This is a transcript of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and several players from Monday's press conference leading up to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday.
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban
"I was really pleased with the way our players responded and competed in the last game. We talked about how this time of the year you are playing your best football and your team is continuing to improve. Good preparation is always probably a key to that improvement. That's what is going to be a necessary part of our focus moving forward here. This game is a great opportunity for our players, which they've created for themselves. As a coach, as any coach and as a staff, we want to do the best job that we can to prepare our team, so we can give them the best opportunity to be successful. It's no different than last week or any other game that we've played all year. We had some outstanding performances last week. Amari Cooper, Barrett Jones, who was recognized by the SEC, Eddie Lacy, AJ McCarron on offense. Robert Lester, who was honorable mention recognized by the SEC, Jeoffrey Pagan. Special teams: Landon Collins and Reggie Ragland. From an injury standpoint, Kenny Bell had surgery, which is the best way to actually fix the issue with his leg. We will evaluate moving forward, probably five or six weeks from now, where he is. It's going to be a medical decision that our doctors have to make. We have a couple other guys that may not be able to practice today, but we expect we will be ok as the week progresses. It's a real opportunity for our players. The SEC Championship game is a great competitive venue. Obviously, two really good teams. Georgia has an outstanding team. They have great balance. They score a lot of points on offense; have a really good quarterback, a good running game. They have a couple of really good skilled guys outside, two really good freshman runners. Aaron Murray does a great job of putting them in the right plays and making all the plays that he needs to make to help them. Todd Gurley has been a fantastic runner for them all year long. They are very productive on offense. Their defense is one of the highest ranked defenses in the country for a lot of reasons. They have a lot good players. They do a really good job of coaching them and getting them in the right spots. Jarvis Jones and a couple of these other guys are really outstanding players and have had a really good year. It's a very well coached team. Mark Richt is one of the most consistent relative to having a good program. His consistency defines success really for the number of good teams that he's had and the great job that he's done. Through the years, Georgia has always been one of the most difficult teams to prepare for and play against. This is a great opportunity for our players, and we are certainly looking forward to helping them and trying to put them in the right places to prepare well and to play our best football game."
On Kirby Smart's communication:
"Kirby has been with us for a long time. It's always good to have somebody with you on your staff that thinks like you and you can trust in. It's one thing to be able to help in the planning of what you are going to do. It's a whole other set of circumstances to be able to implement that plan when it comes to the game. I think that is something Kirby does a really good job of. He understands the system through and through. He knows how to make adjustments. That's one thing about defense in this day and age. If you play a system, we see so many different things in terms of what we have to defend, you really know how to adapt and adjust what you have systematically, and that's what's been good for us and that's what Kirby has done a really good job of. We communicate a lot during the game, but he certainly does a good job of making adjustments. We speak the same language and have been on the same page for a long time. I have total faith, trust and confidence in what he's doing during the game in terms of calling the game as well as making adjustments."
On scouting Georgia when they haven't already seen them:
"I think it depends on the team. We've played against Mark Richt coached teams before. They've played against us before. Even though it is different and they do have different players, philosophically, it's not like they are completely different than what you played against before. I'm sure they would say the same thing about us. We don't change defenses every week and they don't change defenses every week. They don't change offense. They kind of do what they do and do a good job of executing it. That's why they are good. They execute what they do well whether it is how their offensive line blocks or how they creating the efficiency they have in the passing game. It's the same thing with their defensive players. They put them in the right places. They have good players. They play well. It's not like this is something that we've never seen before. Sometimes when you play a new opponent that you have never played before and it's a new staff, it's a little bit different. You don't have the same history to call on. I don't know that it's that much different to be honest with you."
On AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray being the benchmark in passing efficiency:
"I think passing efficiency sums it all up. It means the guy is making good choices and decisions. He has to be fairly accurate with the ball. He's not throwing it to the wrong guys, and he's creating a lot of positive plays with his consistency, completion percentage, relative to eliminating the negative plays. These two guys have done it as well as anybody in our league, maybe as well as anybody in the country."
On dealing with Jarvis Jones:
"He's a very good player. You certainly have to have a plan to try and help the players that have to block him, so hopefully he can't just get in one on one situation where it's a difficult circumstance for somebody. That's part of the planning that you need to do. There have been games this year where he has made a phenomenal amount of plays, like sacks causing fumbles. The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his playmaking ability. He's a really good rusher. He's physical. He's instinctive. He's a really good player."
On comparing Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard:
"You obviously haven't been around here long, but I don't compare players. I don't think it's fair to the players. Both those guys in their own right do a good job for their team and both have made a number of plays. Jarvis is really, really good at what he does and what they ask him to do. Adrian has done a really good job for us in terms of what we have asked him to do."
On Coach Saban's policy on fielding phone calls regarding opening coaching jobs for his assistants:
"Well no one has called, but if they do I always talk to the person and let them know that someone has expressed interest in them. We want our assistant coaches to be able to fulfill the goals and aspirations that they have, which the reason they do a good job for you is so that they can create an opportunity for themselves to be a head coach, unless someone doesn't want to be a head coach. I was that way when I was an assistant, and that's really what I want people to want to have a goal and an aspiration and work hard to achieve it and accomplish it. I'm always in a position to try to help them do what they would like to do. I think there is a balance between being able to do that and not being able to affect and not affecting the chances and opportunities that we have as a team relative to what we are trying to do right now. I think that most of the guys that I have had to deal with in the past have been very professional about that and they have been able to stay focused on what's important for us to do what we need to do right now, in terms of what we are doing. I think that's the professionalism that anyone wants to show for the players. These games are about the players, so we want to do the best job that we can for the players. I think it's not that difficult from a time standpoint and a timing standpoint to be able to manage both things."
On if T.J. Yeldon was at 100 percent in the Auburn game:
"Yeah I think he was at 100 percent. He practiced all week, and I think guys at this time of the year are a little banged and bruised, especially running backs, but he practiced all week. He had a little sprained foot, but he was able to work through it. He's a tough guy and we just hope we continue to get better and play well this week."
On Alabama's running game effectively neutralizing Georgia's pass rush:
"I think that the more important thing is not creating situations because you have balance and you can run the ball effectively, as well as be able to pass it effectively where you don't create the down and distance situations where everybody can pin their ears back and come on, which is really a lot of third and five plus situations. That's where guys that are really good pass rushers can take advantage of the situation that you are in. We have to have a plan for that, but we also have to have a plan on all the other downs, so we are not constantly creating those circumstances and situations by the balance that we play with on the downs previous to that."
On Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham:
"I think that Todd is one of the very best assistants that we have had, on any of our staffs. He did a fantastic job for us at Michigan State. The players like him. He's energetic, he's enthusiastic, he is very knowledgeable. He has done everything a guy can do in this profession to learn and grow. He has been in the NFL, in college, he is now a coordinator, and has done a fantastic job at Georgia. They have gotten better and better on defense, and he does a good job with the players and they reflect his personality. There are also very sound and well-coached in what they do, which is also a reflection of the kind of coach that he is."
On Georgia's two tailback system and the problem that poses:
"Especially if the styles are different, and their style is a little different, Todd is a little bit like our guys. He is big, physical, he can inside or outside, can make you miss. He also has power. Their second guy is a very good back in all those regards, but he is a very fast guy, so there is a little change of pace there that the players have to be aware of. You definitely need to be able to make sure that you keep better leverage. You always have to keep good leverage on the runner, but I think when you have guys that have great speed, you have to really be conscious of that."
On which wide receiver has to step up after Kenny Bell's injury and if this is the deepest receiver corps that Saban has had at Alabama:
"This is the third guy at that position that we have lost. Fortunately one of those guys [Chris Black] that we lost is now ready to come back. He has been practicing for three weeks, and now he has been cleared. We are going to try to give him some reps because we are getting down to where we only have five guys that have much experience at the position. We still feel good about the guys that we have. We just need to get more guys ready to play so they can complement each other. You like to be able to roll guys in and out at that position. Guys get a little winded at times, especially when you run a lot of deep routes and when you go two minute or something. We definitely need to get more guys ready to play. It's going to create an opportunity for other people and hopefully they will step up and take advantage of it."
On how big it is for the program for Alabama to be back in the SEC Championship:
"It's a great game to be a part of. It's a great competitive venue. For all intents and purposes, every time we have been in it, since I've been here, this is a playoff game. The two years we played Florida we were No. 1 and No. 2. I don't know who was 1 or who was 2, but we were 1 and 2. Now you have 2 and 3 playing, which is a great competitive venue. They have certainly earned the right to be there, with their accomplishments and their full body of work. Our team has done the same thing, so it's the kind of game that players should love to play in, and we are looking forward to it. I think it's good for every part of the game, but it's also better when you have success in the game and that's what our focus needs to be on the entire week with everybody in the organization."
On Brandon Ivory's injury:
"He is one of the guys that we are hopeful on. He had a twisted ankle, now it's a different ankle, but we are hopeful after a day or two he will be able to get back out there and practice. It's not as bad as the last one, and we certainly can use him. He has played well for us. We are hopeful that he will be back in a day or two."
#42 Eddie Lacy, RB
On Georgia's defense:
"Defensively they are talented. They play physically just like our defense. I think that is what gives them the momentum that they have. Coming into this game we know that it will be a hard fought game. They are going to play for 60 minutes so we are going to have to come out and play 60 minutes as well."
On if he prefers to play stronger defenses:
"As a competitor yes you want to play in a game that they are not only going to challenge you but the other guys that are playing with you. From a competitor standpoint this is the kind of game that we like to play."
On ball security:
"Coach Burns does a great job in the individual part of practice going through ball security drills. Nobody wants to turn the ball over. Sometimes it happens and sometimes there are some that are worse than others. If we are on the goal line, ball security is going to be on your mind. You just have to keep it high and tight and know that if they don't tackle you they are going to try and rip the ball out, so we have to protect it."
On the familiarity with a defense so similar to Alabama's:
"They run the same defense as us, so going into it we know what the d-line and the linebackers are going to do. I don't want to say it gives us an advantage but it is something that we have been seeing every day when we hit the practice field. I think that helps out a lot."
On the difference in pressure from last year:
"There is a lot more pressure, but that is what we like. You come to Alabama to be in situations like this and play in games like this. I know that we are going to get ready for the game."
#32 C.J. Mosley, LB
On his injury last year:
"After the injury happened I had some doubts, but when they got me in the doctor and they told me what was going to happen as far as surgery and being able to come back, I was fortunate enough to have a blessed season. I didn't miss any practice in spring ball or summer ball. I am very happy and very fortunate."
On the SEC Championship:
"For me it is my first go-around and I am very excited to be in it. The seniors and juniors have already played in an SEC Championship and they will know what to expect. Their experience and leadership will guide us."
How his role has changed from last year:
"Really I am just more vocal. It has been a fun experience for me. I have been able to talk more and talk to the freshmen. We are going to keep getting better. I am a quiet guy who doesn't talk too much, on the football field it comes natural, but in meetings and off the field I have had to step up."
#65 Chance Warmack, OL
On the balance of the game:
"You always want to be balanced as a team, passing and running. You always want to be a two dimensional team, you never want to be one dimensional so the defense has to stay alert."
On Jarvis Jones:
"I have been hearing about him all season. I hear that he is an excellent pass rusher. I have watched him a few times on TV and he is a tremendous athlete. I am excited to play him. Football is a team sport. One person can't win the game. We are looking at the defense as a whole; they have tremendous athletes who can make good plays. We will get into it more as we watch film. Looking at the teams they have played this season they have done a good job."
On Georgia's improvement since the Florida game:
"They are a good team in every aspect that is why they are where they are right now. They play a physical game of football and you have to respect that as an opponent and you look for that in a game. I would not expect any less."
On the significance of this game:
"I would be lying if I said this game was not special. Our offensive line coach played for Georgia back in the day. I am from Atlanta. It will be exciting to play a team that you have grown up hearing about."
#83 Kevin Norwood, WR
On his thoughts on the Auburn game:
"We came out, we did our best, and we played hard. We connected on the offense very well, and the defense pitched another shutout game, so it was great for us the whole weekend."
On how the offense and defense clicked:
"It felt good. All week we have been, well ever since we lost to Texas A&M, we kind of recommitted ourselves to excellence, playing Bama football and stuff like that. We just had a great week of practice, great week of preparation, and we just came out and did our job."
On the offense:
"We were clicking on all cylinders. It is fun to click on all cylinders because we get the ball moving, put points on the board and keep the defense on the sideline, and let them rest their bodies up for the next series. It's going to be a tough one come this weekend because we have Georgia, and we know that they are going to have a physical defense. They are going to play physical, so it's up to us as an offensive group to move the ball and keep our defense on the sideline."
On leadership as the most experienced wide receiver on the team:
"They are definitely going to have to step up. Amari Cooper and Christion Jones have been doing a good job all season, great job at that. They are young, so the main thing they have to do is keep their head straight and stay focused at the task at hand and not worry about anything else. As the leader of this receiving corps, it's up to me to stay healthy also and make sure that the receivers are doing their jobs and make sure we are communicating throughout the week and staying focused. We need to make sure we go in the film room and make sure we are preparing right."
On the mindset going into the SEC Championship game
"We have always just stayed focused on what we have to do and prepare each week, day in and day out for each team and stuff like that. We really couldn't control what was going on outside of our control. We were only able to control what we could control. It feels great to be able to play in the SEC Championship again. My freshman year I wasn't able to play. I wanted to. I was on the sideline, and I wanted to play. Now I actually get the opportunity, and I'm going to take full advantage of it."
#35 Nico Johnson, LB
On the importance of putting pressure on Aaron Murray:
"It's going to be very important. If we let him sit back in the pocket, he can hurt you. It has shown all year. We are going to have to make him less comfortable in the pocket. That's one of our goals going into every game is affect the quarterback the best way you can, and that's what we are going to have to do."
On Kirby Smart's influence during the game:
"He sees things that we don't see. He sees things that happen before they even happen. Every time we come off the field, we are correcting things from the last series or things he thinks is going to happen the next series. He is Coach Smart; he is here for a reason. He just tries to make us understand where he feels like we are vulnerable at during the game, and he is going to make the right call to put us in the best situation to make a play."
On what he may have dedicated his season to:
"When I lost my mom, it was kind of difficult. I didn't know which way to turn. It just had me stuck for a minute. Coach (Scott) Cochran, thank God, he got me through that time. Every year, every time I go out on the practice field or the field, it's for her. She's the one who kept me motivated. She's the one who wanted me to get my degree and play my best no matter what the adversity or circumstance, so every time I go out, I try to give my best because you never know what can happen. You never know when my last football game is going to be, so I try to give my best week in, week out."
#37 Robert Lester, DB
On shutting out Auburn and his last game in Bryant-Denny Stadium:
"Anytime you keep an opponent off the board is great. To have as many young players as we did play to buy into what was going on and to go out there and actually contribute as much as the older guys and the seniors. It's fabulous to have the accomplished."
On the meaning of the SEC Championship game:
"Last year, we missed out on getting the chance to play in the SEC Championship. I think it's a huge stage to showcase your talent and going against a great opponent such as Georgia, it's going to be a great game to play in."
On preparation for Aaron Murray:
"That's exactly why Coach Saban makes us go ones against the ones. We see a great quarterback every day at practice. We are getting ready to face a great quarterback. I think AJ simulates a great quarterback for us for the game."
On thoughts about Aaron Murray:
"He's a great athlete, and he manages the games well. He knows exactly what to do with the ball when he is in pressure, and he has a great talent corps around him to distribute the ball."
INFORMATION SOURCE: University of Alabama Athletics Dept.