Richt, Saban Eye Dome Matchup

Richt, Saban Eye Dome Matchup

Mark Richt and Nick Saban spoke with the media about the upcoming 2012 SEC Championship Game.

COACH Mark Richt

 

CHUCK DUNLAP:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to SEC Championship game week.  We'll begin today with Georgia head Coach Mark Richt.  Georgia is the designated home team Saturday.

            Coach Richt, good afternoon.

            COACH RICHT:  Good afternoon.

            CHUCK DUNLAP:  Congratulations on winning the East as well.

            If you could talk about your season and Georgia as it heads into Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.

            COACH RICHT:  Of course, we had a big rival game last weekend against Georgia Tech.  I think the guys did a really super job of preparing for the spread option, triple option.  I thought our defense really did a good job.  Offensively we seemed ready to go.

            As a matter of fact, all of our phases of the game I thought really played a good game.  I was happy to see that everybody could keep their minds on their business last week, and now we're just starting to break down all the film.  Coaches are busy trying to put together a plan for the guys.

            We don't meet today.  We'll meet with the players tomorrow.

            CHUCK DUNLAP:  We'll start with questions for Coach Richt.

 

            Q.  After the loss to South Carolina, how did your team regroup and were able to win the rest of its games?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, first of all, South Carolina did a great job that day.  We were at their place.  They started hot.  We just couldn't stop the momentum.  You got to give them a lot of credit, no doubt.

            One of the things that happened was we had an open date the next week.  They played and got beat the week of our open date.  By the time we played the next week, we played a night game, they played an earlier‑in‑the‑day game and they lost again.  By the time we played again, we were already back with the ability to control our destiny.

            That helped a lot.  We knew it was just one game.  We also knew that everybody was responsible for that.  It wasn't like the offense had a bad day or the defense had a bad day or the special teams had a bad day and everybody else pulled their weight.  It was one of those days where we all didn't do a good job, including the coaches.

            We lost together, so we had to regroup together.  We didn't panic.  We just went back to work.

 

            Q.  Mark, I think both quarterbacks are very similar, accurate passers, good leaders.  Talk about how this game will come down to the support on both sides of the ball.

            COACH RICHT:  I think they're No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in pass efficiency.  They've both had great seasons to this point.  Tremendous leaders for their programs.

            No quarterback ever has success without the help of his teammates.  So it will certainly come down to a lot of things.  But the quarterback play, as we all know, is very crucial.

            Guys can get in the middle of a game and make some great plays, but guys can get in the middle of a game, try to do too much, put their teams in a bad situation.

            It's going to be a matter of making good decisions, managing the situations as they go.  I think everybody is going to have to be a little bit patient in this game.  I think two really fine defenses playing.  So it's not going to be like everybody is going to have the ball offensively.  Everybody is going to have to work hard to earn everything they get.

 

            Q.  Coach, would you assess Johnathan Jenkins' ability to affect an offense from the nose guard position?

            COACH RICHT:  When you're running a 3‑4 it is key to have a big man inside that will force you to use more than one blocker on him in the run game.  If he stays there in the passing game, his job is to push that pocket back into the face of the quarterback so when he tries to step up in the pocket there's nowhere to go.  You hope he'll do that if he's actually still in there in some of these passing yardage situations or certain formations.

            He's done a very good job.  Kwame Geathers has done as well.  Two big nose guards that can eat up a lot of space, force some double‑teams.  We got some looks when we had both of them in the game at the same time, lost Abry Jones for the season.

            You have to have some big boys inside to make it work.

 

            Q.  A key matchup will be against Barrett Jones.  What is your evaluation of him?

            COACH RICHT:  He's a fantastic player, obviously.  You know, very versatile.  All of a sudden he's playing center when he was playing some tackle in the past.  To have a guy like that, a senior leader, up front, right where you need him, right down the middle, is huge.

            No doubt, he's got the ability to block a big man like that because he's a big man himself.  A lot of centers aren't quite as big as he is.  I think it's going to be an advantage for him to have a better chance to man up against a big nose guard like that.

 

            Q.  You are outscoring opponents in the third quarter this year.  What explains that, and how big is that going into Atlanta?

            COACH RICHT:  I guess we've made some adjustments and played well coming out in the second half.  I think a lot of it is the fact when we win the coin toss, we defer to the second half.  We've gotten the ball for one more possession in the third quarter because we are the ones getting the ball first.  We won a lot of coin tosses.  We were getting the ball a lot in the second half.

            As far as what it means for this game, I don't know if it means a whole lot really.  I think every single drive is going to be crucial.  Every series is going to be very, very important.

            I think it's a game where, again, I know we feel we're going to have to be patient offensively and understand that we are playing a defense that's the best in the country, best in the league.  We got to be able to be patient, bang away the best we can, look for opportunities to make plays.

 

            Q.  You touched on the quarterbacks ranking 1 and 2 in efficiency.  Both teams have nice tailback tandems, overcome adversity at receiver.  You're getting going in your study for Alabama, but from what you've seen from them this year, do you see mirror images between these programs right now, similarities?

            COACH RICHT:  I think as far as how we approach it, there are some similarities.  You mentioned a good many of them.  We are running pro‑style attacks, running 3‑4 defense.  Quarterbacks, as you mentioned, that have been highly efficient, that have been around a little bit, played in some big games over their careers.  Runningback tandems.  All those things you mentioned, there are a lot of similarities.

            One thing they've done is they've been national champions and we've not.  They've been SEC champions and we've not during the timeframe of these kids' careers.  That's the biggest difference I see right now.

 

            Q.  The 2008 game, when you think about the pre‑season No. 1, you were like third going into that game, the way the '08 season didn't go as well, then you had two years you didn't like, now you've bounced back, did that game have a lasting effect on the program looking back?

            COACH RICHT:  Not that I know.  You take one game within itself.  The bottom line was we didn't play well that day.  We played a much better second half.  I think we scored I don't know in the second half, scored a good many, but not enough to overcome what had happened in the first half.

            But we just got whipped obviously.  I mean, I don't think how it might have affected anything other than that day.

 

            Q.  Mark, did you ever find out what the deal was with Aaron after the game?

            COACH RICHT:  He told somebody he just wanted to hook up with his family.  I don't know if his family was going to try to drive home after the game because it was not a late game or what.  I think he wanted to get out and spend some time with his family before they took off.

 

            Q.  Specifically looking at this game, a lot of people are going to focus on Gurley and Marshall.  What are a couple of things you look at that makes it more capable of winning this thing?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, I don't know.  I think we've been playing pretty solid football on both sides of the ball.  I think our special teams have been solid.  Certainly not spectacular, but they've been solid.  I think that's what you got to do.  You got to play a good, solid game.  You got to be able to run the ball good enough to make your play‑action pass worth it, you got to be able to reduce some yardage on first or second downs.  Defensively you got to be able to get after people and you got to be able to get in the red zone area and force some field goals instead of touchdowns.  We are doing a lot of the things you need to do.  We'll have to wait and see what happens Saturday.

            But we've been doing some of the things I think you need to do to play well.

 

            Q.  You have one 'Bama boy on your staff.  It appears he's done quite a good job for you guys.  Can you touch on Will.

            COACH RICHT:  Will has done a great job.  He's really taken a bunch of guys, when you looked at them in the spring, really we had a lot of work to do, had a long way to go.  They've come a long way.

            Again, I'm not going to sit here and say, and I've never said they've become a dominating bunch of guys.  I think they're a bunch of guys that know what they're doing.  They know who to hit.  They get after it, play hard.

            When linemen know who to hit and play with effort, it usually buys you enough time to throw a ball and get enough space to get a back started.

            We've done a good job.  Will has been a big, big part of it.  I'm glad he's on our staff.

 

            Q.  Speaking of similarities, have you had any time to reflect on the parallels of this season and 1980, Notre Dame waiting in the national championship game, this run of last‑season wins?  Do you have any thoughts on that?

            COACH RICHT:  Not really.  That's really the first time anybody has brought that up to me.  I can't worry about all that stuff.  We're just working like mad trying to get a game plan ready to go this week.  That's all I can say.

 

            Q.  What do you see out of Alabama's offense that is different that you haven't seen from other teams that you're concerned about?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, you know what, it's still pretty early.  We spend time knocking out the last ballgame that we just played.  We have a staff meeting.  We have a little family night coming up, going on right this minute, at 6:15.  I talk to the special teams coaches about what happened in our game yesterday.

            Hadn't had enough time to study everything.  A lot of people might be thinking I was watching a bunch of Alabama film last week, but I was getting prepared for Georgia Tech.

 

            Q.  I know Alabama has always recruited the state of Georgia, but have there been more of those in the last few years?

            COACH RICHT:  I think there is.  There certainly has been lately.  More so maybe in the last few years.

            A lot of us in Auburn, a lot of us in Tennessee at one time.  But now it just seems like it's us, Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, now Texas A&M, everybody is coming from all over the place.  There's no secret now that the state of Georgia really produces an awful lot of SEC talent.

            I believe even as early as a year ago there were more Georgia players on SEC rosters than there were anywhere else.  Kentucky, Vanderbilt, you look at those rosters, they're full of Georgia players.  I think that's part of the reason why we have these rival games.  South Carolina, bunch of them.

            We're going to play all these teams that surround us.  Then you realize that maybe 25% of their starting roster is Georgia boys.  They get excited about playing the Dogs and put it to us.  We have a bunch of that going on.

 

            Q.  Aaron has been playing at a different level the last several weeks.  Do you do what you've been doing offensively or is this different with Alabama?

            COACH RICHT:  I think you try to do what you do.  We're not going to reinvent the wheel by any means this week.  There's got to be a patience level.  Understand that it's important at the end of every drive to have a kick.  If it's a punt, it's okay.  Punting's okay.

            We just got to make sure we're not trying to do more than any play is set up to do.  If something is there, we got to be able to hit it in the passing game.  If it's not, we got to be able to throw it away.  We got to be able to manage the game well, be wise and patient.

 

            Q.  Has he tried to do too much sometimes in these big moments?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, I think all QBs want to make a big play in a big game.  All players want to make a big play in a big game.  There's a time and place for everything.  You have to understand when a play presents itself, then you make the big play.  If it doesn't present itself, burn the ball, get rid of it.

 

            Q.  Mike Thornton's availability and injury this week?

            COACH RICHT:  You know how we do it, I'm meeting at 6:15, we have an injury report at that time, so I don't know.

            He got it sprained pretty good, I know that.  Whether or not he'll make it to the game or not, I'm not certain.  My guess is if we were playing a game tomorrow he wouldn't be able to do it, but we'll see how he recovers.

 

            Q.  Ankle or knee?

            COACH RICHT:  I think it was an ankle.

 

            Q.  Other than Thornton, are you pretty healthy?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, I think we are.  From the last game, we know we lost a couple receivers, Jones.  That's kind of been out there for a little while.  But just from this game yesterday, I think that's the only thing that I heard that could possibly become a problem.

            Again, we'll talk with Ron here in a little bit and get a better idea.

 

            Q.  You didn't play Alabama last year.  They had that awesome defense.  They lost a lot of that personnel, now they're back with one of the best defenses again.  How do they do it?  What impresses you the most about that defense?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, they've done a good job of recruiting obviously.  They run a system that they believe in it.  It's very sound what they do.  They do a good job of preparing those guys for the moment when they take over.  That's what you're seeing right now.

 

            Q.  It seems they've been vulnerable to that no‑huddle approach.  Is that something you can take advantage of?

            COACH RICHT:  Well, I don't know if they're vulnerable to that or not.  When the ball gets snapped, you got to execute.  I really haven't watched all the film of all the teams they played.  Sometimes you have to watch TV copy to get a feel for the tempo that you're talking about.  When you look at coach's copy, you don't see what kind of tempo an offense is playing, whether they're huddling every down, going from the line of scrimmage fast or slow.  There's different tempos and paces.  I like to watch a couple TV copies to give me a feel for those types of things.  I'll be watching a little bit of both.

 

            Q.  There's a lot of relationships between the coaches on both staffs here.  Does that add to the chess game element of schemes or subtract from it?

            COACH RICHT:  I'm sure it adds to it.  We're all very competitive guys.  I mean, we all want to win.  We all have competitive juices that flow.  Everybody's going to want to do the very best they can.

            Sometimes when you know the guys across the way a little bit better than normal, it can add to it.  Bottom line is, we're both working like mad to get our teams prepared to go to battle.  The best team will win.

 

            Q.  As far as the competition you have played this year, you haven't had to play LSU, haven't played at Alabama, and Texas A&M.  They played two ranked teams, South Carolina and Florida.  Do you feel your team is untested?

            COACH RICHT:  We've already played the No. 2 team in the country once this year and had a good day against Florida.  We can only play who's on our schedule.

            We'll be prepared.  We'll be well prepared.  But they will, too.  That's why you kick it off and play.  We'll just have to see how it goes.

 

            Q.  As far as the adversity you've had to face, lack thereof, how do you feel your team will respond in this moment with the national championship trip perhaps on the line?

            COACH RICHT:  Again, all we can do is prepare our boys to get after it and play the best they can.  We'll see where it goes.

 

            Q.  Obviously at this point you've won multiple SEC titles, division titles.  When you're in a position like this, when this opportunity is on the other side of this game, what does this mean to you and what do you think this means to your career with the possibilities going on?

            COACH RICHT:  First of all, all you can do is, again, get your staff and your team as prepared as possible to go play a game.  That's what we're going to do.  If you think about what the game means, this, that and the other, it doesn't really help you win the game.  The only thing that helps you win the game is preparation and getting your mind ready to go to battle.  That's what I got to do, physically, mentally be ready to handle your business when the ball gets kicked off.  That's my only focus.  I don't really worry about all that other stuff.

 

            Q.  I know coaches are just in the moment week‑to‑week in terms of game plan.  If you could take a little bit of a step back, how does it feel to look up and see Georgia back up there in the BCS rankings again at this time of the year?

            COACH RICHT:  It's what you always hope for.  It's what you want.  We know pre‑season rankings are for the fans.  Where you're ranked at the end of the year is the most important.  The season is not over.  There's a lot of ball to be played still.

            Just going back to the last question about my career, it's not about me, it's about Georgia, it's about this program, this team, these young men, this coaching staff.  I don't worry too much about all the personal stuff.

            But it is great to be in this position at this point.  You fight like mad every year to get your team in a position like this.  It certainly is a good thing.

 

            Q.  I know you've spoken before about how fragile winning is.  A coach got let go today who won a national title a couple years ago.  Given the way you finished off last year, what you've done this year, have you gotten any sense of you've figured it out, any sense of permanence?

            COACH RICHT:  The day I took the job, my goal was to be here till I retire from coaching.  Like I said from the very beginning, I wanted to make Georgia my home.  I wanted to make it a place where I could coach for the rest of my career.  It's a great place.  Athens, Georgia is as good as it comes for family.  University of Georgia has all the potential in the world to have great success.

            I just don't have a desire to do anything other than be here, be the coach here at Georgia.  That's been that way for the last 12 seasons.  That hasn't changed.

 

            Q.  Mark, a little bit of an unfair question.  Alabama has lost three receivers for the season, you've lost a couple good ones, too.  Have you seen much from what they have?

            COACH RICHT:  The one you notice is Cooper, obviously.  He's the leading receiver.  He's definitely the go‑to guy, the deep‑ball guy, made some wonderful plays.  Some of the long‑yardage receptions have been just launching it out there deep and him making a play.  He's also caught a couple balls, shorter‑range balls, made people miss, has taken it to the house or had some big plays.

            He's very versatile.

            They have a couple other guys that have been outstanding for them, as well.  So, like you say, you have Norwood and Jones and Williams.  All those guys are contributing at receiver.  They do a great job.  Let's face it, they're the highest team in the SEC as far as pass efficiency.  They're just ahead of us in that category.

            We think we've been throwing and catching it pretty good, too.  They've just been very impressive.  To run the ball the way they do, be that efficient throwing the ball, they have to have a bunch of good receivers, and you can see it.

 

            Q.  Paul Johnson said earlier said this is the best team he's seen at Georgia.  Would you agree with that?

            COACH RICHT:  We're playing good right now.  We have a very good talent base right now.  I think all of our coaches are working together well.  We've had some continuity.  We didn't lose a coach in the off‑season.  There wasn't a lot of learning that had to be done by a new coach coming in to learn the Georgia way, for players to have to figure out a new assistant coach or coordinator.

            I think that's helped a good bit.

            We're playing good.  But there's a lot to be played left.  I think we got to just wait a little bit before we decide how good this team is.  We got ourselves in this position, we've been good enough to do that, so that's a positive thing.

 

            Q.  Is anything different about the way you go about preparing for this year's game compared to last year?

            COACH RICHT:  Because it's a normal week of school and we have the 20‑hour rule in play, we really can't do anything different.  We have it all planned out to the minute.  We think every minute we use is very crucial, whether it's strength and conditioning, meetings, practice time, whatever it may be.  So if I change in one area, I'd be robbing one spot to give time to another.

            We're going to keep the same exact routine we normally do.  I plan on being in shorts and helmets tomorrow, full pads Tuesday, shells on Wednesday, backs to shorts and helmets on Thursday.  I believe we're going to be in the Dome, I don't believe we'll practice on Friday, but we have to make an appearance on Friday.  Other than that, it will be a normal week.

 

            Q.  How much concern is it going to be after back‑to‑back weeks preparing for the triple option to prepare for what Alabama does?

            COACH RICHT:  The one thing about playing that offense, it is a face‑the‑issue kind of offense.  You must take on a blocker every single play.  You can't jump around the block.  You can't figure out a way to get an unblocked player to the play.  Every single defender had a blocker to deal with and shed a block, go make a play.  You had to be extremely disciplined in what you were doing.

            It was a different scheme.  But the habit of having to face the issue every play, having to deal with the blocker down after down after down, shed that blocker to try to go make a play, go pursue, things like that, I think in some ways it sharpens you a little bit.

            Now the scheme is certainly different.  We have to go back to playing a more conventional look.  That will be a little bit of a challenge.  I think it will probably come back to them pretty quick.

            CHUCK DUNLAP:  Coach, thank you for your time today.  We'll see you on Friday in Atlanta.

            COACH RICHT:  Thank you.

COACH NICK SABAN

            CHUCK DUNLAP:  Congratulations on being back in Atlanta.

            Can you talk about your season as a whole and your team as you head into the championship game versus Georgia.

            COACH SABAN:  The SEC Championship game is a great competitive venue.  The winner has gone on to play in a national championship game.  It's a great atmosphere.  The Georgia Dome, just a great competitive venue in my experiences in the past.  We're sort of honored and proud in our team in terms of what they were able to accomplish and win the West, play in the SEC Championship game against what is an excellent Georgia team, no doubt.

            We're just going to try to do the best we can to prepare our players to play the best they possibly can against a very good team.

            CHUCK DUNLAP:  We'll start with questions for Coach Saban.

 

            Q.  Big picture question for you.  Much has been made of the double‑edged sword of these conference championship games.  The loser of this game would most likely not go to a BCS game, where Florida would.  What do you think of how that plays out?

            COACH SABAN:  For either one of these teams it's not really a great scenario.  You play your way into the championship game, which means you're the best team in your division, they're the best team in their division.  They played their way into the game by a total body of work for the whole season.

            It doesn't seem quite right.  But it is what it is.  I don't really know what me commenting about it is going to do to change it.  But I don't feel good about it for our football team or their football team, either one.

            But it is what it is.

 

            Q.  Do you feel good about the job Will has done, considering he came up under you?

            COACH SABAN:  Will did a fantastic job.  They played great.  Very physical.  Play with a lot of toughness.  Their defense played exceptionally well.  I think the job that he did from last year to this year is probably as good as anybody in the country.

 

            Q.  Coach, would you assess the ability of Georgia nose guard Johnathan Jenkins?

            COACH SABAN:  He's hard to block.  Any time you play an odd defense, a 3‑4 defense, can't block the nose guard, makes it hard to run a lot of plays.  He's reminds me a lot of Cody when we had him here.  He's a hard guy to block.

            Their entire defensive team plays extremely well, they play well together.  They have a good scheme, lots of experience.  It obviously starts with him playing and clogging up the middle.  That always is a good starting point.

 

            Q.  (Question regarding Barrett Jones.)

            COACH SABAN:  I didn't get the question.

 

            Q.  Coach Richt said Barrett Jones was an unusually large center.  He has been able to handle the nose guards one‑on‑one.

            COACH SABAN:  Barrett has done a fantastic job for us this year.  He's an extremely smart player.  This is his first year playing center, but he's done a really good job for us.

            His efficiency as a blocker, whoever he's had to block, has been really good for us this year.  I think center is a critical position.  He's certainly done a fantastic job for us.

 

            Q.  Coach, you were talking about Georgia's defensive system.  Todd is running the show over there now.  He gives you a lot of credit.  Can you comment about your relationship with Todd?  When you flip on the film, do you see similarities?

            COACH SABAN:  Todd is an outstanding coach, coached on our staff way back at Michigan State.  That seems like a long time ago.  But had a lot of good experience in the NFL.

            I've always been really close to Todd professionally and personally.  I think he's done a phenomenal job there.

            There are some similarities in the system and scheme they use relative to what we use.  But I just think he has done a really good job.  Has his own ideas and methods about how he does it.  I think their players play extremely well.  I think that always has something to do with the coach, the system, how it's taught.  They do a really good job.

            If you're going to rank assistants, he's one of the two or three best I've ever had on our staff.  Did a phenomenal job for us.  I certainly have a lot of respect for what he's done at Georgia.

 

            Q.  Georgia's two freshmen runningbacks, Gurley in particular, have gotten a lot of accolades.  You have a pretty good one, too.  What is your perception of Georgia's runningback situation?

            COACH SABAN:  I think they run the ball extremely well.  Their freshmen runningbacks, both of them, Todd obviously played the most, but both those guys are really good players.  They have a good offensive line.  That creates a tremendous amount of balance with them with a good quarterback who is able to complete a high percentage of his passes, a lot of rhythm‑type throws that certainly complement their running game.

            I think that is an outstanding team because of the balance that is created by their ability to run the ball effectively with good runners, as well as having a good quarterback and good skill guys to make plays outside in the passing game.

 

            Q.  A day after Kenny Bell goes down for the year, a lot of injuries with the receivers, what does this do to the other receivers?

            COACH SABAN:  Kenny has done a fantastic job for us.  He has great vertical speed, makes a lot of catches, certainly complements the other guys that we have.  Chris Black is a guy that has been cleared medically to maybe come back and play.  He has been practicing for two or three weeks.  We may have to revisit whether we decide to redshirt him or go ahead and let him play.

            But this is actually the third receiver that we've had go down, all guys in the two‑deep.  That's always a difficult circumstance.  But we have other good players that have played consistently for us this year.  We're going to try to put them in the best position to utilize the skills they have and hopefully make some plays for us.  A.J. has done a great job of getting the ball to the right guy and hopefully will continue to be able to do that.

 

            Q.  How much does it affect your preparation this week, the fact you haven't played Georgia since 2008, if makes it a little bit more hard work for you going forward?

            COACH SABAN:  I think anytime you play somebody on a yearly basis, you develop a history for what they like to do.  We did play them back at LSU several times.  We have played them here a few times.

            They have a very, very good team.  They haven't changed systemically in terms of what they do too dramatically.  I think what they do do they do extremely well.  They really win the game on execution, being able to make positive plays, getting in the right play.  The quarterback does a really good job for them.  They're really well coached.  I think Mark is one of the best coaches in our league.  Their entire staff does a fantastic job of helping their players make a lot of plays, put them in a lot of good plays.  The fact they go no‑huddle most of the time, they do a lot of check‑with‑me's, that keeps them out of bad plays as well.

 

            Q.  Between the studying and looking at Georgia on film, do you see a lot of mirror images?  Two quarterbacks are 1 and 2 in efficiency, two nice tailback tandems, receivers on both sides have battled injuries, do you see two very similar kind of programs going into this game?

            COACH SABAN:  Well, I think you pointed out all the similarities.  There's none left for me to point out (laughter).

 

            Q.  Do you see any noticeable differences then going into this game?

            COACH SABAN:  I think philosophically there's a lot of similarities in how they try to win with balance, taking care of the ball, playing with a lot of physical toughness on both sides of the ball.

            They try to put their players in the right position.  There's not a whole lot of tricks and gimmicks with us or them in terms of trying to win with execution.  I think players like that.  Probably play with more confidence, really understand what their role is, what they're supposed to do.  I think if you look at it from that standpoint, there's a lot of similarities.

            That's just philosophically what we believe in.  I think they must believe in the same things.

 

            Q.  After the Texas A&M game, you expressed some frustration with not coming out stronger in the third quarter.  Have you noticed a change in that?

            COACH SABAN:  Well, we scored on our first drive in the third quarter this last game, then took our starters out.  I was really pleased with the way we came out in this particular game and started the second half.  I think that's something we need to continue to emphasize.  We do a good job of giving them a lot of information at halftime, but we have to be able to go out and execute when the other team makes some adjustments, as well.

 

            Q.  Your own quarterback has been efficient all year.  What have you noticed about the kind of year Aaron Murray has had for the Bulldogs?

            COACH SABAN:  He's played very well.  He's very accurate.  He knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball.  He's smart.  When you play quarterback, you have to process information quickly, get the ball out of your hand to the right guy.  I think he's done that very consistently all year long.

            Everybody thinks when I say a guy is a good game manager, that's a negative, but I think it's a real positive.  You have the ball in your hand every time when you're a quarterback.  Whether you're handing it off or throwing to somebody, I think that's extremely important.  I think he's done a phenomenal job of that for their team in terms of what they want to do, how they want to execute.  That's why they've been extremely successful on offense.

 

            Q.  Kirby Smart has been with you for quite a while, a lot of Georgia connections.  He's gotten a lot of accolades for being a top assistant coach.  What makes him so effective at what he does?

            COACH SABAN:  Kirby first of all has a great personality, a great competitive character about him to affect the players.  The players love him and respond to him extremely well.  He's a very hard worker, a bright guy.  He's really done a phenomenal job for us.

            He's as fine of an assistant as I've ever had.  It's great to work with him because I'm kind of a defensive guy, and he's kind of grown up within our system, with us.  When you got somebody like him that thinks a lot like you think, it really makes it a lot more efficient and effective in terms of the preparation and the execution, the implementation of that in the game.

            Kirby has done a phenomenal job here.  He's been Assistant Coach of the Year again and again.  Very well‑deserved.  He just does an exceptionally good job in all areas, recruiting, getting along with other people on the staff.  You name it, he does it extremely well.

 

            Q.  Nick, you guys obviously have a lot of guys from Georgia.  There have been a lot of recruiting battles between you and Georgia.  I know everyone recruits the state of Georgia.  When you came in, what did you do in terms of placing an emphasis on this state?

            COACH SABAN:  What we try to do in our recruiting is do a really good job in a five‑hour radius of our Tuscaloosa area.  We obviously want to do a great job in our own state.  It just happens that a large part of Georgia where there's a lot of population, a lot of good football players and programs, fall into that sort of circumference.

            We do have some very good players from Georgia.  They have a lot of good players from Georgia, too.  I think it speaks well of the great high school football they have in Georgia, the good programs they have, how players are developed, how important football is in that state.

            It's an important part of our recruiting, that entire five‑hour radius, for us.

 

            Q.  As you've gone deeper into your coaching career, have you enjoyed your successes or other achievements more, or is it always on to the next season?

            COACH SABAN:  This is a process, you know, what we do.  There's no continuum in success.  It's an ongoing process.  You have to look at the next play, the next game, the next season, the next recruiting class.  If you're going to continue to be successful, you're going to continue to have success, that process is ongoing.

            When I came to Alabama, they put it on all the books and everything, The process begins.  Well, it's still beginning every day, every game.  Regardless of what you've accomplished in the past, this is the most important game we're going to play this entire year for our team.  As a coach, you want to do the best job you can to have your team have the best chance to be successful relative to the hard work they've done.

            I'm always looking forward to the next challenge.  When I can't do that, I probably shouldn't do this anymore.

 

            Q.  Both you and Mark Richt have been in this league together for a good while.  What do you make of what he's done and what do you admire about what he's done?

            COACH SABAN:  I've always held their program in very high esteem in terms of the consistency they've had.  They've won on a very consistent basis the entire time Mark has been there.  He's developed a lot of good players, a lot of good quarterbacks.  He has a very good offensive system and scheme.  I know he's an offensive coach that has probably contributed to that through the years in a very significant manner.

            I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark.  He's a great person.  He cares about college football, college football players.  I think his record pretty much speaks for itself in terms of consistency and performance, which is really what defines success.

 

            Q.  If each season and each team is its own separate entity, you were public about saying it wasn't this year's group that won a national title, it was last year's title.  Do you think this group understands what that meant?

            COACH SABAN:  I think they understood right from the start.  There's quite a few guys on this team that were on the 2010 team that probably didn't live up to expectations after having success in 2009.  I think at least to have some leadership and some experience in the group that saw the difference between the 2010 and 2011 team in terms of just the whole approach, the whole sort of competitive character, attitude, being hungry, whatever you want to call it, I think they realized that the legacy of this team would be defined by what they did and what last year's team did wouldn't have anything to do with that.

            I've been pretty pleased with the way this team has tried to respond to it.  They've put themselves in a position to have a chance to play in the SEC Championship game, which is a very positive step.

 

            Q.  Can you also express maybe the respect student‑athletes, these guys have had bullseye on them for some time, the respect you want to give players being the bullseye for everybody?

            COACH SABAN:  We usually don't talk much about that to our players.  We try to get our players to be all they can be, play the best that they can play, prepare to play at a high level and a standard that we try to define for them, to help them be all they can be, be the best they can be.

            We feel like everybody we play, you got to sort of go out there and compete one play at a time, try to change the way that guy thinks, because everybody thinks starting out the game they're going to have an opportunity to beat you.  I don't care who you are, that's just part of being a great competitor.  That competitive spirit is something that I think is very important for the players to understand.

            It really makes their focus a little bit more about what's happening now, this play, this time, being physical, having the right intensity, playing with the right discipline so that they have the best chance to execute.

            That's what we try to do with our players.  We don't really talk a lot about the other team.  Technically we do, what they do, but not the rest of it.

            CHUCK DUNLAP:  Thank you for your time.  We'll see you on Friday.

            COACH SABAN:  Thank you.

                       

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