SEC Championship teleconference: Saban talks defense, Missouri
Less than 24 hours after winning the Iron Bowl, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke with reporters during the SEC Championship teleconference Sunday evening. Here’s some of what he had to say about this week’s matchup against Missouri:
“First of all, I’d like to mention the fact that it’s very special to the University of Alabama, our football program and team, to play in the SEC Championship game. This game has always been great teams playing. Winner has gone on to play the national championship game the last eight years. Always great atmosphere in the Georgia Dome. Great competitive venue for our players and our fans.
I’d like to congratulate Missouri on a great year and winning the East. Coach Pinkel, my old teammate, has done a fantastic job. They have a very good team. It’s going to be a real challenge for our team.”
It’s been a couple years since you played Missouri. What has been your impression of the way that Gary and the Missouri program has adapted to the conference?
“Well, they’ve done fantastic. They represented the East two years in a row in the SEC Championship game, finished 12 2 last season, won the Cotton Bowl. They won six straight games this year. I think they’re one of the best teams in our league, no doubt. Certainly very deserving of what they’ve accomplished. They’ve overcome a lot of adversity this year to do it. They’ve got a good quarterback, good receivers, nationally ranked defense that has some real pass rush specialists. So this is an outstanding team. I think they’ve done a great job since they joined the league, especially the last two years.”
I know you probably only looked at Missouri briefly. In the short time you looked at them on tape, what stands out about Shane Ray and Markus Golden as pass rushers?
“I haven’t really seen their defense that much other than watching them a couple times during the season. Obviously those guys are very productive. 13 and a half sacks for Shane Ray. Markus has eight and a half sacks and 16 tackles for loss. The other guy has 20 tackles for loss. These guys are obviously very quick guys that are instinctive, that beat people with their quickness. They’re very productive in their system and scheme. They do a good job of executing. Not many guys have made that kind of an impact with their defense anywhere in the country in terms of giving the offense negative plays.”
Everybody talks about the pass rush for Missouri. They’ve been pretty good against the run, too. Do you see any vulnerabilities in this defense? How do you go about attacking this team right now?
“We just got done playing a game last night at midnight. We just started working on them. We didn’t know we were going to play them until we won the game last night, and that they were going to represent the East until Friday. I can’t really answer that question intelligently right now until we have a little more time to study.”
How have you seen this team evolve since then and maybe where it’s come the furthest?
“I think this team has shown a tremendous resiliency all year long to make plays in critical times in games. They’ve always been able to overcome adversity, do the things they needed to do to be able to come out on top. I think that speaks a lot of the competitive character that the group has. I think offensively we’ve probably been a little more consistent in the last few ballgames. Defensively we haven’t been quite as consistent. We’d like to get back to playing a little better defensively, continuing to build on what we’ve been able to accomplish offensively here in the last few weeks.”
What is the message or the challenge you put to your defense before Saturday?
“I think defensively we know we’re going to play a very, very good team, a good quarterback in Mauk. They’ve been very productive with their receivers. They’ve got good running backs, good speed, good skill guys. Marcus Murphy is kind of a special player for them. So our defense is going to have to play with a lot more discipline in terms of everyone doing their job for us to have a chance to be successful in this game or any game that we play. We weren’t real pleased with some of the big plays that we gave up, especially in the first half in last night’s game. That’s something we certainly need to address, try to take the things that we can learn from the game last night and improve.”
We talked about how good this league is all season long. Talk about your team’s consistency you had to play with just to survive the SEC West.
“I’m proud of what our team has been able to accomplish to this point, the way they played. We had a tough loss early in the season to Ole Miss on the road. The question then was how are they going to respond to that. I think they responded pretty well. I think they responded pretty well last night to some tough circumstances in the game. I’m just really proud of the way our guys have competed all year long. We’ve got a good bunch of guys. Just want to keep working to try to play with a little more consistency. I still don’t think we’ve played as well as we’re capable of playing. Hopefully we’ll look at this new season and opportunity to play for the SEC Championship as a stimulus to try to go out there and practice and prepare well, play our best.”
You rotated cornerbacks in the game last night. What is the plan there? Stick with Bradley Sylve or keep rotating guys?
“Well, we haven’t really decided yet. Eddie (Jackson) played well for us all year long. Bradley did a nice job when he went in the game last night. Probably see how things go in practice this week and make a decision later on in the week about that.”
Regardless of what happens in this game, do you feel the SEC should have a team in the playoffs?
“Well, I can’t speak to that. I think we have an outstanding league. We have a lot of good teams. The fact that we play each other, end up beating each other probably hurts a little bit relative to the quality especially of our division. I think some of the teams in our division are really, really good teams. I’m sure there’s some other really good teams out there that I have not seen. So without looking at everyone, I would think that somebody in our league qualifies to be one of the better four teams in the country based on the quality of the league, the good teams that we all have to play.”
I had heard hat you had been playing the Kick 6 play over and over again in the locker room. Now that you’ve gotten the revenge win, what will be the video you’ll be playing going into the SEC Championship game?
“We haven’t decided that yet. I don’t know how much we played the video in the locker room. I’m sure it got played. It was a tough, tough game for all of us, the way we finished the game, not just that play, but the last five or six minutes of the game a year ago. That team was 11-0, sort of didn’t get an opportunity to do what they had strived for all year long. Now this team has created an opportunity for themselves. I think we just want to get them to look forward to the challenges that they have, what they need to do to try to take advantage of the opportunity that they’ve created for themselves.”