Alabama head coach Nick Saban met with the media on Monday to discuss the team’s preparation for Mercer on Saturday:
“In looking at the last game, I think there were a lot of positives in the game in terms of the way the players competed in the game, a really hard, physical game. They really tried to control the tempo of the game by slowing the game down. I thought that offensively, we kept pushing the envelope and I think eventually it paid off for us. I think our ability to finish in the fourth quarter the way we did _ whether it was get a couple of stops on defense and have a couple of really successful drives offensively _ great perseverance by our team to hang in there and keep fighting and sort of overcome hard. There was a lot of adversity in the game, some of it we created and some of it they created. But the one thing we did is we responded and we kept playing in the game.
“Looking ahead here this week, we need to focus on a lot of fundamental, technical execution at every position. Whether it’s offensive line, defensive backs, it doesn’t really matter what position it is. I think there’s a lot of things that we can fundamentally execute with a little more consistency. And that’s certainly going to be the focus in terms of what we try to get accomplished this week.
“I think Ross will be out for sure for this game and then probably a medical decision after that as to where he is. Minkah’s going to be probably day to day this week as to what he can do and how he sort of can respond to this sort of lingering injury.
“The team that we play, Mercer, is a very well coached team. They do a good job. They know what they want to do, they know how to do it, they do a good job of executing. And they’ve done a pretty good job all year long. Obviously for us, we always want to technically do what we have to do to get our players in the best position to have a chance to be able to be successful in the game and use this as an opportunity for us to go out and develop confidence in our execution by the knowledge and experience that we can in this particular game.”
This late in the season, can you still grow as a team?
“I think you can always grow. I think you should always be looking forward, looking ahead to what you need to do to continue to improve, to develop team chemistry, togetherness. People’s roles change. Guys change what they have to do. It’s sort of a work in progress all the time to try to continue to grow and develop as a team. That’s certainly what our focus needs to be if we want to finish the way we’d like to finish.”
What did Josh Jacobs give you on Saturday?
“I think Josh is kind of an easy guy to create a role for because of his versatility as a player. We certainly need to use him more now that he’s healthy, and he certainly was healthy in that game and very explosive and probably changed the game a little bit for us with his energy and enthusiasm. He’s always been a great competitor and we’re going to continue to try to expand his role so he can be more productive for us. We’re not displeased with anybody in terms of how they played at that position. But we would like to get him more involved in what we’re doing.”
How did J.C. Hassenauer play at left guard?
“J.C. did a nice job in the game. We have always rotated guys a little bit in the offensive line. J.C. also has to be the backup center so he has to do sort of dual duty regardless of what his circumstance is relative to playing guard. We certainly need to continue to develop depth and make the kind of changes up front that we might need to make so that we have that kind of depth if something else happens to the offensive line or if we have an opportunity to play other players at different positions because that may be something that we need to do down the road.”
Can you take anything away from the Auburn-Mercer game?
“I think there’s a lot that can be taken from that. I think any time you play teams, especially at this stage in the season when you’ve been playing SEC games for how many weeks in a row now, it becomes a little more difficult for guys to have the right psychological disposition to not be playing a conference game regardless of who that might be. But I think it’s important for our guys to focus on what we need to do as a team to improve and get better. We have players who need to get experience. We need more players to be able to play winning football. We have guys playing different roles and I think this is an opportunity for us to sort of capitalize on efficiency in performance for our team. I think we need to always have respect for whatever team that we’re playing. That certainly should not determine the standard of how you play in terms of who you’re playing. It should be the standard that you set for yourself in terms of how you want to play. I certainly think that that’s going to be important to us to continue to try to develop moment as we go through and finish the season.”
There was a scene with you and Miss Terry at your press conference after the game. What does it mean to have her support as you do this job?
“Well I think that’s the thing you have to have appreciation for. Sometimes when — you probably don’t even know what an old rusted out Volkswagen is. Like 19-whatever that would have been –60s, and go through the struggles you go through, personally and professionally. And to have a partner that has been supportive and an asset to the organization in every way is something that is really appreciated. She’s been a great partner, and I don’t know why she puts up with me, but I’m very fortunate.”
How did you think Keith Holcombe and Dylan Moses played at inside linebacker?
“I think that we — first of all, I think that stability of the defense has to be created through confidence in the signal-caller making the right calls, doing the right things, getting us in the right place and everyone having the confidence to do their job. And we did that for a great part of the game, and there were times where we had breakdowns that were costly. So we all need to have the attitude that we need to do more to try to improve our ability to be consistent in how we play as a defensive team totally, but starting from inside out.”
Jalen only has one turnover this year. How important has that been?
“I think the key to the drill in anything is taking care of the ball. The first thing we talk about in any game we play is, ‘The ball, the ball, the ball.’ Some players have a hard time putting that as a priority. Sometimes they put the priority in making a play which means they think they can squeeze it in there when it’s really not open and it ends up getting picked off, or they’re trying to gain some extra yards and not really taking care of the ball and it ends up being a fumble or the ball gets busted out from the back. That’s something we’ve really emphasized with our team and it’s something that Jalen is very conscious of and done a good job of. He’s probably learned from his past experiences of taking care of the ball. So I think it’s critical and will continue to be critical that our turnover ratio is a positive thing for us. We have to get more turnovers on defense and we have to continue to take care of the ball on offense, which we’ve done a really good job of so far this year.”
What have the freshmen given you this season?
“We’ve probably played more freshmen than most teams this year. Those guys have provided a tremendous amount of depth, and on some occasions filled in very admirably for guys when they’re called on, whether it’s special teams or whatever the role has been as contributors to the team. So we’re happy that we’ve played as many guys as we’ve played and we’re happy how those guys have played. I think it’s positive case for us. And in most cases, we’ve been able to play them enough to enhance their development, which is always sort of the priority when you play a young player is, are we going to play the guy enough so it enhances his development in practice every week and also in the game experience that he gains.
Jalen said that he hates to lose, kind of like you do…
“I think that all great competitors — not that I’m saying I’m a great competitor by any stretch of the imagination — there’s a certain amount of motivation that comes from what you want to accomplish and what you want to do and the standard that you want to do it to. But there’s always sort of competitive spirit that you want to come out on top and you want to be successful, and obviously in our sport when you lose it’s sort of a reality check that, ‘I didn’t really do that, I didn’t get that done and do the things we needed to do.’ Although we try to stay focused on the process around here for what we have to do to be successful, I think from a competitive standpoint it helps when guys don’t like the feeling of not being successful.”
How do you think the linebackers and safeties did against the RPOs?
“Well, they didn’t run a lot of RPOs. They ran a lot more really tough play action passes. They had us on the first play of the game. In the back end, we didn’t respond to it the right way. But for the most part I thought that our issues were more on third down. Man to man coverage, not tackling well, not playing bunch passes very well, all things that we need to work on and get corrected.”
What kind of development has Raekwon Davis made?
“I think he’s done a good job. He’s a very conscientious guy. He wants to do and please the coach in every way that he can. He plays hard. He’s very competitive. He gives a lot of effort. He’s played with a lot of toughness and I think he’s made a lot of progress throughout the course of the year. “We need to have more guys up front probably play with his kind of tenacious sort of attitude. I think that’s what you like to see your whole defense play with.”
Jalen said he was thinking of the Clemson game on Saturday. How much has that game made this team mentally tough?
“I think that was a tough loss for any player involved in that game. A lot on the line. You work all year long to try to put yourself in that position and you come up a little short. I think that’s something that you never forget. So if that’s something that helps guys sort of not want to have that feeling again, then I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I also think we want our players to be very positive about how they approach what’s in front of them and the opportunity that they have in terms of what’s in front of them as a positive motivation as to what this team can accomplish, the standard that we can play to and what they can do better. To do a little more to help our team be successful.”
We talk about identity a lot, but heart, resiliency that this team has gone through with injuries. Have you identified the heart, resiliency of this year’s team’s resiliency?
“I’ve been pleased with the way the guys have responded. One of the things that we talked about before this last game was ‘Can you thrive on hard? Knowing that you’re going to be in difficult circumstances, you’re going to have hard things happen whether it’s in life or in a competitive sport. Are you going to respond the right way to that and look at that as an opportunity to thrive in the situation.’ Everybody can give more, everybody can do more. But really we want you to execute and do your job in critical situations when your best is needed and obviously I was really proud of the way our team did that down the stretch in that particular game so that it gave them the best opportunity to be successful. I think that kind of perseverance is always really important and that comes from your heart in terms of how bad you want to accomplish something and how bad you want to do it, and are you putting that first or are you putting yourself first? When we surrender, all of us, to what’s not what we want, it’s always about us. When you start putting yourself first and not what you want to accomplish as a team, then you usually have some issues. That’s not been the case with many of our players.”
Last two games the defense has allowed over 150 rushing yards. What do you attribute those issues to?
“I think that when you have changes, whether you make changes or whether those changes are inevitable because of players missing or whatever, those things are all things that have some impact on how you’re able to play and what you’re able to do. Whether it’s how you communicate, the guys getting in the right things, doing the right things, not making mental errors, or having the confidence that every player out there is going to be able to do what he needs to do effectively. I think we need to play the run better but I also think we played two teams that were committed to being able to run the ball. They ran the ball better than we’d like. But at the end of the day when you do the stats on this last game, I think they had what, 3.8 or 3.5 yards per carry, something like that, which is not really that bad. So they just did it a lot. What creates those situations, and I’ll go back to it again, which nobody seems to have the same concern about, is when you have them 3rd and 10, you have them 3rd and 7, you have them 3rd and 8, you have them 3rd and 9, when you play teams that run the ball like that, you have to get off the field. So don’t give them a new set of downs to go run it again and again and again, and keep sort of, three, four and five yards. When you have teams that can create extra gaps because of quarterback runs, it’s difficult. Could we have executed better and done better on some of those things? Absolutely. Did they have a good scheme and a good plan to run the ball, shrink the game, play slow? Yes they did. The key to that was just like when we started. You can’t give them extra possessions. We go three and out right off the bat (on defense), jump over the shield and give them an extra possession. Now that possession goes for 10 or 12 plays. It changes the field position. All these things contribute to giving the team more opportunities. Not getting off the field on third down, giving them extra possessions, whether it’s penalties or whatever, so all these things sort of go hand in hand in how do you stop the run? Stopping the run to me is more about how many yards per play do you get than how many yards they gained.”