In his last press conference before his team's opener against Clay Helton's No. 20/17 Trojans, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday evening he is looking forward to seeing how all that his team has learned during the spring and fall translates to an actual game environment, and also how his players execute both physically and mentally on Saturday night against a talented and athletic USC squad.
"I think that everybody's really looking forward to the challenge of playing a very good USC team, and I'm sure the guys have had their fill of practice and practicing against each other," he said. "They got a little extra time to prepare for a game like this so I think it gets to be old hat, especially for the more veteran players, but it's a great opportunity for the younger players to understand what they have to do to have the kind of preparation you need to be able to go out and play well in a game."
"I think the players are excited, I know we're excited to find out where our team is and what we need to do to continue to improve and get better," Saban added. "But I think the most important thing right now is for the players to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to execute the play well. Mental clutter, outside expectations, outside whatever, keep the main thing the main thing, which is win your box with good execution every play in the game. You're talking about six seconds shot, refocus if you don't win it the last time, and win it the next time. Everybody wants to make plays and everybody talks about making plays, but really you make plays by executing, following the process of what you have to do with your receiver running the route correctly at the right depth. If you're an offensive lineman, take the right steps and block the right guy. If you're a defensive back, use the right technique to play the coverage that we're in. If you're a quarterback, throw the ball to the right guy based on what the defense is playing. It's not about making plays, it's about executing, and the execution and the following the process of what it takes to play well. That will make plays for you."
When asked how the young Crimson Tide running backs, with the top four backs on the Alabama depth chart either sophomores or true freshmen, were progressing in terms of their pass protection abilities, Saban said he sees continued development for those players in terms of that facet of the game.
"I think that's probably the one thing that we need to continue to work with those guys and understand pass protections and how to pass block," he said. "You've heard me talk before about guys that are running backs, they're good running backs because they carry the ball good, especially when they play in high school. But the biggest thing that we have to emphasize with guys is, how do I play when I don't have the ball? how do I run pass routes or how do I pass protect?, or how do I block the right guy in pass protection? We've got two guys (sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris) who have been in the system for a while and do really well. The young guys (freshmen B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs) are certainly making progress, and we want them to continue to get a better understanding in what they need to do on a consistent basis, and it's probably really important on third down, because that's when you get lots of different, sort of, maybe front looks, pressures, whatever, but we're pleased with the progress, not satisfied, but we're working on it and we're thinking that both those (freshmen) are going to make a contribution to us in the future."
When asked why he prefers having his team open every season with a neutral-site contest instead of perhaps a high-magnitude home-and-home series, Saban said it is not necessarily his preference, but added that it ultimately comes down to being a wise business decision for the UA program for a couple of reasons.
"Well, I'd rather play here in Tuscaloosa, so you think I like playing in Dallas better than playing in Tuscaloosa?" he said. "The issue is getting people to play you in Tuscaloosa that are quality opponents, and then when you do home-and-home, that means next year we'd have to play in California, so next year we wouldn't make any money, this year we would. So, this is a business decision, but it's also a program decision in that there's a tremendous amount of exposure when you play a quality opponent like USC, who has great tradition and has a very good team, a Top 20 team. There's a lot of national exposure the program gets. I always go back to when we played Clemson (at the Georgia Dome in 2008, a game the Crimson Tide won 34-10), and we weren't ranked but they were ninth in the country and we beat them over there in Atlanta. That sort of ignited the whole program in terms of the exposure that was gotten and all those kind of things. So, we think playing in Dallas is a wonderful opportunity for our players, I think they always enjoy it. It's a beautiful stadium, and one of the nicest places in the country. They enjoy the competition of playing against a great opponent, so I'm sure this is going to be a tough, physical game for us wherever we played it and we've got to get ready for the challenge."