Tennessee Week Press Conference: Coach Saban Transcript

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM
ROLLTIDEDOTCOM

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM
University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban
Tennessee Game Week Press Conference Transcript
October 15, 2007

OPENING COMMENTS:

“After reviewing the tape of the last game, I think the effort, the intensity, the competitive spirit in our players was certainly outstanding. (They) played hard in the game. It was a physical game on both sides. Our execution at times was not what it needs to be and that consistency is something that we continue to try to work toward. We make games a little bit harder than they need to be sometimes relative to what we create on the field ourselves in terms of our ability to execute what we do. And this is in all phases of the game. It’s on offense, whether it’s a pass protection and how you cut a guy off which causes a fumble on the three-yard-line going in in the third quarter. It’s punt protection, how you kick back and block and make an error on it to create a consequence of great field position for the other team. Defensively, gap responsibilities, technique and coverage, making plays on balls in the air that we’re in position to make and don’t come away with. So all these types of things are things we need to work on our ability to focus on and improve in terms of doing things correctly. And believe that doing those things correctly is what’s going to help us have an opportunity to be more successful on a more consistent basis.

“Now there’s a whole bunch of good things in the game. We didn’t punt in the first half. We had 103 yards of total offense in the third quarter and fumbled the ball on the three going in, get a ball tipped and they get an interception when we’re ready to move in the Red Zone. We get a punt blocked in the third quarter, and all those things contributed to the other team coming back in the game—not scoring right before the half; missing a field goal. Whatever it is, all those things, a cumulative effect of all those things. But then on the other side of it, there were a lot of plays made in the fourth quarter, whether special teams came through with great field position plays; defense came up with a couple of turnovers gave us great field position. So there’s a lot of good things that were done in the game that gave us the opportunity to win the game.


“The offensive line, we need to be a little more consistent in what we did. We had a good plan for what they did. Moving some guys around and not maybe getting the continuity that we need to have may have affected us a little bit. I don’t know. But we did a great job at times and moved the ball well, but a couple of times the quarterback gets hit and a couple of negative plays we have are basic fundamental, technique-type things that we need to get worked out because we don’t want to give the other team the opportunity to get negative plays against us running or passing. So big plays on defense; we’ve got to play better technique to keep people, and that’s what the technique should teach so the other team doesn’t get big plays. That’s something that we need to improve on; we need to keep working on, and I think it’s a matter of focusing, not only on just what to do but how you’ve got to do it when you’re playing in a game and why it’s important to do it that way. So those things are things that we need to continue to work on.

“Players of the Week for us this week, you know D.J. Hall had a great game, eleven receptions, lots of yards. He’s been a pretty consistent player for us all year long. John Parker (Wilson) had his best game not only just in throwing the ball but the game management part of what he did in terms of getting us in the right plays, reading the right things, taking what the defense gave. (It) probably was the most consistent, best performance with maybe a little bit more burden. (He) used the snap count; did a lot of little things in the game that go unnoticed that were helpful to the offense being successful.

“Defensively, Rashad Johnson and Marcus Carter had the most production points, both those safeties. Marcus had several pass breakups, one breakup led to Zeke’s (Ezekiel Knight) interception which was a big play in the game. Rashad Johnson got another interception and had nine tackles in the game and did a really good job for us as well. Javier (Arenas) obviously, the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week, with the punt returns and the kickoff returns was great, but we had some guys (like) Demarcus Waldrop (who) has been a real core special teams guy for us all year. Charlie Higgenbotham did a really good job on kickoff coverage, had two or three tackles on kickoff coverage. Those guys did a fantastic job.

“Injuries, for our guys, Jonathan Lowe sprained his ankle a little bit in practice last Thursday and was unable to go in the game, which was a game-time decision. He went through pre-game warm-up and all that. He may be out day-to-day. As it is right now we may have a couple of guys who have black jerseys on today, but there’s nobody who has a significant injury. Justin Britt was back with us this morning at our meetings, and hopefully he’ll be back with the team this week if everything continues to improve with his mother and his family’s situation.

“Tennessee, I think, may be the best team we’ve played relative to how they’re playing now and the way they’ve played the last three games. Phillip Fulmer has been there a long time and done a really good job I think with his program overall, certainly with this team in terms of how they’ve kind of turned it around and (are) playing much better on defense right now and running the football very effectively the last two or three games. And obviously (they) have a very good quarterback in Erik Ainge, so they can make plays in the passing game. They’ve got a good receiving corp. (Lucas) Taylor has certainly been a guy that’s made some big plays for them. And they’ve got two or three runningbacks that play but (Arian) Foster is certainly been a guy that’s carried the load for them in the last couple of weeks.

“Defensively, they’ve got a host of guys that are hard to block up front. They’ve got a young secondary but they’ve played extremely well for them so far this year. They’ve got a lot of good football players on their team and they’ve got a lot of depth and it shows up on their special teams. They do a really good job all the way around. This team has played really well the last three weeks and it’s going to be a real challenge for us, and obviously a big game in the SEC, which they all are, but this is a good football team that we’re playing right now.”

On Erik Ainge being “statistically” the hardest quarterback to sack in the country:

“I think it’s a combination of things. First of all, he’s going to get the ball out of his hands fairly quickly when they’re in any kind of five or six man protection. And when they have to throw the ball down the field, they’re going to be in seven-man protection most of the time. Now their offensive line is really good. They do a good job not only on the running plays but they do a good job in pass protection. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. So it’s difficult to pressure a team when they have seven-man-protection most of the time, which we faced that last week. Three guys are running down the field and there are seven guys blocking for the quarterback almost the whole game. So it becomes more difficult, especially with four guys rushing, to be able to get pressure on the quarterback. But he’s smart. He knows where he wants to go with the ball. He reads it. He gets it out of his hand. So he’s not going to let you sack him either, even when he does get pressure. If you bring a blitz off of one side and he’s got a hot receiver he gets him the ball. They do a good job of executing. They do enough to protect him, but he also does a great job of getting the ball out of his hand if he does get pressure. And they’re sound in what they do. David Cutcliffe is to me one of the best offensive coordinators. And they’ve got a very good system. He’s done a good job for a long time with that system with a lot of good quarterbacks. It’s usually the same M.O. in terms of how they go about it.”

On Rashad Johnson:
“He’s a smart player, first of all. He’s got great range. And he does play free safety for us, and he ends up free probably more than any other player to break on the ball. But he gets a great jump on the ball. He goes up and gets the ball and he’s aggressive trying to get the ball. He’s done a really good job of preparing himself each week to know what the other team is trying to do. He understands the coverage scheme that we have very well and where the quarterback is going to go with the ball most of the time in those situations and puts himself in a good position. And he’s finished a lot of plays for us.”

On whether it surprises him knowing Johnson was a walk-on and not highly recruited out of high school:
“He’s certainly been an outstanding player for us. I didn’t know him in high school, so I can’t comment on that. I just know he’s done a really good job here and he’s been one of our most consistent players and he’s certainly made a lot of big plays for us.”

On definition of a coaching transition and how he assesses his own transition’s status:
“I think a transition is a work in progress. Obviously (a completed transition would be) staffs that have been together for three, four or five years. Everybody knows what to expect. Everybody has a lot of experience relative to what we want to do in certain situations. I don’t care how much you sit around and talk about it, there’s always something that comes up in a game that’s a little bit different than what you might have been able to discuss. And I think that knowledge and experience that you gain together is what makes a transition complete. I’ve been very pleased with our staff. I’ve been very pleased with the people that we have on our staff relative to their contribution. But working together over time is certainly an advantage to any staff. I don’t know if the transition is ever complete, but obviously the longer you’ve been together, the better chance you have of knowing and understanding each other in terms of how you want to handle certain situations and what you want to do.”

On process, whether it’s similar to what he went through at LSU:
“It’s hard to make comparisons, but I think anytime you’re trying to re-establish or establish a program there’s a lot of learning that goes on by a lot of people. First of all, the players don’t know what to expect for sure. They have to learn what you want, how you want it done. They have a lot of habits that they need to change to conform to what you want, not that anything that they were doing wasn’t the right thing or anything else, but it’s just the way we want to do it. And you try to create the intangibles in a program that are going to help you play winning football on a consistent basis, and that takes time because you’re changing habits. You’re changing habits all the time. You’ve got a new staff. You’re trying to get those people to work well together, which I’ve been pleased with that part of what we’ve been able to do. But obviously, the longer we’re together, the more experience that we get, that’s going to be helpful. So I think there’s always similarities, but it’s tough to make comparisons .”

On Ezekiel Knight:
“Zeke had played well in the last two games for us in terms of making big plays. I think Zeke’s like a lot of players on our team that they make some really good plays but what we’re trying to focus on is, ‘let’s minimize the mental errors and some of the mistakes that we make that sometimes are costly.’ And it all goes back to being a consistent performer, having disciplined eye control; look at the right things. But Zeke has really made a lot of progress this year and it’s starting to show in his production on the field in terms of making plays.”

On Alabama vs. Tennessee Rivalry:
“I think this is a great rivalry. There’s great tradition here. There’s great tradition there. This has been a big game for a lot of years. I think sometimes when you live through these things you really get the real sense of what it’s like. I could stand here and say I know, right? But until you kind of live it, then you really find out what it’s like. So, saying that, I know it’s a big game. It’s a big game for them. It’s a big game for us. It’s an SEC game. It’s a great traditional, national rivalry that we certainly want to play well in and do a good job in and help our players have the best chance to be successful, but until you live through it, it’d be like me asking you how big is the Michigan State-Notre Dame game? How big is the Michigan State-Michigan game? Totally different kind of rivalries relative to how people feel about one another, but both are tremendous rivalries. We didn’t get treated quite as badly at Ole Miss as when I was at LSU, I can say that. I lived that one.”

On Javier Arenas:
“He’s made really nice progress as a defensive back. We did use him a few plays in the last game as a dime guy and certainly think he’ll be a very good player for us in the future. He has special return ability. He has good judgment. He usually handles the ball well and possesses the ball well which is really important I think when you’re a specialist. But then he adds to that with great quickness and return ability and good vision as a runner. Has a burst to get up the field and use his blockers well, and (he) can make people miss and run through some tackles. So we’ve been very pleased. Obviously in a couple of games this year he has had a tremendous impact on field position and our opportunity to score points. And that was certainly the case in the last game, not only on the punt return but on a couple of kickoff returns. One we had a penalty on but we had a couple of great field positions relative to kickoff as well.”

On Tennessee’s defense of late:

“I think that they had some young players playing, and I just think they’ve developed a little more consistency in what they’re doing. They’ve really played well in the last few games. They’re front seven has done a really good job. Their secondary has kind of solidified itself and they haven’t given up as many big plays. John (Chavis) has been there for a long time and has done a really good job there for a long time. And I think they do a great job of defining what they have and then they’ve got a big enough system defensively that they kind of pick and choose what they do and don’t ask their players to do a lot of what they can’t do. They’ve certainly made a tremendous amount of improvement over these last three games.”

On whether parts of Tennessee are in Alabama’s recruiting area and what Alabama perhaps does to prevent Tennessee from getting players from Alabama:
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Tennessee, I think it has something to do with anybody. We’re going to recruit in a five-hour radius, and that certainly includes a large part of Tennessee. We feel there’s good football players there. We’re going to do the best we can to try to sell our program to them. They’ve got tradition and they do a lot of national recruiting, so we want to do a good job of having a good program so that the players in our state can see that they have a great opportunity to play in their home state at a great institution that has great football tradition that’s going to have a successful football program. I think all those things are important to be successful in recruiting.”

On whether he’ll use any special tactics at practice this week:
“I’ve really never done much of that. I don’t have a lot of experience in how that affects you one way or the other. I don’t have any plans to do it. If somebody else has plans to do it and wants to do it and thinks it’s going to help us, I’m all for it. But that’s not something (I do). When you go out there and play and line up, it’s about who you are and what kind of character and competitive attitude that you have. A lot of that external stuff really doesn’t matter in terms of your ability to focus and execute what you need to do to be successful and to have it in you to play with the toughness and effort and intensity to execute what you need to do so your unit has a chance to be successful. So I don’t know that there’s any song or jersey color or anything else that helps you do that. But if somebody’s got any evidence of that, I’d certainly try it if you prove it to me.”

On “production points”:
“We have a long list of criteria. A guy can earn production points whether it’s tackles, assists, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, fumbles, caused fumbles, recovered fumbles. Then on the other hand you have a list of things like mental errors, loafs, missed tackles, missed assignment, things like that that can create negative points. So you take a combination of, here’s the production on the positive side; here’s the negative side; and what’s the balance? So I think we probably had more guys have double digit production points in this game than maybe we’ve had all year. But the two safeties had the most.”

On interaction with officials:

“I really wasn’t aware of it. First of all I have a tremendous amount of respect for officials. My dad was an official. So I guess whether he was an umpire when it was baseball season or whether he was a football official in the league where Fairmont State and some of the small colleges in West Virginia play and I used to go to the games, I have a tremendous respect for the toughness of the job that they have to do. And we’ve always tried to be helpful in creating, providing, whatever you want to say, information to help them do a good job in the game. I seldom take an adversarial position with officials, not that I haven’t done it. I did it one time to the point where I embarrassed myself and I said I’d never do it again. They have a tough job to do. I know that they want to do it with as much fairness, and honesty and integrity as they possibly can. And it’s tough to see everything in the game. So we just try to help them every way we can. I just happened to be at a vantage point in the particular play that you might be talking about in this game where I saw the guy run out of bounds and it was right behind the official who that probably should have been what he was looking at but he probably was looking at the catch maybe instead of that. But it’s tough. It’s tough to see everything. We appreciate what they do. They have a tough job. We want to try to support them every way that we can. And I think that we have a lot of good ones in the SEC. And we certainly respect what they do.”

On Baron Huber:
“He plays on several special teams and does a really good job. And we did use a little more two-back in this past game than we have been using, and he did a really nice job blocking in the game. He’s done a good job all year for us. He’s on the punt team; he’s on the kickoff return team. He’s a guy that really likes football and is really into it. Smart. And has made a really positive contribution to the team in a lot of ways.”

On whether that was a UA assistant coach who had an encounter with Ole Miss fans Saturday:
“I don’t know a lot about the incident, but based on what the coaches said to me is that the people at Ole Miss did a fantastic job of managing and handling the situation. So it was one of those games where fans get a little bit excited and upset about circumstances in the game and showed their emotions a little bit which I guess fans can do and can let you know how they feel about things. And we certainly respect that. And the people there did a fantastic job I think of handling that situation.”

On Hoover grade report:
“I did not read the report. I know that coach (Kevin) Steele was involved in the recruitment of the player. As a policy we try to have our compliance people handle and manage all academic eligibility situations and circumstances with the (NCAA) Clearinghouse. I think there are always times, whether it’s through conversations with coaches, or trying to make sure things that get done, that sometimes assistant coaches’ names can come up in a circumstance. But I certainly don’t feel there was any wrong-doing done on our part, and I think our people here did everything that they were supposed to do in a professional way from a compliance standpoint to manage that situation for our institution.”

On success in “attacking the middle field” against Ole Miss:
“We did do a better job of it. We used play action pass to help us a little bit do that. We had a couple of other opportunities –D.J. (Hall) missed one down the middle that could have been another big one for us. And the timing was off a little bit. I think that’s something that is important for us to continue to do and I think we’ve made a lot of progress this last week in that part of it, and hopefully that’s a confidence builder to our players and our passing game in general.”

On adversities he overcame and memories of the 2001 SEC Championship game with LSU vs. Tennessee:

“We did overcome a lot, but sometimes when something bad happens, it turns out to be good. And I’m going to give you two examples of that. I might not be right on this; I can’t remember all this stuff exactly right. But I think we got ahead in the game maybe 7-0, and two times in a row they scored quick. So it was 14-7. We get the ball back. It’s maybe the 2nd quarter. Yeah, it’s the second quarter and we have fourth and inches on our own 33-yard line. I mean this much (he motions a length). Rohan Davie is the quarterback and he’s a big ole strong guy. I think the game is slipping away. So we go for it on fourth down. And of course, they had John Henderson and some pretty good defensive linemen and they kind of knocked our whole offensive line back, and we didn’t make it. And they got the ball on the 30-yard line. And we went in and sacked them and knocked them back to about the 40-yard line, but the guy still hit about a 52-yard field goal or something. So we’re behind 17-7. But in the meantime for the rest of that quarter, I was kind of shot because I thought I’d done a terrible thing, made a horrible coaching error, just absolutely gave away a team’s opportunity by making a stupid, stupid coaching decision to go for it on fourth and inches on our own 30-yard line against a pretty good defensive team, and it failed. But from that time on in the game, our defense went in and stopped them and they kicked a field goal which is the best they could do. We ended up winning the game 31-20. So we played pretty well after that. Rohan Davie got hurt, too. So it forced us to use Matt Mauck which was a completely different offense than what we had if Rohan was in there. And when Ro was in there we couldn’t block them up front, so we were getting sacked and negative plays passing and all that. So then we did the run and option thing with Matt Mauck. They weren’t ready for it, had some different formations, and it ended up two bad things turning out being pretty good ones for us in the game. So we were fortunate in a lot of ways. But the seniors came up to me after the game, and I had thought I had made the dumbest coaching decision; was ready to apologize to the team for it, even though we’d won the game. But before I did it, they came up to me and said, ‘You know, Coach, we didn’t think we could win this game. But when you went for it on fourth and inches in the second quarter that made us think that you thought that we could beat them.’ So sometimes what seems like a really dumb thing—which is still dumb in my opinion---turned out to be pretty good.”