University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban
Houston Game Week Press Conference Transcript
October 1, 2007
“There are a couple of things that we’d like to improve on relative to the last game. I think consistency in performance is something that we’ve talked about quite a bit. Obviously we didn’t play with the kind of consistency that we’d like to play with in the last game. You can say it’s about intensity; it’s about pride and performance; it’s about being challenge and the difficulty when you’re challenged and how you respond to it which mental and physical toughness are to persevere difficult situations. We’ve been in two really close, tough football games against good football teams the last two weeks and we’ve got to find more ways to make plays, more ways to control vertical field position, do a better job on special teams, do a better job on third down on both sides of the ball. The defense basically played fairly well in this game except for the few big plays in the first drive of the second half, which was probably a little lack of intensity coming out. And they hit some plays on us and scored a touchdown, which, all these things are critical in close games.
“Offensively I think we lost our poise a little bit, made some errors that we haven’t been making in protection. The quarterback got too much pressure; got hit too much; rushed three guys and put pressure on you and sack you and cover with eight---it’s a difficult day for any quarterback. John Parker (Wilson) competed his tail off in the game. Under some really adverse circumstances, I thought he persevered it well. I don’t think that we played around him as well as we need to in the passing game. And our inability to run the ball certainly creates a lot of third down situations that aren’t favorable to conversion, so that’s something that we really need to improve on.
“We had a couple of guys who had outstanding performances in this game. Justin Britt did a very good job in the offensive line. Zeke (Ezekial) Knight and Rashad Johnson both had well over 20 production points. Both guys had very productive games. Kareem Jackson and Demarcus Waldrop were good on special teams.
“From an injury standpoint, Bobby Greenwood’s ankle is going to make him very questionable for this game. We’ve done an MRI and an x-ray. There doesn’t seem to be any problem there but it’s a pretty good sprain; pretty good bruise. (Brian) Motley played okay in the game and should be okay to continue to make progress and improve. Travis McCall and Keith Brown both have head injuries that they both cleared up and should be okay. We’ve got quite a few guys that may be a little nicked up for today’s practice, but the primary purpose of what we want to try to do today is base scouting report and try to get the kicking game plan in and give these guys another day to get healed up.
“Houston I think is a really good football team, probably one of best offensive teams that we’ve played. They’re very diverse in terms of what they do on offense, a little different than what a lot of people do. They’re one of the top offensive teams in the country. They scored just about 35 points a game on some pretty good teams. Both games that they lost this year they certainly had plenty of opportunities to win. They had the ball inside the 10 twice in the fourth quarter against Oregon and didn’t score and actually missed two field goals inside the 25-yard-line in the last five minutes of the game last week against East Carolina. They’ve got eight starters back on offense. They’ve got two quarterbacks, both of which are playing well for them this year. They’ve got eight starters back on defense on a team that won 10 games last year. So this is certainly not a game that we don’t need to be totally prepared for in terms of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to execute and the things that we need to do to try to get back on the right track here relative to playing winning football on a consistent basis against a team that has outstanding speed, outstanding skill guys on offense, and eight guys returning on a defensive team. Those skill guys also make for good return guys on special teams which have been as asset for them in the past as well. So, certainly a challenge for us and something that we can see kind of what we’re made out of??test your mettle a little bit; see how we respond relative to where we are; how we can improve and get better and play with more consistency. And that’s certainly going to be our objective.”
On who would play in place of Bobby Greenwood:
Has he practiced at end?
“That’s what he’s been playing. He’s been playing it all year. We rotate three guys. Bobby plays both ends. Some of the younger guys are going to have to sub out and play a little bit more in this game, although we’ll be in sub a lot in this game probably??they’re probably 80%--three wide receivers or four wide receivers in the game.”
On the amount of carries Terry Grant has had of late:
“I think that the other guys have been playing well, and I think Terry Grant has been playing well. I think all along we’ve tried to play two runners and thought that that was an important thing for us to do. We want Terry Grant to be able to carry the ball 10, 12, 15 times in a game. We weren’t running it very effectively. When we start passing it, sometimes we like to have the bigger backs in there to pass protect so that effects (the situation). You can’t just put them in on the passing plays, so you start playing them a little bit more when you’re passing it which means they get a few more carries in the running situations. And that’s affected him in both games a little bit when we got behind in both games.”
On importance of keeping people from “pointing fingers” after losing two games in a row:
“I think that if you’re going to be a good teammate, you take responsibility for your own self-determination in terms of what you can do to make things better. That’s certainly the role that I feel that we have to assume as coaches, and I think every player has got to look at themselves and say, ??Am I doing all the things that I can do to help our team improve.’ One of the things that I told the team is, ??You know, we’ve all been in the park before. We’ve all had to pick up teams. Thirteen years old, whether it’s baseball’ ?? you know how you used to throw the bat over there and go like this and see who gets first pick? (He demonstrates using hand motions of hands stacking one on top of another on a baseball bat) ?? I asked everybody, ??What do you want to pick in a player? What are you looking for? The guy that’s intense and ready to play? Somebody who is going to be responsible to do his job all of the time? Somebody who’s going to have a positive influence by his energy on other guys on the team? Or do you want somebody who wears baggy britches and is your buddy and is undisciplined and doesn’t care? It’s not important to him; he doesn’t have a lot of pride. Doesn’t have a lot of intensity.
“Which guys are you going to pick?’ ??Aw, I’m picking the first guy. I’m picking the first guy.’ Then my question to you is, ??Would you pick you? Would you pick you to be on your team? Is that what you’d do?’ And that’s what you need to be responsible for. So that’s kind of how we try to approach it with the players. There’s not anybody on our team that can’t improve and do better in terms of what they do. When you lose, everybody loses. If we didn’t give up the big plays on defense, we might have been able to win the game on defense. If we’d have had a little bit more consistency and balance on offense, we’d have controlled the field position in the game a little bit better. If our specialist would have done a little bit better and our kicking team had done a little bit better job, they could have affected the game. So there’s nobody that I see that I know of, including me and our entire coaching staff who is responsible to try and get the guys to do things better, that could be sitting there saying somebody else should have done something. And I think everybody has got to be responsible for their own self-determination. That’s one of the things that we always talk about and we always try to get the players to do. And they need to be focused on what they need to do to get better. What they need to do to get it right. What they need to do to make a difference. And that’s always been our approach.”
On the move of Marquis Johnson and its affect on defensive backs:
“I think Marquis did a good job in the game, obviously, except for he missed two tackles in the game. Both on balls that got thrown in front of him. One ended up being a 71-yard touchdown which was catastrophic in terms of the outcome of the game. And the other one led to a big play that actually was on their scoring drive. So you’ve got to be able to tackle if you’re going to play in the secondary. We feel like we need to get a little more consistency in performance out of some of the players, and all of the corners on this team have to do a little bit better job of playing with consistency and not giving up the big play because that’s something that’s been a problem. We gave up three big plays in the last game and two of them were significant in helping them score. And it also changes field position. Even the one we intercepted. After one big play we intercepted the ball but we get the ball on the 20-yard-line. And the field position in the game was a factor. And their specialists did a better job with the conditions relative to the wind. We didn’t move the ball to change the field position. We didn’t keep them from moving it enough to get good field position all the time. But in the whole first quarter of the game, they always had the ball on their side of the fifty. And the defensive team did a great job of not allowing them to score in some very difficult and tough circumstances in that situation. Then in the second half we gave a few big plays which certainly was significant in field position as well as them scoring.”
“We’ll expect to see how they practice this week. It’s what we expect. That’s how it gets decided. My thing with defensive backs, and they know it because I tell them, so you might as well know it: you’ve got to practice, and you’ve got to practice fast. And you’ve got to finish plays, and you’ve got to cover people. And you’ve got to tackle, and you’ve got to do things correctly. And if you don’t do it, when the speed of the game gets to what it is against the good skilled players that we play against, you’re not going to be in position to make the play. You’re going to be one step behind in the down, and it’s going to affect our ability to be successful in terms of covering, getting off the field on third down and giving up big plays and those types of things. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to work to improve on.”
On Bryan Motley’s ability to come back perhaps sooner than expected:
“He worked extremely hard to get back. He’s got good leverage. He’s got good lower body explosion. He’s got good quickness. He’s smart. And he’s certainly a guy that we welcome back and we need to come back. We’d like to get to where we had our five guys that we feel that are all kind of starters for us up front in a normal rotation, and as soon as we got Motley back, we lost Bobby Greenwood. So depth at that position has been critical for us all year.”
On the team’s confidence and if it’s a concern:
“I think you could look at that two ways. We’ve played three really good football teams in the last three weeks. We’ve played well enough in some ways to win the games but we’ve also made enough mistakes to be able to lose the games. So you can look at the glass half empty or half full and say we should be really confident in thinking that we can beat anybody that we played. Or you could say, ??Since we’ve lost a couple of games maybe we can’t beat anybody.’ I look at it like the glass is half full. I think that if we do things correctly and make the corrections that we need to make and do it right, play with a little bit more discipline, little more consistent with our intensity, our toughness, some of the intangible things that are important??that we could have won these games and we could win a lot of games in the future. So there’s nobody here that’s down on our team, that doesn’t believe in our players; that doesn’t think if we get it right that we can do it right and be successful.”
On, from a player’s perspective, whether they have the same confidence:
“I can’t tell you that. I really can’t tell you that. I know if they believe in the right stuff, if they trust and believe in the right stuff and quit worrying so much about the outcomes of everything like you do, like the fans do and like everybody does, and focus on what they need to do to play winning football, we have good enough players here to play winning football. And when we don’t do it, it’s more of what we did than what the other team did. Or what we didn’t do than what the other team did. And when you constantly see that, there should be a lot of positives in that to say, ??Wow, if I had just done this right or if I’d have just had the right leverage on the play or if we’d have just blocked the nose guard right,’ or whatever it is. ??If we had just slid the protection like we were supposed to, we’d have had a successful play here.’ So nobody is down on the players in terms of their ability to do it. It’s the consistency that we’re doing it with, and we do it one time and don’t do it the next. So our ability to focus, concentrate and maintain our discipline is still things that we need to improve on. And the way we teach and the way we coach is not the results that you all look for all the time. It’s the process of what it takes to do it right so you have the best chance to get it right. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do. And there should be no loss of confidence in anything like that. Now if players don’t compete in the game, they don’t play with toughness in the game, they don’t have the kind of mental toughness that we need, they need to respond to that because that’s not something that’s going to be accepted. And I don’t care who they are.”
On length of time his teams typically take to form an identity:
“I think we did form somewhat of an identity early in the season. I don’t think we’ve been able to maintain it in terms of what we want to try to accomplish and what we want to try to do. But, guys, this is a building process. We came here with the idea that we were building a program and that would take time; that it wouldn’t happen in a day; and it wouldn’t happen in a month; and it wouldn’t happen in a week; and it wouldn’t happen in two or three games. That’s been the case just about every experience that I’ve ever had. But the expectations here, especially after winning three games, are, ??We’re going to win the national championship.’ Well, I don’t know how realistic that is. All I know is we’re not playing as good a football as I feel that we are capable of playing. And it’s going to be our goal to get the team to play the best that they can play and play with an identity of toughness, giving great effort, being able to execute on a consistent basis and showing a lot of competitive character in how they play. And that’s what I call an identity. You all call it winning and losing and what your record is. I don’t think we had that identity in the last game. But I thought we did have it in four other games: three that we won and one that we lost. But I know that doesn’t count for you: it’s only whether you win or lose. You can play a bad game of checkers but if the other guy plays worse, I guess that’s okay?”
On FSU’s kickoff team’s three touchbacks and how much of a weapon a touchback can be:
“And I think they got a couple of them and they got a bad field position on the one that they didn’t kick out??squib kicked it or miss-hit it, one or the other and we played the hop and ended up getting the ball on the nine-yard-line. So field position was a tremendous asset for them in this game relative to their kick-off cover team with the touchbacks giving us the ball on the 20 and on the nine-yard line. So our drive starts were not very good. I think that having great specialists in this day and age are a premium relative to field position. You’ve just got to crunch the numbers and see that they did a little better job in that area than we did.”
On whether he anticipated more passing attempts than rushing attempts so far this season:
“I think we want balance and production. Until this last game our ability to run the ball has been an effective weapon for us. We didn’t do a very good job of getting them blocked last week. The two games we’ve been behind in probably has skewed those numbers a little bit. And coming back in the Arkansas game would also do the same. But I think if you look at the run-pass ratios when the game is in the balance, I don’t think that that is out of whack for what we think that we’d want to do. I think the overall statistics are probably a little out of whack because we’ve been in three games now where we’re throwing a lot at the end.”
On John Parker Wilson’s play of last two weeks:
“I think that, first of all, John Parker has done a lot more good things than bad things. And I think that we would like for him to continue to develop consistency in what he’s doing. Nobody can play perfectly. Nobody can make every accurate throw. We had a couple of situations throughout the season where we’ve got to be reading the right things, looking at the right things so that we make the right choices and decisions, but those are exceptions, not rules. And those are the kinds of things that we want to keep making improvement on. Technique-wise and fundamentally, he’s gotten better and better and I think that in this past game he got far too much pressure. He got hit way too much and he showed a lot of mettle and character and competitive spirit in the way he continued to play because we didn’t do a good enough job of blocking him. And maybe you don’t see it sometimes when the throws come out and you get waxed, right, when you throw it? That can affect you sometimes in your ability to execute. So I’m not going to sit here and blame the quarterback when I think the entire offensive team should assume a better responsibility for being able to execute, especially when they play an outstanding defensive team like Florida State.”
On the scout team’s ability to simulate Houston’s offense:
“I think that’s always a challenge when you see an offense that’s a little different, a little unconventional, but very effective. And I mean that in a very positive way toward them and what they do, how they execute it and the players that they have doing it are outstanding. They understand it. They’ve done it for a while. They do a really good job of executing it. It’s difficult to match the speed and it’s difficult to get the execution that you need in practice in terms of preparation, so that’s going to be a challenge for us. But I will say this, that our scout teams have done an outstanding job this year of helping us get ready on both sides of the ball. Those guys don’t get a lot of accolades. Some of them don’t even get to dress for the game. They play their game on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday out there, and they’ve certainly done a phenomenal job out there this year.”
On his assessment of defensive team’s play, particularly in light of injuries:
“I think we’re improving and getting better. I think the guys are getting more and more confident in what they’re doing. I’m not disappointed in the progress that we’ve made. I just think that we need to eliminate the big plays, play a little better in the red zone, get off the field a little more consistently on third down and then we’ll be a little bit more difficult to score on. We’ve got to ball-hock a little more and get some more turnovers. But when you don’t give up big plays, you play well in the red area and you get off the field on third down, you’ve got to create the right third downs which means you’ve got to stop the run on the other downs. But you get kind of hard to score on. And I think that’s what we need to continue to make progress toward. Because at the end of the day, how many points you give up is the most important thing.”
On what Houston does that is so unconventional:
“Good question. They run a combination. First of all, they’ve got very good skill guys. Secondly, they do a lot of spread you out stuff. And they’ve got good skill guys so you’ve got to put people out there to cover them. Then they run the zone play, the zone option, that kind of stuff with the quarterback out of the gun with some pretty good athletes and a great running back. So it taxes you in terms of, ??We’re spread out here. How are we going to get enough guys in here to stop the run?’ Lots of empty formations. Lot of spread out stuff. Lot of adjustments to make. And I think more and more people do things like that in this day and age of football. I think you see more and more of it all the time. But I think it’s the combination of some of the zone option stuff that they do with it as well as being able to throw it effectively; how they tie their play action passes into it---are all things that make it difficult to defend. And the multiples that they present, different personnel groups and constantly.”
On his thoughts on why non-tradition football schools are now competitive:
“I think that the distribution of players is not the same for everyone. We can’t take Props (partial qualifiers) in the SEC. They can’t take them in the ACC. And there’s a significant amount of players who don’t qualify. And they end up being pretty good players at some of these schools. I think there are six guys starting on South Florida’s defense who probably could have gone to Florida or Florida State but Florida and Florida State couldn’t take them. And if you do a good job of recruiting that way??now the Big East has passed a rule that they aren’t going to take Props at some time in the future. I don’t know if it’s next year or the year after or whenever. Now, will that affect their league? It shrinks the pool of players that they can recruit from. I’m not saying it’s not a good rule by the NCAA that we have NCAA eligibility requirements. I think that’s a good rule. I’m not saying that. But it’s not the same for everyone and it does create a lot of parity when you’re playing those schools, you’re playing against guys you couldn’t recruit.”
Should there be a more level playing field with admissions policies?
“It is what it is, I guess. I feel like if we do a good job of recruiting here, we ought to be able to get good football players who are qualified who are the kind of people, character and attitude-wise that we want to represent an institution like this. And we know that there are going to be some occasions that we have to play against some teams that don’t have to do that. I’m glad on the other hand for the players, that they have an opportunity to get an education. I think that’s beneficial to the players, that they have an opportunity to go to some place to go to school so that they can get an education. So there’s good and bad I guess in all of it.”
On whether he uses “trick plays” to help spark the offense:
“I don’t think there’s any question about it. You’ve got to have some plays in your offense that give you an opportunity to get big plays whether they’re really hard play-action passes that come off of some of your running game or that tie into your running game. And that’s where probably your best trick plays come in. That’s something at times we’ve done a good job of and at times we haven’t done a very good job of and I think that’s something that we need to improve on in the future so that we do give our players big play opportunities in the game.”