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Coach Nick Saban: SEC Championship Game Teleconference



Nov. 30, 2008

Opening Comments:
"We're extremely proud of the way our team finished the season.  A good win against Auburn.  To win 12 games in a season is pretty special for any group of players. And the senior group that we have certainly contributed significantly to a change in the culture here in terms of playing with the kind of intangibles that we need to have success.  I'm really pleased and proud of our team for what they were able to do.  Total body of work for the entire season.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for us to play in the SEC Championship game. This is one of the absolute best competitive venues I've ever had the opportunity to be a part of in my coaching career. The challenge of playing an opponent like the Florida Gators is, you know, something special for our players.  They certainly have an outstanding team, and Coach Meyer has done a fantastic job of putting together a bunch of outstanding athletes who play well together, and are very well coached, and execute as well as anybody in the country, relative to their scoring offense, balance on offense, Tim Tebow's ability to execute in the way they have. They all contribute in a positive way to playing the roles, to make it difficult to defend them. Their defense is one of the top defensive teams in the nation.

"They've got some outstanding players, good athletes in all positions. Probably one of the most impressive things is turnover ratio, being the number one in the country.  This is the finest special teams we've probably had the opportunity to play in terms of their explosiveness and ability to make plays. This is an outstanding team.  But I don't think you can expect to be in the SEC Championship game and not play an outstanding team."
How do you try to channel the emotion from that Iron Bowl victory?  Do you try to keep the players on going after that?  Do you try to keep them hyped or tone it down a little bit to try to prepare for Florida?
"I think that we sort of prepare for every game pretty much the same way.  Every game is an important game.  This is an important game.  So we do the same routine throughout the course of the week. You know, I think momentum is something that you can carry from week to week in terms of the confidence that your team has. I don't think the emotion is something that you can carry from week to week. I think we need to take our 24 hours and enjoy this game.  Forget about this game and look ahead. What's happened in the past is important and matters, but it doesn't matter. We've got to get ready for the next game and focus on that. We've got to go to work tomorrow, and that's what we need to do."

How much of the offense you've seen so far runs through Percy Harvin?  How difficult would it be for them to not have him in this game?
"They have a lot of good players, we certainly respect his ability. But they really have three players that, you know, 1, 2, 3, it's easy to remember that.  All three are outstanding players have had big play-ability. They've got some outstanding receivers.  They've got a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.  And they utilize all those players in different roles.  Certainly we respect Percy Harvin as a great player, but they have other great players, too.

You talked after the Clemson game about your history of play in the Georgia Dome, and you've mentioned just now, and I guess, yesterday the competitive venue.  What do you like about the Georgia Dome?  Is it the fan atmosphere?  The facility?  Can you take us through your history there?
"Well, I think it's the fact that I think it's something that all conferences should do.  Have two divisions playing a game like this.  I think it's the passion that people have in our league.  Atlanta makes it a tremendous venue. The dome is a great atmosphere to play in. You're going to play a team that's in the Top 10 for sure.  In this case we're playing in the top 3 or 4. Every game that we've had there when they played Tennessee there, they were No. 2.  When we played Georgia there, they might have been 6 or 7. You know, it's a great competitive game, they're always going to have two great teams, it's a great atmosphere, and it means something.  If you're playing in a National Championship game it means something, but winning the SEC means something; and this game means something as well.  I think that's what makes it such a great competitive venue."

Both teams have done a great job just jumping on teams early and playing well in the first quarter.  How important is the first quarter going to be in this game for one of these teams to take an early lead and get in front early?
"Well, I think the important thing in all games is you play every play in the game for 60 minutes. You know, we've gotten ahead in some games and teams have come back on us.  We've gotten ahead in some games and been able to maintain that lead. You know, obviously you want to start well in everything that you do.  But I think the most important thing is to be able to sustain a certain level of consistency throughout the game in terms of your ability to folk us and play every play.  That kind of consistency is, I think, most important.

Talk about what are some of the unique challenges of defending a team like Florida that is a spread offense, but run the ball as effectively as they have?
"Well, I think they give a lot of different looks in terms of how they use their personnel.  They have a lot of very good personnel that has multiple roles in their offense.  The fact that they have such great balance in their offense skill guys outside who can make plays in the passing game, but also can run the ball effectively, and have a quarterback who can create that balance by his ability to run and almost create kind of a single wing type of offense relative to him being a threat to the runner.  As well as when you load the box, you know, be able to make plays in the passing game which creates tremendous balance for them. The way they utilize their personnel, and they have a lot of finesse and lost speed to go with that running game.  So that's a real challenge for anyone to defend."

Everyone talks about Florida's speed.  How fast are they, and does that change what you guys do defensively?  Where does it put the pressure on, I guess?
"Well, anybody that has speed, I think they also have great space players.  Leverage in the ball, tackling well, being in good, contained positions, all of those things are very, very important.  But they have a direct run power game that is probably as good as anybody we played against all year.  So to control the line of scrimmage is going to be a really critical factor in this game."

Do you think there's any advantage to having played in the dome earlier this year?
"I don't really think so.  The players know the environment.  I think it's an advantage when it comes to the game.  I think the game will be decided by what the players do on both sides.  You know when the game starts and that type of thing. But we're at least familiar with the surroundings, and the lighting and that kind of thing by having played there before."

What's your take on second year? You've done it twice, Urban Meyer did it.  Coaches seem to get it going in the second year at the school.  Is the first year a tough transition year?
"I think it's a tough transition year.  Those guys are probably    you know, you're trying to change a culture in terms of the way people do things.  It's more difficult for the older players to probably adjust to and adapt to that, and those guys are probably the guys that provide quite a bit of leadership, and are looked to for leadership.  It may be the most difficult group to buy in. I think the next year, you know, maybe the juniors sort of are more willing to buy in and make the change and change the culture, and provide the leadership that the coach would like to make the changes.  Because change is inevitable when you change staffs, but whether you choose to do it or not is a choice. I think the longer you have the guys in the program, the more opportunity you have to get the choices made the way you want to make them.  I think that's been a real key to us but our seniors have changed the culture by their leadership."
Is there anything you may have brought back with your experience with the Dolphins in the NFL that's helped you be a better coach in this stint with Alabama?
"I don't think there's any question about that.  You know, I think both teams, all the times that I've been in pro football, you learn a tremendous amount about the game, because you spend more time just on football and just on evaluating personnel.  Those are the only two things you do as a coach in professional football. Developing criteria, learning about a lot of different things offensively, defensively, and special teams and you're constantly learning and around people, and you've got good coaches, so you do learn a lot.  I feel fortunate to have the experiences, and be around the mentors.  I've had the opportunity to be around them and been able to learn something from. I think all my experience in the NFL has really helped in the development of this game. "

Talk about the match up, your defensive line versus Florida's offensive line.  Do you feel good about that?
"We haven't had an opportunity to totally evaluate all that.  Florida's got a really good defensive line, they're very athletic.  They rush well.  They've got great athletes in the secondary, so they can play as many eight man fronts as they want. It's going to be a challenge for us to be able to get a hat on a hat.  To be able to create the balance that we need to be successful offensively against them."

I was wondering if you could reflect on the season Rashad Johnson has had this year and even just his past from a walk on to just such a difference maker?
"He's certainly and outstanding player for us.  Been very productive probably one of the brightest players I've ever had the opportunity to coach.  Probably understands and knows what we're doing defensively as well as he any of the coaches do, or even as I do. He makes a lot of checks.  The players have a lot of confidence on the field because of his understanding, and on top of all of that, he's a tremendous playmaker for us. But what a person, what a competitor.  Somebody ought to hire that guy to be a C.E.O. of their company.  He'll do a good job for them."

Something you mentioned earlier, that Florida's one, two and three.  Their number two and three, Demps and Rainey, what have you seen from them just on tape in terms of their skill set?  How do you see them at that running game change in terms of taking pressure off Tebow?
"It gives them so many more options and dimensions.  They have some other good runners on their team, too.  The fact that all these guys can be receivers and runners, the multiples that that creates; the match up problems that that creates.  You need to have a defensive back covering them when they're playing receiver, which is the same thing with Percy. Then when he's a running back, you'd like to have some bigger guys in there making sure they can run with the ball.  And you can't have both.  So there's one like that, there's three.  So I think that's the    and all those guys have great speed, and they're great space players.  But I think the one thing that makes it most challenging is they're very good receivers and play that position some as well as they're in the backfield and you don't know where they're going to be.  And the matchup that creates makes it more difficult defensively.

Have you faced a quarterback like Tim Tebow in your career?
"You know, probably not.  I don't think anybody that probably directs the offense as well as he does, plays with the toughness that he does, is a running threat that he is, as well as a very efficient, effective passer. I don't really think that there's anybody that I've ever faced that's quite like him; that creates the issues that he creates relative to his size and toughness, and ability as a runner and a passer.

I wondered if you could talk about Javier Arenas, and his progression over the past years, and what makes him so good this year?
"Javy has played great for us.  That's how he started his career, and got some notoriety as a return man.  Punt return, kickoff return guy.  But he is one of our best defensive players as well, and plays multiple roles on defense, whether its corner, and then he plays our fifth nickel back, or we call it star position which is a completely different role.  He's a smart player, instinctive.  He plays with a lot of toughness with great pride, and how he plays and performs and is very conscientious about how to do his job all the time.  He's just an outstanding competitor.  I can't say enough about how he's played for us, and the multiple roles that he's excelled at for us this season."