made a tremendous amount of progress and improvement. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that he’s athletic and is going to be a very good player at that position. We just want to continue to enhance his development, so he feels comfortable and confident in knowing what he’s supposed to do so he can play without apprehension and be sure about what he’s supposed to do. The closer you play to the ball, the faster stuff happens, so if you’re a little bit ‘I’m not sure whether I should step this way and block this guy, or I got that guy’ he has no chance. It doesn’t make a difference how athletic you are. He did much better in this game than the first game, and we’re just going to keep developing him and help him to improve. We have every confidence in him that if he has to play, he could play well.”

On the Arkansas defense’s improvement over the last few years:
“They’ve been playing with a lot of the same guys for two or three years now. Those guys get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit more experienced. They’ve also sort of developed their scheme and package a little bit, probably with the more experienced players being able to handle it, manage it. They kind of do more things now. They have a five down look where 91 sort of does what 30 does for us sometimes in creating five down, four down. They play a lot more split safety coverage. As their personnel has developed and gained experience, they’ve kind of expanded what they do, which creates more problems, but the players that they have play hard and do a good job of pressuring. Jericho Nelson is all over the place. That guy makes all kinds of plays, and it seems he’s been there as long as I’ve been here. He’s a very good player.”

On what he sees from a Petrino-coached quarterback:
“Just about every guy that he’s coached has been very productive. I think part of that is they play with good fundamentals. They’ve got a really good system, and they have the discipline to execute and play within the system. They believe that playing within the system is going to help them make plays, and that has certainly been the case with every quarterback I know of that he’s coached in college. I think the same thing is happening right now.”

#30 Dont’a Hightower, Linebacker

On the importance of the pass rush this week against Arkansas:
“Arkansas has some really good wide receivers out there. They have a really good quarterback. Those are the things they are going to try and use. They have offensive weapons, so obviously they are going to use them. They are real big on the passing game, so obviously our pass rush is going to have to be on point this week.”

On what might make the Arkansas spread tougher to prepare for than others:
“I think the fact that they have so much talent and depth on that side. A lot of teams have one or two wide receivers that are legit, but they have three wide receivers. They have shown that since they have been at Arkansas. They have a quarterback that is able to get them the ball. They have a great coach. The running game is going to help them out too. We are going to have to work real hard this week.”

On how much better prepared the defense is this year going into the Arkansas game:
“I feel like we have matured a lot. You can see that through the first three games this year, especially last week putting up the goose egg and then at Penn State, playing against those guys and having a good game. I feel confident on defense and feel like that is our strength this year.”

On how the team celebrates a shutout:
“There is not much celebrating. We have high expectations for ourselves. That is something that we try to work on a lot. Having those defensive goals helps us a lot. In the preparation, as long as we have a good week of practice, we are capable of things like that.”

On the constant flow of guys going in and out of the game and how it is organized:
“It depends on personnel. We have two or three coaches that hold up signs that give us signals to let us know what they are in and what players need to be in as far as pass situations, run stoppers and things like that. We have a lot of people that play multiple positions, so sometimes we can get the signals of the calls late. Last week was probably one of the better jobs we have done this year, and we will continue to progress on that.”

#37 Robert Lester, Defensive Back

On Arkansas and its group of receivers:
“I remember them making a lot of good plays. We’re going to watch the film on them and hopefully be able to stop those plays they made last year.”

On how comfortable the secondary is this year compared to last year:
“We’re a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident. That’s the big thing playing against great receivers like this. They’re going to make plays, and we just have to put that behind us, have short term memories and go out and make plays too.”

On whether last year’s game had an impact on him confidence-wise:
“It had a big time (impact). Going against a great quarterback in Ryan Mallett, and great receivers, going and making plays like that is only going to help us.”

On the feeling of the secondary after Arkansas’ first drive last year where they went around 80 yards in only two plays:
“We knew that they could make plays, and they went and showed us that they could. We just have to buckle down and be able to stop it when things like that happen.”

On Saban’s response to drives like that one:
“Well I’m sure he doesn’t like it. Nobody wants that to happen, but great teams and great players are going to be able to make things happen. By this point, we need to be able to stop it.”

On the importance of the pass rush this week:
“It’s always important, in every game that we play. Getting pressure on the quarterback results in bad throws, and hopefully interceptions.”

#75 Barrett Jones, Offensive Lineman

On his performance, and the performance of the offensive line last week:
“I think we tried a lot of different combinations. We did some good things in the run game, and protected pretty well for the most part. We still made a few mental errors I think we need to clean up. I think we got better, definitely from last week, but we have a long way to go.”

On Trent’s career-high rushing yards:
“Nobody deserves it more than Trent. He works really hard, and he’s an extremely talented player so you love to see that from Trent. We’re hoping to get him a lot more games like that.”

On what he sees from Eddie Lacy:
“Eddie has really stepped up this year. He’s done a really good job of preparing and working really hard to fill that back-up role. He’s a guy who has a lot of talent and has done a really good job of improving from year to year. We feel really good about Eddie when he’s in the game, and I’m really excited to see him continue to fulfill his potential.”

On switching from left tackle to right tackle:
“I played both tackle positions. It was about the last position I haven’t played yet in a game, so now I’ve played all five.”

On Cyrus Kouandjio’s progression:
“He continues to get a lot better. He’s working really hard and studying his playbook really hard. I think he’s a guy who, if you look at him, there’s no doubt he has the talent. He just has to continue to work hard to learn what’s going on. It’s really hard coming in as a freshman and contributing just because it’s so difficult to learn the playbook and to understand the complexities of our offense in such a short time.”

On the coming game against Arkansas:
“I’m really excited about the game against Arkansas. We had a great game up there last year. It was a lot of fun, and a great atmosphere. I think it’ll be a huge game for us this year too. They have a really good team, so we’re going to work really hard this week and get prepared for them.”

#3, Trent Richardson, Running Back

On the red zone offense against Arkansas:
“It’s going to be pretty tough in the red zone to get touchdowns against Arkansas. Against teams like North Texas, we’re supposed to get stuff like that so we have to get better. I always say that we have a lot to work on as a team, as a unit, especially offensive-wise. We’re going to go fix it before this weekend, going to work hard so that we get into the end zone when we get into the red zone this week.”

On the offense’s responsibility to help the defense out against an offense that scores a lot of points:
“It’s a big responsibility for us because Arkansas has a good offense. They’re going to try to score as many points as they can, and I know they have a good defense too. We have to back up our defense, every chance we can in the game.”

On the improvement in Arkansas’ defense:
“Their defense is always going to be strong. I know their linebackers are pretty good this year. I know they have a good safety. They’re going to bring everything they can, and we know as a unit that they’re going to be after us because we beat them on the road. I know they’re hungry, and they’re going to bring everything.”

On the benefit of having Barrett Jones on the offensive line:
“It benefits me a lot because Barrett Jones knows where he is supposed to be at all times. He’s a smart guy. He’s got a 4.0. He’s a big nerd, and he knows what to do. It helps a lot that he’s smart in the game and ahead of everybody.”