Countdown to Kickoff
Coach Nick Saban Press Conference Transcript



Sept. 28, 2009

Opening Comments:
“I guess the question you can always ask is where do we go from here? Obviously, I think there are a lot of things we can improve on as a team, based on whatever our team standard is or what we want the standard to be, in terms of how we approach things and what we do.  We probably didn’t run the ball as efficiently and effectively as we would have liked to or need to. We made some explosive plays.  Defensively, we did a good job against a really good passing team, but still we have plenty to improve on.  I think that we’ve got to continue to trust in our players and develop things that the players that we have can do the best, so we can be very productive on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. So those are things we are going to continue to work on.

“We had some outstanding performances in this last game. Trent Richardson (named SEC Freshman of the Week) and Marquis Maze, who not only did a good job making an outstanding big play which everybody saw, but a guy that plays with a lot of toughness, blocked really well and did a great job on special teams.  Defensively, Ro (Rolando McClain) did a good job orchestrating the defense, making the calls and checks, but had a lot of production points.  Javy (Javier Arenas), who was honorable mention in the SEC for defensive player of the week, also had an outstanding game with some tackles for losses, sacks and those types of things.  Chris Rogers, Tyrone King and Lorenzo Washington, who blocked a punt really when we were in punt safe, all did a really good job on special teams.  I thought we made some improvement in special teams. Penalties really hurt us in special teams and probably took 70 or 80 yards of field position out of it, so we want to play penalty free in special teams.

“Obviously, yesterday we confirmed the injury of Dont’a Hightower was ligament damage in his knee, which will require surgery, which will put him out for three to four months, which is a season-ending injury.  Dont’a is a fine player. He does a lot of things in a lot of ways, but he is a good person and a good leader.  I think for the players that are here now, we can’t respond to the loss, even though our thoughts and prayers are with him in supporting and helping him, but we’ve got to respond to the new situation and challenges that we have and the opportunity it creates for somebody else to go in and take advantage of reacting to what has happened.  We need to redefine who we are, individually and collectively, so we can get that done.

“We got the information late last week, I think Friday night actually, that Jerrell Harris will be reinstated after six games and I think you might have had that information as well.

“Kentucky is our first road game, although one of the reasons we play a game like Virginia Tech, is to prepare your team to go on the road and play.  It’s not like playing at home.  So this will be a challenge for us.  All SEC games are difficult; playing on the road in an SEC game is always difficult.  Kentucky has a very good program.  Rich Brooks has done an outstanding job there, winning 23 games in the last three years and going to three bowl games.  The quarterback is back and certainly shows a lot of improvement.  They’ve got good runners. Derrick Locke is a great athlete, good runner, also a great kickoff return guy.  Defensively, they play very, very good on defense. They have a very good inside ‘backer and a really great corner, probably two guys that are as good as anybody in the country.  They gave us issues last year, in terms of moving the ball and scoring points, even though we had lots of penalties in the game and didn’t finish some things, they really played well.  They are very well-coached on special teams and very sound in what they do.  So this is going to be a challenging game for us in all phases of the game. This is probably the best team we have played so far in terms of just running the ball, two back runs, regular runs, fullback lead plays, power plays, that kind, we expected some from Virginia Tech, but we didn’t get a lot of it, but I am sure we’ll get it in this game and that’ll be a challenge for our players as well.”

On run-blocking in the Arkansas game:
“I think there were times where we had a hat on a hat and just didn’t finish the blocks. There were some other times we made some mental errors as to who we were supposed to block.  There were times when we didn’t play with enough power.  They certainly had enough guys in there to stop the run all the time and that put a lot of pressure on their secondary and we took advantage of that on a few occasions. When people choose to play that way, that’s when we need to be aggressive, trust the players and not people to play us that way.  But, we are certainly capable of playing better than what we played, finishing blocks better, making less mental errors and getting a little better execution, regardless of what they did.”

On McElroy having some of the same leadership qualities as Tim Tebow:
“I really can’t make a comparison between one of our players and Tim Tebow, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for as a competitor and a leader, because I’ve never been around the guy enough to know exactly what he does, other than what I see, which is exactly what you see.  I think Greg’s well respected by his teammates. He is a good leader.  He is very positive and supportive.  I think he is well-liked. I think he does do a good job of affecting a lot of players on our team in a positive way, which is what you want leadership to do.  Leadership is to diffuse the negatives and reinforce the positive principles and values of the organization, the program and your unit.  Greg does a good job of that.

On possible Heisman campaign:
“I’m not concerned about that.  Talk to this guy over here, that’s what he gets paid for. Who are you talking about for Mac?  I haven’t thought about it.  I don’t think about things like that.  I’m kind of worried about playing well in this game. If you play well and you win, those kinds of things seem to take care of themselves.  I know in this day and age we are all concerned about how we market things and ourselves, but we’re concerned about how we do as a team and I know Mac is as well.  I know Greg is.  I know everybody in the organization wants to do what we need to do to have success as a team.  I don’t think there is anything you remember more, I can’t tell you how many yards I passed for my senior year in high school, or junior or sophomore.  I can’t tell you where we ranked in the Mid-American Conference when we won the MAC Championship when I was a college player.  I don’t know the statistics.  I don’t know where we ranked when we won the national championship on offense or defense.  I sure do have a pretty good feeling about what the team accomplished.  I still remember the sign that says state football champs in my little town in Monongha (West Virginia).  It makes me proud when I go to that town.  We are the only team that won the Mid-American at Kent State, ever.  That makes me proud.  I don’t know where we ranked on anything.  I don’t know who made All-America.  I don’t know who made All-Conference.  I don’t know any of that stuff and really if you’ve got a good team that will be the thing they remember the most. It’s like Ronnie Lott said ‘you never feel better than when you sell out to the team.’ “

On the combination of good punter and punt returner:
“I’ve often said if you accumulate 100 yards of field position, no matter how you get it, usually equates in to six points.  Obviously when we have 100 yards in punt returns and out net punting is minimized because of good punting, good coverage and good protection, I think P.J.’s only really had one not so good punt all year and that was in the last game on his first one.  Other that, he has been really consistent and we’ve had good coverage.  Our net punt had been an advantage to us, relative to how we have been able to return the ball on other people and how that changes field position.  In the last game, we negated, I don’t know, 60, 70, 80 yards in returns by penalties.  Whether they were good penalties or bad penalties, they were still penalties that got called and we lost a lot of field position because of that, even though we were still successful in averaging over a first down on punt returns.”

On defensive coordinator Kirby Smart:
“First of all, guys that have been on my staff at three different places have gone way overboard, in terms of their loyalty in wanting to stay, because I am supposed to be really hard to work for.  Just on that, I am really thankful that Kirby sticks around.  Kirby has done a really good job. We hired Kirby at LSU when he had just coached maybe a year or something at Valdosta State and was a G.A. at Florida State.  He has done a really good job. He’s a hard worker.  He certainly understands our system and can apply it in the game, which I think is the part of it that a lot of people really overlook.  You can know a system and you can understand it and you can teach it, but there is a whole other level to be able to go into a game and apply it where it’s effective.  He’s been around and he’s done a really good job at that and I think it shows by how we play on the field.

On Hightower’s role on defense and who replaces him:
“I don’t know that you can replace a guy that does all the things that he did.  I think we need different roles created by different people to do different things to make up for some of the things Dont’a did and how our players respond to that will certainly go a long way in how we continue to be able to play the kind of defense that will give us a chance to have success.”

On wide receiver blocking:
“Well I think that our guys have done a really good job blocking all year long.  I think that when you have a lot of explosive runs, long plays, it’s because they make blocks.  Marquis made a block on Mark’s (Ingram) short pass that he caught and ran for a touchdown.  That wouldn’t have been a touchdown if he didn’t make the block.  The way people try to run support when you can run the football, if the receivers can’t block they are always going to have an extra guy in the box. Mike McCoy has done a really good job of blocking. Julio (Jones) has done a good job of blocking.  I think everybody has done a good job of blocking and I think they understand that’s part of their role and the fact that they played with more toughness and been good blockers have contributed to the some of the longer runs we’ve had this year, no doubt.

On Javier Arenas as a punt returner:
“I think it’s a combination of things.  He is a great competitor, number one.  He has that burning desire that we talk about to be the best and to do well.  He also has good judgment. He is good at securing the ball, he always has been.  He’s got great quickness and good vision in terms of picking the right spots in space.  He’s a fantastic talent and he’s got the right attitude to want to be the best at it and does a fantastic job.  Our guys’ kind of feed on that too especially on punt returns.  They get him blocked up pretty good too so he has a good chance.  Once he gets started and they take care of the gunners and he gets started and they all stay on their guy, then we have a chance to have a big play and that’s going to have a significant impact on the game.”

On linebacker play against Arkansas after Hightower’s injury:
“They did a good job.  I don’t know that we will continue that way down the road, it will be a part of what we do, but there are other players who can contribute in roles.  It was what we were prepared to do in that game.  The guys did a good job.  All three of those contributed.  Their understanding of the system and their experience, you know, allowed them to do that. Eryk (Anders) goes from one position to another.  Cory (Reamer) goes from one position to another.  Courtney, who is the least experienced guy, ended up playing his position, but it gave us the best chance in that particular game for what we needed to do in that game to rush the passer to get the best players on the field and they all did a good job.”

Alabama Player Quotes (Kentucky Game)

Linebacker Rolando McClain
On losing Dont’a Hightower:
“Obviously you can’t replace a guy like Dont’a, but I think Coach Saban will do a good job of putting somebody in and filling his spot.  It’s a big loss for the team, but for me personally it’s a huge loss.  He’s more like a little brother to me.  When he got hurt, I felt like a part of me was not on the field.  I wasn’t the same with him not beside me.  Dont’a is not just our teammate, he’s our friend.  I think we’ll be alright because he’s going to be in practice with us, he’ll be at every game and he’ll be on the sideline.  He’ll be doing a good job at practice of coaching up the guy who will be in his spot.  Even though we can’t replace him, we’re going to try to do a good job of trying to move on and getting the job done.”

On mentoring another player:
“It’s going to be a process.  We’ve got guys that were backing him up that were doing a good job in practice.  They’re ready, I think.  I’ve just got to tell them what to get prepared for.  I don’t mind mentoring them, but at the same time I would like to have Dont’a there even though he’s not.  We’ve just got to get past it and try to get ready for Kentucky.”

On relying on one player to pick up the slack or it being a collective effort:
“We’ve all got to pick it up.  He’s (Hightower) an impact player on the defense.  He’s a force in the middle, and then when he goes down on the edge, he’s a force there.  There is not one guy who can replace him right now.  Everybody has to pick up their intensity.  We are still going to be a good defense in my mind.  I know Coach Saban won’t allow anything but for us to be a good defense.  I think we’ll be alright.”

Quarterback Greg McElroy
On wide receiver blocking:
“You look at Mark’s (Ingram) touchdown towards the end, without Marquis’ (Maze) block where he takes out two guys, Mark gets tackled at the eight-yard line and we still have eight yards to play until we get to the end zone.  Their effectiveness in the blocking and things like that downfield has really sprung for some more explosive plays, both in the pass plays to the running backs and on normal rushing plays.  I think they’ve done a really good job of that, and we’ve had more explosive plays this year as opposed to last year as a result.  The more they continue to do that, the more I’ll continue to look for them to get them the ball in situations.  If they’re willing to take one for the team by springing the guy for an extra 10 yards, then I know they’re going to be able to work for me again later in the game.”

On a play that he is most proud of from the Arkansas game:
“Obviously there were a lot of good plays that I felt really good about.  The touchdown passes were nice, but I think one thing that probably went unnoticed the most was maybe getting the guys to jump off sides.  That’s something I was definitely really happy about because that’s a momentum killer for them.  They pinned us within the one yard line and that’s tough.  That’s tough to rebound from.  The fact that we were able to get them off sides gave us a free five yards, and we were able to take it the distance for a touchdown.  I think that was definitely a turning point in the game.”

Cornerback/Kick Returner Javier Arenas
On losing Dont’a Hightower:
“Emotionally I think it will be tough, as well as physically putting a guy in to replace someone as good as Dont’a.  But you’re forced to and you have to.  I think, like I said, at first the emotional part will be the toughest part.  Out there, with our defense, we play a team defense – a family of guys.  A chuck of that has been taken out, a huge chuck taken out.  That can be catastrophic.  We’re trained to keep it going.  We’ve got guys that can step in and have success and help us keep doing what we’re doing.”

On whether or not it’s too early to feel momentum building with the season:
“It’s safe to say that the momentum is building, but I think it’s excitement more than anything.  When you hold down a high-powered offense, it lets you know, like I said before, it lets you know a lot about yourself.  I think there is a lot of room for improvement, as it is always, but it did let us know where we’re at, and what we’re capable of.  It’s not a sign of relaxing and chilling out because we’re good.  It’s time to realize how good we could be and let’s get to that level.  Let’s minus the mistakes and get to where we should be.”