This is a transcript of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban's comments, and that of several players, in their weekly press conference heading into the Iron Bowl.
Head Coach Nick Saban
"We aren't going to spend a lot of time on the last game. I made comments after the game. The players actually competed well in the game. They played hard, had a good competitive spirit and we got to play a lot of players which are all positive things. Obviously there are some things that we could do better and things that we need to learn from to continue to improve. Players of the week were Anthony Steen, Chance Warmack and Michael Williams on offense, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley on defense and on special teams Brent Calloway and Landon Collins. John Fulton is going to be able to practice some today. We have a couple of guys out there that may not be full speed today but we expect everybody to be ready to practice and be good by tomorrow. I want to make everybody understand that we are not in any conversations about anything other than the game we are playing. Unless we win the next game, we don't have another game. We are trying to work our way into a conversation by how we play. We are not trying to hold a position. We are trying to create one by what we do and how we play. Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we are dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn. The Iron Bowl is a big deal. It's a legendary game that people remember for a long, long time and still talk about games that happened in the past that had huge impacts and effects on the future of what happened. They are traditionally very tough games. It's important that we play our best game. I also think that Auburn is playing their best football of the year. They can run the ball effectively. They have two really good runners. The new quarterback, Jonathan Wallace, started the last three games and has been very effective as a runner and a passer. They've got some good skilled guys outside. They have a talented front seven on defense who has some pass rushers. They play very well, probably one of the best teams we've played all year when it comes to special teams. We have a lot of challenges and a lot of things we need to do that we need to prepare well for this game, practice well for this game. We know what kind of game that these games are. Our players need to be aware of that. We need to do the best job we can of preparing for a very good team."
On the wide receiver position:
"It has been difficult at times because we lost a couple guys at the position. We are playing a couple of freshman; some of them playing very well, sometimes not as well as we like. They've been productive at times and we are satisfied and pleased with the progress that they've made but we want to continue to improve. We also like to get the guys that have a little more experience healthy enough that they can go out there and prepare for the game properly, practice like we need to practice so we get a little more continuity in what we are trying to do. Kevin Norwood is fine, so we will get him back this week. That was the most recent guy with an injury problem. Hopefully we will be a little better this week."
On the linebackers this year:
"C.J. Mosley has obviously been the most productive guy at that position for us. We end up playing a lot of nickel and dime based on the kind of offense we've had to play against. He's very productive in all those things. Trey DePriest and Nico Johnson have done a good job. They haven't gotten as many opportunities because, again, it's a little bit the style of offenses that we've had to play against. They will both get an opportunity to play this week. We are hopeful that they will both play extremely well."
On if there is a rotation between Cyrus and Christion Jones on special teams:
"No there's not a rotation at all. Christion Jones is going to be the punt return guy. I wanted to try to get Cyrus more experience at doing it. We didn't take Christion out because he misplayed a ball. I think that our guys have to understand that in each ball that we have not fielded properly, it's because of poor fundamentals. We aren't getting squared up on the ball or we are trying to make tough catches outside of our body or over our shoulders. Those kinds of things we need to do better fundamentally so we won't have those kinds of issues and problems because those are huge changes in field position. The number one important thing when you are in punt return is possession of the ball. We get the ball back. Let's just get the ball back. You don't always have to try to make a great play, just make a smart play. Possession of the ball is most important, so in the last couple games we've taken far too many risks in terms of how we are managing getting the ball back."
On if Coach Saban uses the results of the top-two teams losing this past weekend as a motivating factor for his team to prove that "anything can happen":
"I think what we try to stress to our players is to learn from your previous experience. What I see happening is, people get emotionally stressed out relative to their circumstances, which is where they are ranked, who they are playing and all of the sudden you get tentative and don't play aggressively. You don't prepare the same way, you are worried emotionally, which affects your ability to focus and you don't play as well. None of these things are bad things – there is nobody taking anybody out and shooting them behind the barn, because we have an opportunity to play in this game. We have an opportunity to play in this game and maybe another game and that's a good thing – that's something that everybody worked hard to create. Be positive, it's what great competitors love to do and go compete and play your best games. Don't get emotionally stressed out and start playing to keep from getting beat and be tentative about your approach to what you are doing. I think it did happen to us and it probably happened to some other people. That's what we try to guard against but you have to stay focused on the process of what you're doing right now. What made you a good player and play well as a team in some other part of the season is the same things that are going to make you a good team and be able to play well individually now. It's not about the circumstance that you are in, it's about the vision that you have for what you want to accomplish and understanding what you need to do it – and go do that and play your best football. If your best football game is not good enough to win, then I'm ok with that. I just want the players to play their best game and have the right disposition about doing that, rather than being caught up in the circumstances of what's at stake. That's why this game is the most important game of the year and we need to be focused on what we need to do to play well in this game."
On the differences in the Auburn offense since Jonathan Wallace took over at quarterback:
"To me he has done a really good job of managing the game for them. That's a good thing to me – so don't take that the wrong way. He's done a good job of throwing the football. They've got some decent skill guys. They've made some more explosive plays in the passing game and their just an effective running team and he is doing all the quarterback runs that they do. He's athletic enough to do it and makes good decisions about it. I think the whole idea of processing the idea of making good decisions at that position, I think that's something he has done extremely well in the last three games that he has played."
On the recent firing of Derek Dooley and Gene Chizik's supposed ‘hot-seat' and if it bothers Coach Saban that the profession is becoming a ‘what have you done recently':
"I think it is what it is. There is a lot of attention to what we do. I think there is a high expectation of what we do. Derek Dooley is a good friend. He has been very loyal for seven years of working on our staff and regardless of what he did or didn't do at Tennessee, he is still someone who is a professional colleague and a friend who we would love to help in any way we can. I personally think Gene Chizik has done a really good job. All I know is playing against him, it's always a tough game, they are always well-coached and they are always well-prepared. That's all I can comment about. I think that sometimes the standard that everybody wants all of us to play to is not something that is a continuum – it's a process that is constantly evolving. Sometimes when you get a few things that happen that maybe don't go in your favor, it can affect the results that you get – some that you can control and some that you cannot. Whether I like it or not, it is the world that we live in and I fully understand that two years from now, if we don't have continue to have a good team, that I will be in the same seat that other people are in now. It's the nature of the beast in our profession."
On the decreased number of forced turnovers:
"If I knew the explanation and could fix it, we would. We emphasize turnovers, we emphasized turnovers the same way in the first half of the season, which I used to get asked questions, ‘what are you doing different this year that you didn't do last year when you didn't get turnovers?' We did the same things then that we do now and we got turnovers. We are doing the same things now that we did in the first part of the season and we are not getting turnovers. We continue to emphasize it, taking care of the ball, we have also put the ball on the ground more in the last couple of games – so a combination of both of those things. Getting the turnovers is really critical and something that we want to continue to work on and emphasize, and ball security on offense is also critical because turnover ratio is paramount in being successful. I think it is one of the leading stats in winning and losing and we haven't done ourselves any favors in the last couple of games."
On if Coach Saban enjoys this week:
"I enjoy coaching. I enjoy the challenges. I enjoy working with the players trying to prepare them. I look forward to the opportunity that we have created for ourselves. It's what great competitors or people that like to compete really enjoy doing. That's what you work for – to have an opportunity to win a division, win a big rivalry game, whatever the emphasis might be – that's what we work for, that is what's fun. I think that from coach's prospective we need to be positive and energetic about the fact that we have this opportunity. We can't as coaches get all up tight and expect the players not to get all up tight. We need to approach this in a positive way, we need to coach and teach them to have the best opportunity they can to be successful in the game and do that in a positive way. Focus on what they are trying to create for themselves, not what they might lose. That's going to be the approach that we take, it's always the approach that we take and hopefully our players will respond to it the right way."
On AJ McCarron's rebound after two sub-par SEC games:
"I think that we have not thrown the ball as well in the last couple of games – I'm not talking about AJ, I'm talking about as a team. I think some of it is contributed to the fact that we haven't had a lot of continuity at wide receiver, we have guys playing different positions. Amari Cooper was out at the LSU game and Kevin Norwood was out the last game. We just have had a lot of different circumstances going on and I think it's important for guys to be able to go out and work together and sort of have an anticipation and expectation when you have to make quick decisions, process information quickly, people have to be where you expect them to be. You have to do a fundamentally good job of setting your feet and getting into the throws so that you are accurate in what you are doing. I think it is a combination of things. I don't think it's anything about AJ. I'm sure that he would be the first to tell you that ‘hey, there are things that I can do better in each one of those games,' and that is what we want to try and focus on – to try to improve and get a little bit better execution in that part of what we do."
On T.J. Yeldon's season so far:
"T.J. has played extremely well for us at times. I think he has been very mature about the role that he has – the way he has managed it and handled it as a young player. He has done a really good job for our team, for the most part. Again, we talked about ball security, that's for every player on offense and I think there's fundamental things we can try to do to improve that. I think when every player does that it gives them the best chance to take care of the ball. We have been extremely pleased with what T.J. has done consistently throughout the year, as well as his production and consistency game in and game out. We're happy with where he is, and hopefully he will have a great game this Saturday."
On the potential distractions of this week:
"There are distractions all the time. A lot of things I tried to talk about at the beginning are the distractions. There are a lot of stuff that goes on in the media that can be a distraction if you allow it to be. I don't mean that in a negative way, you all are doing your job and we appreciate the job that you do. As a competitor, if you sit there and listen and watch it's all about making predictions and all that kind of stuff about what's going to happen. We want to be process oriented, not outcome oriented and stay focused on that and not get involved in all that stuff. I think there is a lot of distractions in every game, probably the bigger the game the more the distractions, but I also think that the maturity of the players to understand what they need to focus on to play well is the most important thing to get them to try to do – which is what we try to do. I don't think that it would be any different regardless of where we were playing this game, it's a big game, and it's a rivalry game. Wherever we play it, there is the potential for distraction. It's Thanksgiving week, so that is something that players should have the opportunity to, if they can, spend a little time with their family and give thanks for all the things that we have and have gratitude for the opportunities that we have. You could say ‘is that a distraction?' It's how you manage it and it takes a lot of maturity to manage it the right way."
On Nico Johnson:
"Nico is really one of the leaders of our team. I think he really cares about the team, he loves to play football, and he's a good competitor. It's important to him to play well; he has a lot of pride in what he does. He always goes about it the right way. He is doing everything he can do and he is doing everything he can do to affect other people in a positive way. We appreciate the leadership; I appreciate the commitment on his part to try to be all that he can be to help the team. He's never showed a negative attitude or complained in any way, shape or form about his circumstance. He has always been the consummate team guy and we appreciate it and I think a lot of players on the team appreciate it."
Alabama Player Quotes
#42 Eddie Lacy, Running Back
On if he was watching TV Saturday Night:
"No, actually I wasn't, again. I found out from my brothers and social media networks, which kind of blew up."
On his reaction:
"We needed it, but it's not something we need to focus on at the moment."
How much of that is from Saban's mentality to not look ahead and just focus on the present:
"I mean you just have to focus on what you have in front of you right now. If you don't, then most likely the opportunity you may have, you may not be able to get to them because you're thinking ahead and not on what you need to accomplish."
On the environment on Sunday and if the veterans had to calm people down:
"Everybody was pretty cool about it. Coach talked and said what he had to say and as a team we bought into it. We just have to continue to believe in it and work."
On how practicing against Alabama linebackers helps him against the competition:
"It helps us offensively because every team we play, our defense runs those blitzes or those stunts and it gives us an advantage. How physical our linebackers and defense plays also gives us an advantage."
#65 Chance Warmack, Offensive Guard
On if he understood the Alabama-Auburn rivalry before coming to Alabama:
"I came here on my official visit, and you already know who is a rival. You know who plays at the end of each season and how big of a deal it is to everybody, the players, the fans and the coaches. It's a big deal for everyone, and it is an exciting thing to be a part of."
On what it was like to come to the Iron Bowl game as a recruit:
"It was an amazing feeling. One of the reasons that I actually came here was because of my official visit. There is a family environment here. It's more of a family than a football program. They have a lot to offer in terms of you get along with your life."
On if he watched the games on Saturday night:
"Actually I did. I was in my dorm room. I had just woken up and someone told me to watch the television. I turned it on and watched a little bit. At the same time, you can't really control what happens. You have to stay focused on the task at hand, which is Auburn and that's what we are focused on."
#32 C.J. Mosley, Linebacker
On the 2010 Iron Bowl:
"The excitement of the crowd really struck me. I had played through the whole season, but when they came it was just electrifying. When we got up, everyone was all happy but at the end that's one thing that we learned around here about finishing and the ‘never again' motto. That was a big step for us, and we just need to make sure that doesn't happen if we get that chance again."
On having 23 takeaways in the first eight games and only having one in the last three:
"We are still trying our best to get to the ball. Some teams have changed up the way that they play. The last couple of weeks we have played against a couple fast paced teams. This week we got one fumble recovery, but at the end of the day we have to get off the field on third down and give the offense the ball back."
On if the defense gets excited when they get to play against a freshman quarterback:
"Not really. He is going to prepare just like we are going to prepare. We just have to do our job because it is about what we do and how we prepare for the game. We are going to prepare as if it was a fifth-year senior starting for them so we are not really worried about that."
On if the team pays attention to what Auburn does during the season or only during Iron Bowl week:
"Mainly this week. We just try to focus on every week and each game that we are playing. We just do our best and scout the team and try to come out with the win."
INFORMATION SOURCE: University of Alabama Athletics