With just four days until Oklahoma and Alabama kickoff in the 80th Sugar Bowl in New Orleans Thursday night the talk on Monday was the Sooners offense against the Crimson Tide defense.
Alabama offensive coordinator Kirby Smart met with the media early Monday morning. Here's the transcript from the press conference along with several quotes from the Alabama defensive players.
COACH SMART: First off, excuse my voice a little bit. I'm a little under the weather since we got here. Great to see everybody. We're excited to be here.It's a special event. Anytime you make a BCS Bowl it's a great event. We're excited about our opponent. Playing a really good team in Oklahoma. We have a lot of respect for their staff. We've actually visited a lot of offseasons with their staff and their team. They come from a great conference, and they present a lot of great challenges with some of the things they do offensively, especially their ability to run the ball. I want to thank the Sugar Bowl committee for having us. It's a wonderful Bowl. I've been very fortunate, 38 years old and this is my fifth Sugar Bowl to be a part of. I actually was a part of one in Atlanta during the Katrina move when I was at the University of Georgia. Really excited about being back in the Sugar Bowl. Proud of our defense, our players. This year we've overcome a lot of adversity on defense. We had three season%u2011ending knee injuries to what were really starters at one time or another, each one of them had started games, overcame that. Been through a couple of suspensions and a couple other injuries, they weren't season%u2011ending, and have had really a rotating starting lining up. But as any coach, you're trying to improve and we're trying to improve defensively, and we're trying to continue that through our Bowl game. But we really want to send these seniors out, C.J., Ed, a lot of guys on the defensive front been with us a long time, want to send those guys out the right way, send them out with a victory because they've been great leaders for us.
Q. Wanted to ask you about C.J. We've seen him make plays. But when you turn on the film, does he get better, or what do you see from him?
COACH SMART: I'll tell you what, C.J. has made me a great coach the last four years. Certainly I've not made him a great player, he's made me a great coach. A lot of people say that the linebackers find the ball. Seems like with C.J. the ball finds him because he's always there, makes a lot of plays. What's really amazing about C.J. Mosley is that you can rarely find a play where he ever loafs. And he plays on special teams. Started on kickoff return to start the season. He's played on every punt. He's such a terrific player but even more so a person. I've been fortunate to coach the guy and may not ever coach another guy quite like him because he's so athletic. He allows you to do more things defensively. And you can put him in tough situations and he seems to play himself out of them.
Q. Coach, in a Bowl game like this where so much is on the line, is there any, talking about the pressure, self%u2011inflicted or outside the program, is there any less pressure being a coordinator versus the head coach? Is it less? Is it more? Is it all the same?
COACH SMART: Well, it's a tough situation. I'm obviously not a head coach, haven't been a head coach. So to say what kind of pressure they're under, they obviously have to take responsibility for the total team effect of things. And Coach Saban does a good job, whether we play good or bad on defense, good or bad on offense, good or bad on special teams, he takes the responsibility and takes the blame. But certainly as the coordinator, there's a lot of pressure during the game to make the right calls, to put the kids in good situations and make good end%u2011game adjustments so you're not exposing the kids to a lot of risk. And that's what we're always trying to do. So whether it's pressure or not in this game, it's pressure in every game. So for us, playing the SEC it's like that week in, week out. So we've come to anticipate that.
Q. Seems like you've gone through an entire season without settling one of the cornerback spots. Have you ever had that happen, and where are you now with that and what are the reasons behind that?
COACH SMART: Well, we have not had that. We are not used to that. We've kind of always had one key guy with all the first round, second round corners we've had, we've always had a staple guy there, then kind of an understudy that was the other one who was an up%u2011and%u2011coming corner. Hasn't been that way this year. It's been frustrating. Some of that has been because of injury. Deion we feel like has been our best corner but he's been in and out because of injury. Opposite him, it's been musical chairs. Eddie Jackson played pretty well. But he also got injured so it pulled him out for a while. Have other guys play well one game, not play well the next. We've not gotten the consistency we want out of that position. And we don't have the depth that we've had in the past. So it's been a struggle. A couple of the kids have done well in Bowl practice. We hope they play well in the game, as they practice well. That's what we're looking forward to seeing.
Q. Couple guys, Ha Ha and Deion, what did you see from Ha Ha with going through with what he went through with the suspension and how he bounced back from that? And two, Deion Belue, what kind of pain he's been playing through throughout the year and what he's been able to bring to you with his play?
COACH SMART: Deion has given gives us some consistency. He's a veteran, understands the defense. With him out there, I think a lot of guys feel more comfortable and he has fought really hard throughout the year with injuries. Had weeks where he couldn't practice but still was willing to go out and play in the game, which is tough to do mentally and physically. So anything we can get out of Deion's a bonus with his injuries and things he pushed through. With Ha Ha, he did a good job staying into things when he was suspended, he stayed in meetings, stayed and focused on what he had to do, assignment%u2011wise, didn't lose that focus. So when he was granted the ability to come back, he stayed in tune with things, was right back in the mix.
Q. I think a lot of folks see Coach Saban as a masterful coach. They don't necessarily see him as a warm person, sort of detached from his players. I take it you might be able to paint a different picture of him for me.
COACH SMART: Sure. No doubt. Coach may be one way in this room, in this seat, with the media, but with our players it's a whole lot different, especially day in, day out operations. He loves going and coaching. He loves coaching kids. So to be in the meeting room, whether he's in the meeting room with DBs or in the meeting room with special teams, he has a different personality. He has a passion for the game. The kids see that. So the kids see a different side than what maybe public perception is. Therefore, they have a different feeling towards him with daily interaction. They know how passionate he is for the game. They want to play well for him. The feel that way. You see it a lot more when you're in there day to day and makes it a lot easier, obviously. Media doesn't get that because he gives y'all a different perception sometimes.
Q. You were talking about being in an unsettled position. Oklahoma hasn't declared their starting quarterback yet. How much extra work has that given you all to prepare for two different guys and how do you think that dynamic is going to play out?
COACH SMART: Well, anytime you prepare for an offense, you gotta be ready for the backup. With these guys, you really have three guys that have played. We've had to prepare for three quarterbacks. There are some similarities between the guys and there's also some differences. We've emphasized those to our players so that they understand the difference in the two really quarterbacks that they've used the most. And for us preparation%u2011wise, we just gotta know which one's in. We've had enough time because of the amount of time between the games that you can prepare for both. Whereas, in a week it's a lot tougher. Gotta turn around quicker, get ready faster. The time allows us to have a plan for both guys. But obviously you'll find out during the game which one's playing better. They'll have one in there probably more than the other, depending on how they're playing.
Q. For those of us that were sitting at home watching the Auburn game, the end was sort of science fiction. What was it like being in the middle of it when you see the field goal and then all of a sudden you see the guy running, what was it like? Was it surreal? What were your emotions, and did you know what was even happening?
COACH SMART: Surreal and sickening all together. Obviously before the timeout we all saw, as coaches, the return guy back there. So the emphasis was put on covering the kick, because we knew there was a possibility if it didn't get through the end zone they would have a chance to return it. So to see him catch it and get past that first wave, it was over about the 50. And we knew that. So it went from surreal to sickening. It's a bad feeling, especially as a coach, to not be able to do anything or have a game end that way. But it's part of life, it's part of the game. It's one of those things you live and learn from and don't make the same mistake twice.
Q. You rarely see players physically developed as like a freshman like A'Shawn Robinson. What were your thoughts the first time you got him on the practice field and what kind of progress he's made this season?
COACH SMART: I wondered where his whistle was because he looks like a coach. He's about a 28%u2011looking%u2011year%u2011old dude. When we recruited him, we always thought he was going to be a special player, big size speed guy, what you wanted athletically, didn't know how developed he would be technically on the field. He was a real raw talented guy. He's come a long way and he still has a long way to go. But he's a talented young man. He's worked his tail off this year to contribute, especially mentally picking up the defense early on. He's a very intelligent young man. He took pride in knowing his assignments. And I can remember during the Texas A&M game there was frustration during the week of practice that I don't know this call, that call. When he gets in the game he plays fast and, plays very athletic. He's a huge added bonus for us in an area where we were not as deep as we usually are. We don't have as much depth on the defensive line that we always had. Without he and Jonathan Allen we would have had a hard time this year getting through at the D%u2011line position.
Q. How much of these Bowl games become auditions for some of the younger guys for next year and which guys are you keeping an eye on this week?
COACH SMART: Certainly the biggest thing for the Bowl game is to win the game and send the seniors out the right way. For the preparation for the Bowl, it's a chance for us to look at the younger players and try to get those guys ready. So not that I anticipate these young men playing in this game, but they have improved. Dillon Lee, Reuben Foster, Reggie, Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson, a lot of the young guys have improved during Bowl practice because they've been able to get really an extra 15 practice bonus spring practice to get ready for next year or possibly this game in some role they could each play. So we're excited about them.
Alabama Player Quotes:
Alabama Cornerback Deion Belue
(On preparing for Oklahoma quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight) “They are both good quarterbacks. They’re both going to run the ball. They will bring them in for different situations. They have an option read. Then, the other one, he’s sort of a thrower. So, we’ve got to prepare for both of them.”
(On playing throughout the season with a lingering injury) “Players all over the country play with injuries. It just happens that mine had to do with my running ability. On top of that, I play defensive back. So, it had to do with my cuts and things like that. It really wasn’t a problem and I managed it well, myself and the training staff.”
(On hitting the field for the first time since the Iron Bowl) “We’re just ready to get back out there and prove ourselves all over again, show them that we’re still a good defense.”
(On taking on an Oklahoma offense similar to Auburn’s offense) “All season, they have run the same type of offense. So, we’re looking forward to that. In a way, it is great to play that kind of offense again, because we have seen it once already. So, we’re just going to go out there and adjust to it as the game goes on.”
Alabama Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
(On playing in the Sugar Bowl and if it was difficult after being ranked so high throughout the season) “It kind of was; but, at the same time, we wanted to come out and play this last game of the season well, and come out of it with a victory.”
(On the moving parts of the secondary and the cohesion of the unit) “We expect our No. 2’s to be as good as our No. 1’s and be able to come in and contribute to the team any type of way, and I think we’ve done a good job of doing that.”
(On what the Alabama secondary does well) “We are very physical, play fast, communicate well and go out and execute.”
(On the pain he was in during Auburn game) “I felt a lot of catching in my knee. It was hurting very bad, but I just played through it. My teammates kept me up and motivated. I just kept going and tried not to think about it.”
(On coming back from his knee scope) “Yeah, it went pretty well. Two-and-a-half weeks I was back running and I felt 100 percent. I felt good about it, during the first day of practice, I felt good breaking on it. It’s been holding up pretty well for me.”
(On Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell’s mobility) “Well you have to cover a lot longer with the mobile quarterbacks. They can still run out of the pocket and throw the ball. They [OU’s quarterbacks] are very good at what they do. So, we just have to contain the quarterback, key our man, and do our job.”
Alabama Linebacker Trey DePriest
(On Nick Saban as a coach) “He’s a businessman and he’s to the point. But, he relates to us and I personally have a good relationship with him and everybody else sitting in here does (teammates). I wouldn’t call him cold, he’s just about the business. So, when you see him it’s usually game time, that’s just the face you see.”
(On first impression of Saban) “He kind of made me nervous, at first, because I didn’t really know who he was. But, once you get to know him, there’s definitely a different side to him.”
(On deciding to stay for his senior year) “I didn’t necessarily know all along, probably a little bit after the [Auburn] game. Regardless of whether I was going to come back or not, this game was going to be our main focus just to send the seniors and the older guys out the way they need to be sent out.”
(On playing Oklahoma) “I guess it’s nice to play Oklahoma, but it really doesn’t make a difference.”
(On Oklahoma in comparison to SEC teams) “Probably the closest I would compare it to is Auburn as far as the sort of offense they run. They’re different players, but similar in the stuff they do; they both have running quarterbacks and there are a lot of run-pass options on Auburn’s plays too.”
(On his improvement throughout the season) “Reading the plays, I got better with eye discipline as far as looking at the lineman and my coverage. I’ve been asked to leave the box a little bit.”
Alabama Linebacker C.J. Mosley
(On being in New Orleans and practicing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) “We’ve been working hard to get ready for this game. The NFL turf feels a little bit softer. It’s still a football field, we just have to do the same things we’ve been doing.”
(On playing the final game of his collegiate career) “I haven’t really thought about it honestly, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I guess it’s a good thing that I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve been going out like I have been all year, so I just want to finish strong. For us seniors, we just want to finish strong. We’ve had a great run and left a great legacy here, so it would be a shame if we didn’t finish it off winning a game like this in the Sugar Bowl. We want to win by any means possible and finish strong.”
(On Oklahoma’s offense) “When they get in their run offense, it’s a little bit different than their passing offense. When they pass they like to spread things out and do the things that people have done [against us] all year. But, when they run, they’re pretty physical. So, we have to be ready for both types of offenses. [Defending two quarterbacks] is all about having different lanes, knowing your assignments and knowing each quarterback and what they can do to hurt you.”
(On coming back for his senior season) “It wasn’t a tough decision at all. It didn’t have anything to do with Coach Saban or football at all. I wanted to graduate and be able to tell my parents that I earned my degree. Coach Saban has been in the NFL, so he’ll give you good advice on where he thinks you’ll be.”
(On how important it is for the senior class to finish with a victory) “It’s all about competing the right way and playing the Alabama way. We’re trying to get that bitter taste out of our mouths from the last game, so we just have to come out and give it all we got because – for some players – it’s the last game we’ll play here.”
Alabama Defensive Lineman Jeoffrey Pagan
(On the Auburn game) “It was definitely an experience I will never forget. My teammates and I have taken it as a lesson that we have to finish every game strong.”
(On concerns post Auburn game) “We have moved forward and have focused in on finishing this season strong. We have had a lot of time to work on our game. We come out to practice and get better every day.”
(On what stands out on Oklahoma’s offense) “I’m impressed with how many athletes they have across the board. They can run and move the ball very well. My hat goes off to them.”
(On the pressure on defensive line for the run that needs to be established early by Oklahoma’s offense) We look at it as a challenge. We are going to just go out there and try to stop the run early, so we can establish ourselves and work toward getting the win.”
(On how different practice is preparing for two quarterbacks) “It’s not different. Every game we prepare for both quarterbacks because you never know who is going to play. There could be an injury or something that may cause a change to the quarterback position, so we like to stay prepared for both.”
(On if his assignment during the game changes based on Oklahoma’s quarterback) Both quarterbacks are different, but my job stays the same. I am going to go out there and remember what I was taught, and what the coaches have focused on in practice. Our goal is to go out there and play sound Alabama football.”
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