University of Alabama coach Nick Saban met with reporters and talked a lot about Saturday’s game against Auburn (7:45 p.m., ET, ESPN). Here’s some of what he said:

“The Iron Bowl is one of the greatest rivalries in college football. This game means a lot of people in this state, regardless of which side you’re on, and also around the country. As a competitor, it’s a great opportunity because this game has had a lot of significance over the last few years and certainly no different last year or this year. It’ll be a great atmosphere. An ESPN night game here at Bryant-Denny Stadium has been great. But I also think this is a game where you have to stay focused on the game and not on all the things that go on around it.

“This game requires a tremendous amount of discipline and focus and preparation to be able to go out there and play the kind of football game that you want to play. And you can’t really be concerned about all those other things and really be able to do that. The focus needs to be on what do I need to do to go out there and be able to do my job well.

“Gus (Malzahn) has done a fantastic job last year and this year. They’ve got lots of returning starters, nine on offense, six on defense.

“I think that obviously their offense is one of the most productive in the country and certainly in our league. They’ve got a very good scheme. Their quarterback, Nick Marshall, does a fantastic job of executing that on the field. They’ve got a lot of weapons offensively. A couple of really good, explosive, big wide receivers who are great versatile wide receivers in (Sammie) Coates and Duke Williams. A very good running back, who’s leading the SEC in rushing. The offensive line does a really god job. Lots of speed on the perimeter, and a lot of sweeps and things that they do.

“This is a very, very challenging team to defend in the way they play offense and the way they execute their offense. Their fast pace is certainly something that we’ve played a lot against this year, and hopefully something we’ll be adapt to in the game very well.

“Defensively, they’re very athletic up front and very active and create a lot of negative plays. They’ve been able to create a lot of turnovers with their defense and played great in the red zone and been very hard to score on. I think this is a very good defensive team. They always do a great job on special teams, but Quan Bray is one of the outstanding return guys in the country. So it’s going to be important to play well on special teams.

“This is a very, very good team and a great rivalry game. Certainly as a competitor something that all competitors really enjoy playing in games like this, against very, very good teams and a lot of good players with a lot of personal stuff going on with guys that they know and played against in high school and maybe even played with. So it’s a great game.”


On if Auburn is running less between the tackles than last year:

“I think that their offensive line was certainly very good last year, but it’s very good this year. They run between the tackles quite a bit. Last year, they hurt us with plays on the perimeter like they hurt a lot of people. I think some of their most effective plays that complement their inside running game is the way they run the ball on the perimeter. I think that’s the thing that makes it so hard to defend so it’s not that they’re one or the other. I think it’s the combination of the two and their ability to throw play-action passes vertically down the field to some very good receivers that make them one of the best offensive teams around.”


On defending quarterback Nick Marshall:  

“The guy is really, really a fantastic athlete, and he’s very instinctive as a player, especially doing the things that they ask him to do in their offense. He also has improved in my opinion quite a bit as a passer, much more efficient, much more confident. So the combination of his athleticism when he keeps the ball on the options when he’s got an opportunity to throw it or run it is a bit of a mismatch a lot with the defensive ends that have to try to contain him. The guy’s a really, really good player especially doing the things that they ask him to do.”


On if the defense is better prepared to face this kind of offense:

“I don’t think we’re any better prepared than we were a year ago. We actually held them to 21 points for 59-and-a-half minutes in the game and did do a pretty decent job. We made some mistakes and those mistakes led to some big plays, but they also were a very, very good team that made some plays on their own, which good players will do. But we didn’t finish the game like we wanted, and I hope that we’ll be able to play the kind of defense that we need to play to have a chance to be successful in this game against, as I’ve said many, many times before, a very good offensive team. Very challenging.”


On the challenge of dealing with all of Auburn’s pre-snap changes:

“There’s a method to what they do. Everything that they do, I think, is for a reason. It’s very well-founded. I think Gus does a really good job, because I think he knows how people would try to defend that if they just lined up in the formation. The camouflage that he uses with the motions and all that is something that defensive players have to adjust to but it also doesn’t allow you to get set like you’d like to get set. It takes more adjusting on the defensive players’ part. But you have to defend all those things too, because they don’t just do it, they have something that they can do with it that you have to defend.”


On getting the team to peak on Saturday:

“As a coach that’s what you’re always trying to do. Tried to do it last week and didn’t do a very good job of it against the team that we were playing. We try to do it every week so the players are ready for when the game comes. I think the thing that we try to do is we have a routine that the players go through in terms of what they can expect on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and hopefully that routine helps them prepare themselves, not only physically to execute the things they need to do in the game but also psychologically in terms of getting themselves ready to play in the game. We don’t want to create a lot of anxiety with the players, we just want them to be focused and ready to go and have a sense of urgency to do things the right way and to be able to do it for 60 minutes in the game because I’m sure that’s what it’s going to take in a game like that for us to have a chance to be successful.”

On Auburn’s running game and change of pace:

“Both guys in their own way are really, really good players. They always seem to have a guy who is a really good, all around, inside-outside type runner and they always seem to have a guy who is great on the perimeter. This year, Corey Grant and No. 5 both have done that. No. 4 Quan Bray has done it some too. They always have a really good combination of guys to be able to do those things and both of those guys have played extremely well. But I think you also have to give them a lot of credit because of the way they use those guys and how effective they are in terms of how they are used.”

On comparing the emotions of the Iron Bowl with an SEC Championship or national title game:

“I really can’t compare this to anything else because when you’re playing in this game and any of those games, it’s the most important game that you’re playing in at that time. So I think the energy level and the intensity is always … that’s what makes it fun to play in games like this. But this game is one of those games that as a competitor, that’s where you get to. There are other games you have to play in that you mentioned that you have to get there, too because if we’re playing in one of those games, you’d be asking me the same type of questions. So you can’t really compare it, it’s just when you play in big games like this that have a lot of meaning to a lot of people, you can’t compare it to anything, you just know there’s a special level of intensity that goes with playing in a game like this and both sides are going to have it and that’s what makes it a great football game.”