University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban
Ole Miss Game Week Press Conference Transcript
October 8, 2007
“After we watched the film, we still won the game (vs. Houston). Just in case there’s any questions about that. Just as I said before the game, it would be a challenging game for us. Their offense is very challenging, and they have the ability to come back in the game, so for us to play with consistency in the game becomes extremely important. It’s a good win for our team and I’m happy about winning. But, there are a lot of things that we can work on to improve, and I think that’s where our focus needs to be. I think the first thing to start with everybody creating an understanding that, if you just look at college football all the way around, and how many teams are getting upset.
“Five teams in the top 10 got beat one week. USC got beat. How many teams do you see get big leads I mean, I went home Thursday night and saw Louisville and Utah. All of a sudden Louisville is lining up for an onsides kick, and Louisville’s got a chance to win, and all the fans left. There was nobody there, except the mommas and the papas, I think, and they had a chance to win the game. What everybody needs to understand and learn from this is that we continue play hard in the game. Players don’t understand when you talk about intensity is that intensity is mental, it’s not just physical. And we make mental errors on things that we did correctly in the first half, which affects our execution in the second half on both sides of the ball.
“That’s because, even though we’re still physically playing hard, even though we get ahead in the game and there’s a little relief syndrome, and where does that affect you first? Mentally. I can let down a little bit here.’ Well, against good teams and good runners in space like they have, for a defense that’s putting em all up there so you gotta block em all, or make plays in the passing game...whatever it is, it takes the same mental energy to do things exactly right all the time for 60 minutes in a game, regardless of what the score is. And I think mental intensity is different from playing hard physically. I think everybody needs...I think our players need to understand that because that affects your ability to focus. To do it right, you have to focus on what you have to do. If you’re supposed to take a step, get your second foot on the ground so you can finish a block with power, then that’s what you gotta do. We make a call so you’re playing zone on defense, then that’s what you gotta do. Not play man-to-man and a guy runs down the seam and catches a touchdown.
“So, there’s a difference between playing hard and maintaining intensity. I think that loss of mental intensity, for whatever reason, and it’s probably a combination of both, I think on defense we got tired in the second half. We ended up playing 83 total plays that you grade. That doesn’t come out in the stats because the penalties wipe out a few plays there. That’s a lot of plays on defense, especially when you’re chasing people around the field like they were. That may have had something to do with it. Maybe being ahead in the game had something to do with it, I don’t know. Same thing on offense. We don’t continue to play, when we’re ahead 23-0, 23-7, 30-14 or whatever, we have to continue to maintain our intensity. In terms of the way we play the game, how aggressively we play the game, but also in how we execute what we do in the game. So, I think that’s the most important thing about the game.
“So, you can ask me all the questions about the difference in first half and second half and I just answered that question. There was a difference. There was a difference, and that difference affects your ability to execute. Whether you run it, or pass it, or not. It’s all the same. Whether you’re covering or playing the run. And the other thing that it does on defense, when you lose your mental intensity, because you have to have mental intensity to be a good tackler. We missed a ton of tackles in the second half. We had the quarterback dead to rights, running right at him five times and missed the tackle on a sack. The guy ended up running and making yards, because you don’t finish. Missed a lot of tackles on the runner in the second half. Whether it was on the screens, or on the inside running plays, or whatever it was, but when you watch the film and you say, OK, we lined up right and we did this right five times before now, and now we’re not.’ What makes that happen? So, that’s something we need to work on.
“I think we need to improve on that. You know, there’s no question about it. And I think that’s gonna help our ability to play with consistency. That’s what you need to be able to play with consistency. But it’s not just happening here. I’m not making excuses. It’s happening at lots of places. So, now you can talk about parity in college football and all that kind of stuff. I think that has something to do with it. But I also think that puts a premium at playing to a standard of excellence and knowing that the other team has enough players to beat you. They come prepared, so now the mental aspects of the game become even more important. Because you can’t let down, and not think the other guys aren’t going to be able to execute against you. I don’t care who 22 (Houston’s Anthony Alridge) plays for; the guy’s a good player. Probably as good as anybody we’ve played against all year.
“I know we’re Alabama and they’re Houston, so we’re supposed to beat em, and kill em, and all that stuff but I told you that before we ever started that wasn’t going to be the way it was, and it wasn’t that way. Now, could we have done a lot better? Absolutely. Do we all want to do a lot better? Absolutely. Are there lots of things we can improve on? Absolutely. So, we’re gonna work hard to do that. But we did win the game. We did compete to the end, and that’s a real positive, and there were a lot of good things done in the game as well. So we do have the capability of doing those things, we just need to maintain those things with a better level of consistency throughout the game.
“Glen Coffee had a really good game. Andre Smith had a good game. Those are our two offensive players. Wallace Gilberry, who is the (SEC) Defensive (Line) Player of the Week, had 11 tackles, four-and-a-half tackles for loss, couple quarterback sacks, couple hurries...and Wallace was hurt all week going into the game, got hurt during the game, came back in to play in the game and played extremely well. Showed a lot of resilience, overcame a lot of adversity to play in the game. Did an outstanding job. Rashad Johnson did a good job in the game as well, making a lot of adjustments in the secondary, had nine tackles and the big interception near the end helped us keep the game out of reach. On special teams, Chris Rogers and Charlie Higgenbotham have consistently done a pretty good job. Those two guys did a pretty good job again this week. It was a big play in the game that Marquis Johnson made on the fumble on the punt which gave us an opportunity to score, which was the difference in the game.
“On injuries this week, Bobby Greenwood was available for emergency use in the game, we didn’t use him in the game but I think he’ll be better this week. We’ll have to go day-to-day with him and see how he holds up and how much work he can do in practice. Ali Sharrief will probably have a black shirt on the first few days, as well as Keith Saunders, who just has a bruised knee. So, those two guys may be in black for a couple days. This is an important week for us to make corrections, make improvements.
“We get Ole Miss, and Ole Miss has good players, too. They have lots of starters back on offense. They’ve got one of the best receivers in the SEC in Mike Wallace, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a very good running back. Seth Adams has done a very good job for them at quarterback. They have four out of five offensive line starters back. Michael Oher is a good player. They have six starters back on defense. They are very active in the front, they have a good front. They give people problems up front. Greg Hardy’s a tough guy to block. This is going to be a challenging game. They have all their specialists back from last year. They’re good on special teams. We’re going to have to play our best football against every team we play for 60 minutes to give ourselves the best opportunity to be successful, and it will be no different in this game. I promise you.”
Is there one area of John Parker Wilson’s game that you wish had improved more? And, after seeing the film, what explains the disparity in his first half and second half performance?
SABAN: “I didn’t think we threw the ball as much in the second half. I think we had a couple opportunities in the second half. One third down gets called back on a 13-yard gain. One long big play gets overruled on a catch. We probably should have thrown a little bit more, but I didn’t feel like he played that much differently in one half than the other. I just thought he had more opportunities in the first half, and I think we need to create more opportunities for our skill guys to make plays. It’s going to be important, how we’re able to do it. There were a couple plays we left on the field that could’ve been big plays for us that we didn’t execute on. We need to do a better job of that as well.”
How do you go about improving the mental intensity you were talking about earlier?
SABAN: “It’s a habit, like anything else. I don’t think you can just tell everybody to focus, and everybody focuses. They’re gonna focus for five minutes, or they’re going to focus for three hours. We talk about it all the time, but I think that when we have opportunities like this game presents, to learn it sometimes that resonates a little bit better with players. Like I said in the press conference after the game, we’ve been ahead twice in games and the other team has been able to come back. Whether it’s relief syndrome, of feeling like we can relax now, which you can’t as a competitor relative to the competition and the players they have, or whether it’s ... I think we got a little tired in the second half on defense. That’s another thing that can affect your ability to focus, and (cause you to) make mental errors. You think about the being tired, instead of thinking about what you have to do. There’s no vaccine for that. That’s learned. It’s a habit. We’ve got to make the players aware of it. They have to practice with focus, because it carries over into the game.”
What do you think you need to do to get Terry Grant going again, and what improvements has Glen Coffee made through the year to be able to come in and run pretty well while Terry’s having his troubles?
SABAN: “Terry’s not having any troubles. I said that at the (post-game) press conference, too. You guys have it in your mind that one guy has to do bad for another guy to do good, and that’s not the case. It’s a case of somebody’s doing good, somebody takes advantage of his opportunity and he’s doing well in the game, so we stuck with him a little more. Terry Grant’s doing fine, and we want to continue to feature him as a guy that can make plays for us, and we’ve got to continue that, but we need to get a complete game in what you do and Terry needs to continue to improve in all those aspects as well.”
After you watched the film, how do you think Evan Cardwell held up? And, is that a lineup you might continue to use this week?
SABAN: “It’s an option for us in the future because he did a pretty good job in the game, and Antoine (Caldwell) did a good job at guard, too. So, there’s something where we are going to let them compete in practice this week and we’ll decide later in the week as to which way we go.”
Coach, you explained Saturday why he played so much in the game, but overall can you describe what Prince Hall has done since he returned from the suspension?
SABAN: “He did a good job in the game on Saturday. There’s obviously some things that every player out there can do better, but he makes plays and we want to continue to focus on improvement with him. But there were a lot of adjustments to be made out there. He missed a few tackles, but he also made a lot of plays and did a good job. And he’s done a good job all year.”
The last two games, Florida State and Houston, you’ve had a situation where your quarterback’s trying to make a play in dire circumstances, and turns the ball over. Where do you draw the line between wanting to compete, wanting to make plays, and wanting him to be safe in those situations?
SABAN: “Well, I think you’ve got to be safe, and you’ve got to be smart. The first read on that play was open and the decision should have been made to throw the ball to the guy. Now, we created our own issue by starting to scramble in the pocket when we really don’t have any pressure. Then when we get about three-quarters of the way scrambling, we decide we’re going to throw it to the check down (receiver) which would have been OK earlier in the down but, especially in that situation in the game, you’ve got to be smart and make a smart decision in the judgment about what we’re going to do. You certainly don’t want to give them the ball back there. There are those out there who would probably say that because we passed it in that situation it showed confidence in our players because we needed a first down to shrink then clock, then we should have ran it. And I agree with all of those people, because that didn’t work, and they intercepted it, so I would do the same thing. They just didn’t have to make that decision before the play started. If I’d have known what was going to happen on the play, we would’ve run it. So everybody that disagrees with us out there can rest assured that I agree with them. And we’d have done exactly what they want us to do. In the other situation that you mentioned in the Florida State game, it’s third down and 15, we’re backed up, they’re in a three-man rush. Fundamentally, the quarterback should never have one hand on the ball in the pocket. He’s scrambling with one hand on the ball and the guy strips it out of his hand. They dropped eight guys, we threw vertical route, they covered it, if we check down and get rid of it, we punt. If every offensive series ends with a kick, and maybe you’ve heard me say this before, whether it’s an extra point, a field goal, or a punt, that isn’t all bad. Because all the rest of the stuff that happens is not worth a darn.”
I don’t think a lot of fans are surprised that Simeon (Castille) made that key play, but I think a lot of them are surprised that it was his first interception (of the 2007 season), and it seems like he’s had fewer opportunities this year to do something like that. Is there a reason for that?
SABAN: “There’s no reason for it. Making interceptions...if a guy had a lot of chances to make interceptions and he missed the ball...you’ve got a valid question. So, I’ll meet with the guy who is the quarterback from Ole Miss and say, Will you throw the ball to this guy so he’ll make some interceptions?’ Ya know, sometimes guys cover good so they don’t make the throw to your guy. Does that make any sense? I mean Corey Webster (at LSU) had 14 interceptions in two years at LSU, then he only had two more because nobody threw in his direction.”
(Inaudible question or comment)
SABAN: “Nobody here should be impressed with interceptions, anyway. You make interceptions when you have an opportunity to make em. You know what I mean? You break on the ball. You finish plays, you make plays. You want turnovers, but we’re not happy seeing guys take chances and cut in front of people, and trying to get interceptions so you get your name in the paper and the fans aren’t upset about it, and all that, but then every time you cut in front of a guy and he catches the ball, and you’re not in position to tackle him, he’s running for a 70-yard touchdown. So, you know, it’s just like a batter (in baseball), the guy doesn’t hit any home runs in 25 at-bats. Maybe he didn’t have any good pitches to hit. Simeon’s doing a great job for us. He’s playing great. He’s playing with as much consistency as anybody on our defensive team. He’s showing good leadership. He’s done a great job for us...doing what we ask him to do the way we ask him to do it. He hasn’t had the opportunities to (intercept passes).”
You talked about parity and relief syndrome. There was a time a few years ago that you could get up on a team and coast to a blowout win. What is happening now that teams don’t feel like they’re going to be out of the game, regardless of the score?
SABAN: “I think there are more people who play the style of offense now that allows you to catch up, and catch up quickly. Does that make sense? In other words, Louisville’s running their regular offense trying to catch up in the game. Houston’s running their regular offense trying to catch up in the game. There’s a lot of people who run that style of spread-out offense with the emphasis on skill players who can make plays, and a quarterback. If you have those things at that time in the game you have a chance to come back. I don’t see teams giving up and I don’t see the other side maintaining the same level of intensity. When you don’t have a lot of depth on your team, and you get in a situation where now we have to stop them to win the game, having to play 73 (plays), to play 83 (plays)...that’s hard on defensive linemen, that’s hard on pass rushers, you understand? The clock stops a lot more. You don’t see these kinds of comebacks in pro ball. Not because they don’t have skill players. The clock doesn’t stop on first downs. So, my point is this: 10 to 15 years ago there was a lot more two-back runs. The team we play this week does that pretty well. But, when you have that spread-out offense and that’s a part of what you do all the time that feeds right into being a good comeback team. Especially when you no-huddle to start with, and more teams do that style. I think there is closer parity with the players, so all that kind of contributes to it. It’s not one thing.”
Two things and I don’t want to leave anything to doubt how far are you guys from allowing or putting Greg McElroy in for a series and where’s your confidence level in John Parker Wilson?
SABAN: “My confidence in John Parker Wilson is good. You know, John Parker Wilson needs to play and we need to give him the opportunities to do what he can do. I’m not as disappointed in John Parker Wilson as everybody else is. I’m not talking about our staff. I’m talking about you all, because you all have these high expectations that are unrealistic for people so, then when they don’t do it, you set them up to fail. It’s comin’ for me, too. All we have to do is lose one more game and you guys all got me set up up here, and then you can kill me. I understand that. That ain’t no secret, so I don’t want to leave anything unturned with you, either. Is that alright? But we don’t operate that way around here. We’ve got to go on performance, what people do, how they improve and what they need to do to get better. That’s where we’re at. And we’ve got confidence in the guy (Wilson), he’s our guy, and we’ve got to help him get better. He can do better. He wants to do better. He works hard to do better, and he’s not doing as bad as everybody thinks. Of course, you look at stats.”
That’s why I ask you to explain it all.
SABAN: “Well, I just explained it to you, how I think it is, so now we’re even.”
The other thing is was Wallace Gilberry’s game as complete a game as you’ve seen him play and what, specifically, did he do well to fill up the stat sheet in a bunch of areas?
SABAN: “Well, he sacked the quarterback a couple times. They (Houston offensive line) take big splits. There was a lot more passes in the game and a lot more plays in the game, which gives you more opportunities to make plays. He did a good job to execute, and I thought did an outstanding job. He’s a good pass rusher, to start with, so the game itself lent itself to his style of play. He’s a good space player. He’s a good pass rusher, and you’ve got a good spread-out team that creates more of those kinds of plays in the game. And he did a great job of taking advantage of it, too.”
Given what you said about your offense after the game Saturday, what is the process the coaching staff and the players go through to improve on what you did Saturday?
SABAN: “We evaluate what we did. We evaluate what we could’ve done better, and we make adjustments to try to do that. But we’re going to play to our strengths, too. Whether it pleases the people, or not. To do what we think gives us the best opportunity to win. We want to have balance in our offense, and we want to have big plays running the ball, and we want to utilize our skill people. The one thing we’ve done best in every game except one is we’ve been effective running the ball. We’ve got a good offensive line. We’ve got three guys that have all played pretty well for us as runners. Now, we’ve got to get the balance between throwing it well and running it well, so that we can utilize the skill players that we have, get them more opportunities to make big plays, and continue to do the things that we’ve done well to play to our strengths.”
This wouldn’t be an Alabama press conference without a Jimmy Johns questions, so are there any plans to possibly line him up from the quarterback position, maybe use him on some sprint-outs or options, or something like that?
SABAN: “No, we’ve never done anything like that with him. We do need to create a role for Jimmy Johns to play. Jimmy went through a couple tough weeks. He’s come back nicely from that, and is doing a better job out there in practice and we need to create a better opportunity for him to play.”
Do you anticipate Glen Coffee starting at tailback again this week?
SABAN: “I don’t anticipate anything this week. I’m just anticipating what I’m gonna do next, alright? I’m anticipating practice today, then see how they do in practice. Then we game plan certain areas tonight, I’m anticipating that. That’s about as far ahead as I can get. Glen Coffee’s doing a good job. Terry Grant’s doing a good job. Roy Upchurch is doing a good job. All three of those guys are going to play in the game. Let’s not get too hung up on who’s going to start and all that, which I know that depth chart is like striking gold to you guys...”
Does it seem odd now that it’s not good enough just to win a ball game, that there has to be some sort of style in it?
SABAN: “No. That’s kind of...we’re used to that. I think ... it’s most important that you win. You want to play well when you win. We played well in part of this game, but we didn’t play well for 60 minutes. That’s our goal. That should be the expectation that we try to have. And I’m sure the players realize that, and they’re going to work hard to fix it. That’s the standard we have, so I never get upset about anybody complaining about the standard we’re not getting. But I do feel like we don’t give enough respect sometimes to what the other people can do. I’m sure USC thought they were going to roll over Stanford, and I’m sure all their fans did, too, but that’s why you play the games. The other teams have players, too, and they can make plays. And you have to play well, and do it right, to be able to win. We won’t win any games this year (just) because we’re Alabama. Not one. We won’t. Based on anything we do when the ball turns over at any point in the game. And that’s what we try to focus on.”