Saban talks Duke, looks ahead to Arkansas

Nick Saban
Nick Saban

Opening Statement:
"I was really pleased with the way our players competed in the game this past weekend, against Duke. I thought it sort of presented a challenge to them to have an attitude to try to dominate and play to a standard and I really felt like, especially offensively, they did that for 60 minutes in the game. The first four scoring drives all turned out to be touchdowns, and I thought we really set the tempo early in the game and did a nice job.

Defensively, we played okay in the game in the first, third and fourth quarters, however, they seemed to lose it a little in the second quarter in terms of focus. They made some mental errors, didn't play with quite the same intensity, couldn't get off the field on third downs at times, so those things we need to get corrected. We did make some plays on special teams, which was a real positive and something I think we need to build on.

This is sort of a new season, when you start playing in the SEC. This is a very good football team. Coach Bobby Petrino has done a very good job there and their quarterback is obviously one of the leaders in the nation in passing and their defense is in the Top 10 in a lot of different categories. They have a really good punt returner. They also have a really good punter and there are a lot of players on this team that are extremely effective. I think they have three receivers in the Top 10 in the conference in terms of receiving yards per game and that type of thing so they have some players that can make plays and they have a quarterback that does a really good job at executing their offense.

I think our team will find that you really are only as strong as your weakest link, and I think everyone has got to fight a better fight against better competition. I think that's the challenge for everyone in terms of doing their job. That quote about you are only as strong as your weakest link is usually talking about teams, but really you can say that about yourself. You're only as strong as your weakest link so if you have a weakness you need to work on it, improve, get better at it, so you have a chance to get better. That should be everybody's challenge here. On the road it is going to be a real critical test for our ability to overcome adversity and stay focused on the task at hand against a really good football team.

Luther Davis is the only guy that may not be 100 percent in practice today with an ankle and a sprained knee. He should be okay by tomorrow. 

On Arkansas' receiving corps:
"I think that we have to do what we do extremely well, and we're obviously going to have to do it better than we've done it all season long, in terms of our ability to cover, run force and play the gaps up front to stop the run.  They have a very good play-action game and hit a lot of big plays on those types of things so it's going to be very challenging to execute what we do, but they do have lots of weapons and I think everybody is going to have to do a really good job of executing for us to be able to slow them down. It's going to be critical for our entire team to contribute in terms of how we control the ball, as well as how we play on special teams.  These guys (Arkansas) are very good in punt return. They've done a very good job on special teams. We've got to control the vertical field position, play well on defense, play well on offense, take care of the football both ways and all those things are going to contribute to successfully playing an offensive team like this." 

On a report surfacing today that the NFL Players Association is going to require agents to cooperate fully with NCAA investigations and whether or not the rule came out of meetings between him (Saban), other college coaches, the NCAA and the NFL:
"I don't really know the answers to all those questions.  I do think it's a step in the right direction.  I think it shows that there is some unified effort with the NCAA, the coaches association, the NFLPA and the NFL to try to create some solutions to something that has become a problem.  Anytime you have this many good players suspended for two to four or however many games, it's not good for college football, it's not good for pro football, it's not good for the players, and it's not really good for anything.  It is a step in the right direction and hopefully we'll continue to work to have a good group of people putting their heads together to try to figure out other ways that we can come up with even better solutions." 

On Arkansas loading the box last year to stop the run and Alabama throwing the ball effectively as a result:
"I think that was one of the things that was a goal of ours in the offseason was when teams tried to do that, we were going to have to create more balance in what we did to try to be more difficult to defend so that they couldn't put more guys in the box than we could block.  I think that's something that we've tried to do in each of our games this year so far is to create balance and make explosive plays in other ways.  I think regardless of what their defense tries to do, we have to try to take advantage of what they give us and be able to execute that.  If it's running it, we have to run it.  If it's throwing it, we have to throw it, and I think that's something we've done a fairly good job of so far this year." 

On how the absence of someone as physically imposing as Terrence Cody affects the play of Alabama's linebackers:
"We have not played the run, in my opinion, as well as what I think we're capable of, nor as well as we need to.  We haven't played it poorly, but it's not just one guy and it's not just one spot, it's linebacker fits on the runs – now is it easier to fit the runs when you have guys up front that they have to take two guys to block for a long time?  I don't think there is any doubt about that and you can defend things a little bit differently.  The run support hasn't been what it needs to be on the perimeter at times.  We've got to become a better tackling team.  That does have an impact, but I think the guys we have here are very capable of doing what they need to do to play gap control.  We've just got to do it the right way.  What I was disappointed in a little bit in the last game was we didn't play the techniques the way we need to play them, and I think when you break down fundamentally that's when you have bigger issues and problems and I think that's something we want to work to get corrected this week.  

On his relationship with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who suffered a heart attack on Saturday:
"First of all, I haven't talked to him.  I've tried to get in touch with him but it's been a little difficult, but our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.  He did a fantastic job for us a long time – five years at Michigan State and has been a very good coach everywhere he has been. He's done a great job at Michigan State and had a great win against Notre Dame.  The one thing that I remember is he was always in a hell of a lot better shape than I was so that's kind of a wake-up call to me to make sure I'm doing the right things and taking care of myself.  It was really kind of a shock because he was so into physical fitness, good health, and good conditioning all the time.  Hopefully this will resolve and in a few weeks he'll be back to normal and won't have any future issues." 

On whether Julio Jones was one of the players with a stomach bug on Saturday or if something else was wrong with him:
"No, not really.  I think he got the wind knocked out of him or maybe his ribs bruised, or whatever but nothing that was significant that he couldn't have played with or continue to play with.  I didn't feel like it was necessary to put him out there anymore at a certain point, but it wasn't really due to any injury."

On Will Lowery going from scout team to an on-field contributor:
"Will has done a really good job of – I think there are some guys on your team that just have the capabilities of being responsible to do a job.  They love to play, they play hard but they play smart, they do the right things and they try to do it the way they're coached to do it.  I think in putting all those things together you come up with a pretty efficient player that does his job on a pretty consistent basis, and that's what Will has done.  We knew that he had the chance to be a guy athletically that could contribute.  I think the circumstance in the secondary with so many guys leaving last year and so many new guys coming in sort of put him in a position where he could get a lot of repetitions and he certainly took advantage of his opportunity and had done a really good job for us to this point." 

On what the defense was able to do last year to limit Ryan Mallet's effectiveness:
"Well I don't think what happened last year will have anything to do with what happens this  year.  First of all, I think we had a pretty good defensive team last year and made some plays in the game when we needed to make them.  I think it will be a totally different challenge.  I think they've got nine starters back on offense so they're better in terms of their consistency and execution.  I think he's more comfortable in what he's doing and what he's expected to do, not that he wasn't a very good player last year, he certainly was.  I think Bobby (Petrino) does a great job with him in terms of game plan, schemes and getting him in the right things so this will be a real challenge for this team this year, but also an opportunity for them to learn, grow, develop and try to get better."

On Damion Square and Dont'a Hightower since coming back from injuries that occurred around this time last season:
"I think both guys have played extremely well.  They don't seem to have any issues or problems with their injuries and they haven't had for quite some time.  It was a long time ago when those injuries happened, but we're pleased with the progress that both guys are making and how they're contributing to our team.  Hopefully they'll both continue to improve and get better and better each week." 

On Wesley Neighbors getting more playing time:
"Wesley is another one of those guys that is sort of full-metal jacket all the time in terms of his effort and toughness, and he's very smart and intelligent.  He's just really become one of those core special teams guys for us and was really playing well early.  He had a little knee injury similar to what Mark (Ingram) had in terms of a scope so he didn't get to play early on because of that.  He's a guy that we really think is knowledgeable in terms of what he needs to do in the secondary as a backup, but also is a guy that has been a real solid contributor on special teams and played very well in the last game on special teams." 

On Mark Ingram's performance in the game against Duke:
"Well we just wanted him to play.  He got hit, he played and he played the number of plays that we had prescribed. We were going to play him in the game regardless of the circumstance in the game, and I think he just about played that number of plays within two or three, which is what we wanted to do.  This week we're going to continue to build his workload daily, start off where we left off last week and just continue to increase his reps and hopefully we'll not create a setback for him so that he can play more and more and more each game as we go down the road.  We were pleased with his performance.  I thought he did a really good job and hopefully we'll just keep taking another step to continue to increase and improve his role with our team."


#12 Greg McElroy Quarterback

On the importance of having a veteran offense when going into a hostile environment:

"I think we are really confident. The fact that we have played in adverse environments before obviously really encourages us. We were able to pull out victories at Auburn and in the Georgia Dome twice, as well as Pasadena (last season). Even though some of those are neutral, they are still impactful in the sense that you have to use silent counts and things like that. I think everyone is a little more confident in the fact that we have played big games on the road before and come away victorious." 

On pointers he gives the younger players when going on the road:

"Everybody handles road games differently. I am happy we had a road game this past week, although it was relatively neutral as far as the amount of fans there. Just playing in a place you are not used to gets you out of your comfort zone a little bit, from sleeping in different beds to dressing in different locker rooms. All of those things kind of contribute. The fact that we were able to get out of our comfort zone should help us out down the road and obviously prepare us for this week against Arkansas." 

On the importance of the offense being productive to help out the defense this week:

"It is important, but I don't think it is any more important than it is every other week. The defense has come so far. They really did a good job last week. Duke made a couple of plays on them. They went no huddle, which was a little difficult for those guys, especially communicating on the run like that. They have done a great job, and we have a lot of confidence in those guys. They all realize that they are no longer rookies after playing in three games. They need to step up and become veterans, and I think this is their time to do so. I think they are looking forward to taking advantage of that opportunity." 

On having the mindset of wanting to be the dominant team in the SEC:

"That is an important mindset for us to have simply because we want to leave no doubt every time we step out on the field. Coach (Saban) has made that clear many times. We want to be a dominant team in the SEC, and I think having that mindset and wanting to be dominant allows us to approach each game with a focused mentality, regardless of our opponent. It allows us to focus into the fourth quarter. For example, against Duke we were up pretty big at halftime, but we still came out that next series and wanted to dominate, and we got points in the first series of the second half. We continued to do so and won the fourth quarter, which are things we like to pride ourselves in. Some people might use being dominant as bulletin board material, but that is our mindset, and it has been pretty successful for us up to this point." 

On the preseason hype Arkansas received:

"They garnered a lot of respect from the media for a good reason. They are a good team. They had a great team last year. Their offense is very capable of scoring points, which is a great asset to have in the SEC, where usually games are won and lost by a thin margin, so being able to be as explosive as they are makes things difficult for a lot of SEC teams. Their defense has come a long way. They are a little bit more sound as far as the gaps that they play. They do a good job of mixing things up. Going back to 2008, they played a lot of man-to-man coverage, but this year they are really mixing it up. They have a few more tricks in their bag, and they are throwing them at teams. They did a great job against Georgia. Their new additions as far as personnel and defensive schemes are really helping them out a lot."

On a comparison between himself and Ryan Mallett:

"I think Ryan is asked to do a little bit more. From a repetition standpoint, he throws the ball upwards of around 45 or 50 times a game. He puts up huge numbers. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of weapons at my disposal. The fact that we do have such a capable running game means I am not asked to do as much. He is a great player and has had a lot of success. He has had a great year up to this point." 

#22 RB Mark Ingram
On whether Georgia's success running the ball against Arkansas encourages him:
"It's something that we're going to check out on film. I know their defense is strong. They were strong last year. We had a little trouble running the ball on them last year. Their defense has a lot more experience, and they are playing a lot faster, so it will definitely be a challenge for us."

On how it felt to get back on the field:
"I was ready physically and mentally. I wasn't going to go out there if I had any doubt in my mind that I wasn't going to be able to play like I usually do. I was excited because it hurt me being on the sideline and not being able to contribute those first two games. I was excited, and I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there again."

On getting back in the huddle and being a contributing in the game:
"It's something that you take for granted every single day, being in the huddle with those guys. You don't really have a great appreciation for it until you can't really do it anymore. It was something that I was definitely looking forward to and I cherished on Saturday. I'm definitely looking forward to practice and preparing for Arkansas with the rest of the team."

On how important leadership is heading into the first SEC road game:
"It's a big thing, because we have to have everybody's mind right. Everybody has to work hard. Just being able to show up isn't going to get us a victory; we're going to have to work hard. They're not going to give us anything. We're going to have to earn everything we do on Saturday. We're just going to work hard on our game plan this week, practice hard and give ourselves the best chance to go out there and compete Saturday."

On the environment in Fayetteville:
"It's going to be loud. It is going to be a hostile environment. They are going to be really rowdy and anxious for us to get up there, so I know the fans are going to be real crazy and real loud. We're just going to have to be more focused on what we are doing, communicating very well, because it is going to be loud. We're going to have to pay close attention to detail in practice this week, doing silent counts and things like that so we can have good communication in that loud environment."

On the importance of Coach Saban's philosophy of dominating the opponent:
"It is very important because every Saturday when we get off the field, we want the other team to have the mindset that they never want to play us again, that they never want to put us on their schedule again. We want to go out there and dominate every single opponent. That's what we thrive on around here, and that's what we take pride in." 

#75 RG Barrett Jones
On having Mark Ingram back last week:
"It was a great feeling. It's a great feeling to know that we have our stable back and they are all accounted for. I love blocking for Mark. He's a great player and it's great to have him back."

On whether Ingram exceeded his expectations in his first game back:
"I've learned not to put low expectations on Mark. He never ceases to amaze you. He comes out of Michigan, with no one really knowing who he is and he turns out to be an absolute stud. Mark is a guy that you can never really set expectations on because he'll always exceed them. It's real special to have him back, and I'm looking forward to blocking for him the rest of the year."

 On whether Arkansas' preseason hype gives them more incentive this week:
"We try to come into every week the same. Just try to come in with the mindset of dominating our opponents and that is our goal this week, as it is every week. We know they are a great team, and we are in SEC play now and there is no secret that the SEC is the best conference in America, so we have to step up our game a little bit."

On the excitement for starting SEC play this week:
"This is what you come to Alabama for, to play big games on the road against Arkansas in a hostile environment. We're really looking forward to it."

On if the offense has been challenged yet or if things have been easy so far:
"It's definitely not easy. We have to work for every yard that we get, and I think that we have put in the work thus far that it takes to be a good offense, but we have to continue to do that. We have a long way to go to achieve the goals that we've set for this offense. We know that we have a lot of potential, so we're really looking forward in trying to fill our potential." 

#5 LB Jerrell Harris

On the challenge of opening SEC play on the road against a ranked team:

"It is going to be our biggest challenge yet, going on the road to face one of the top SEC teams. We will be playing against one of the top quarterbacks as well." 

On the challenge of facing the Arkansas offense:

"It is going to be a big challenge for us. They have a great quarterback. He is big and has a strong arm. They also have some good receivers with good hands. We are going to have to step our game up to the next level." 

On Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett's ability to pick up blitzes:

"I think he has gotten better. Maybe he is doing a little bit better job of scouting them as well. He is a good quarterback. He is very tall in the pocket, so he just tries to stay in the pocket and pick the defense apart."

On his role this week:

"It will be just wherever the coaches want to put me at. I am just trying to get better every week and learn as much as I can." 

On the step up in competition this week:

"It is really a big step up for us. The defense as a whole really has to step up and play hard." 

On how he would grade the defense so far this season:

"I would grade us fairly well right now, but we have a lot of improvements that we still have to work on. We need to get better in practice. We are a young defense, so we are learning as we go. Everybody needs to improve and step up their game." 

On if the defense feels less pressure with the offense scoring so many points:

"It really helps us out because it keeps us off the field. It keeps us fresh, so when we do go in, we can play for a long time." 

On if the defense is frustrated by the low number of sacks recorded so far:

"Yeah, but that will hopefully come as the season goes along. A lot of teams have been trying to get the ball out quicker so far this year."

#92 Damion Square, Defensive End
On his performance last Saturday against Duke:
"You go out there and try to perform at your best. Mistakes are going to happen in the game of football, but you try to go out there and perform the best that you can, come back in the film room and watch your mistakes, and clean them up on Monday."

On the defense possibly holding back the past few weeks:
"The coaches put together our game plan according to what the (opposing) offense is running, so they run whatever they feel like needs to be ran to sustain the defense and win football games. Whatever needs to be done."

On the excitement of facing a quarterback like Ryan Mallett:
"We know we are going to face a great quarterback who is going to go out and try to execute his offense to the best of his abilities. That gives me excitement as a pass rusher."

On how the offense has taken pressure off the defense this year:
"Those guys on the offensive side of the football have been an incredible. The way they move the ball, they can score fast or they can put together a long drive to take up the whole quarter, so as a defensive player that is big. To know that you can make stops in a game and the offense is going to have a chance put up points every time you get a stop, that is important."

#8 Julio Jones, Wide Receiver
On the challenge of stepping up on offense with the hype surrounding the Arkansas offense:
"Every week is a challenge for us. You go out and try to top last week's performance, so it is always a challenge."

On Greg McElroy's improvement from this time last year to now:
"We (as receivers) communicate better with Greg this year, more so than last year, with timing and everything. Everybody is on the same page now."

On Darius Hanks and other receivers stepping up this season:
"It's big (for those guys to step up). From (Darius) Hanks to (Marquis) Maze to the running game we have. They can't double team me and if they do that leaves other guys one-on-one so they can step up and make a play."

On whether he expected Mark Ingram to have such a big first game back:
"Yes sir I did. Mark is a competitor. He was itching to get out on that field, so I knew he was going to step up and make some big plays for us."

On how he expects to handle the hostile Arkansas crowd:
"We don't go into a game and think about the opponent. We just go out there and try to play Alabama football. Go out there, start fast and finish strong."

INFORMATION SOURCE: University of Alabama Athletics