TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —Alabama head coach Nick Saban is taking the Crimson Tide to the SEC championship game for the ninth time since he's arrived in Tuscaloosa.
It will be a familiar foe on the other sideline with Kirby Smart leading the Eastern division champions and No. 1 team in the country in the Georgia Bulldogs.
Saban spoke to the media on Monday to recap the Iron Bowl and preview Alabama's SEC Championship matchup with the Bulldogs.
Video and a full transcript will be posted after.
Live Updates from Nick Saban's pre-SEC Championship press conference
- Saban says Georgia has been the most consistent team in the country this season. Overall, he was very complimentary of the Bulldogs in his opening statement.
- He thinks the offensive line needs to play more physical and aggressive.
- "We have to coach the players that we have."- Saban on the injuries at running back. He's never been in a situation before where his team was down to one scholarship running back.
- "We loved Will Anderson in high school."- Saban has always been high on Anderson Jr. since he was a high school prospect.
- Instead of having to overcome adversity, Saban would like for Alabama to not put themselves in position where they have to overcome adversity. He'd rather they just play good from the start (obviously.)
- "I think he's been one of the most productive players in college football as a defensive player."- Saban on Will Anderson Jr. He says Anderson's done as much for their team this year as any player ever has.
Nick Saban Full Transcript- Nov. 29, 2021
"We showed a lot of grit, determination, resiliency _ whatever you want to call it _ in the last game. I've got to give our players a lot of credit for that. Showed great competitive character in being able to come back in the game. We had to overcome a lot of adversity, some of which we created for ourselves, some they created.
"Obviously things that we created, we need to correct so that maybe we don't have some of those issues in the future.
"It's nice to see Will Anderson be the SEC player of the week again.
"I think this is a great opportunity for our team to be in the SEC Championship Game. They worked hard all year for it. They're going to play a great team in Georgia. Georgia's the No. 1 team in the country. They've been the most consistent team all year long in terms of how they've sustained their performance and played at a high level, dominated the competition just about every game that they've played.
"I think that's a reflection of Kirby. He's done a great job. They have a mature team that plays with a lot of competitive character. They're the No. 1 defense in the country. They've got the No. 1 defense in the country. They've got a lot of good players on defense. They've created a lot of negative plays, sacks, pressuring the quarterback, tackles for loss. And their offense has been very, very efficient. They're scoring 40 points a game.
"The quarterback's played outstanding football for them. He's one of the leading pass efficiency guys in the country. They're able to run the ball with great balance. They've got two great running backs that both contribute equally. And they've got really good skill players outside. (No.) 19 is a really good tight end. He's actually the leading receiver on the team, and a very athletic guy who creates a lot of mismatch issues for you in the passing game.
"They're very good on special teams. This is a complete team and it'll be a tremendous challenge for our players to play well. That's obviously a goal and we've got to have the right mind-set and good preparation all week long to be able to do that."
On what the offensive line can fix that's correctable
"I think we've got to play more physical. I think we've got to be more aggressive in terms of how we come out of our hips, play with power, whatever it is. We've got to try to dictate when we're in the run game and get moving. We did a better job of that in the second half. And we've got to give our players a good chance with some advantage runs when we do try to run the ball. So pass protection was an issue at times. We've just got to do a better job of staying square. The quarterback's got to do a good job in the pocket so that the O-line knows where he's going to be.
"There's a lot of things that we need to work on when it comes to pressures. We've got to have a good plan for how we block them. There's a lot of things that I think we're capable of improving. And I have a lot of confidence that the players will go about it the right way to try to get that done this week."
On what makes this Georgia defense unique in 2021…
“I think they’ve been very good on defense for several years. They were very good on defense last year, too. They’ve got a lot of guys back that were experienced in that regard. They play a good system. They have a good scheme. They’re well-coached. And they have really good players, and they play hard. I mean, they play with a lot of toughness. They’re fast reactors. They’re very instinctive. So they’ve got a combination of a good scheme and really good, well-coached and a lot of good players who make a lot of plays by playing sort of team defense. They don’t mess up a lot. They do what they’re supposed to do and they’re pretty confident in the way they do it.”
On if he’s ever been down to one running back, what challenges does that create
“To answer your question, the first part is no. The second part is we have to coach the players that we have. We’ve gotta get them ready to play the game. There’s nothing else we can do about that. Injuries are a part of the game. We don’t ever like seeing any player not be able to compete, especially when they’ve had a great year all year long and probably wanna play in this game because of that. But as a coach, you just have to coach the players and try to get the players ready that you have available to play in the game and have confidence in them and try to do the things that they can do well to help the team.”
On what stood about Will Anderson as a recruit
“Oh, we loved Will Anderson in high school. He had great size. You could see the initial quickness, explosive power. We didn’t know for sure if he’d end up being a stand-up player or end up playing down. He kind of does both for us now and does both very well. He’s certainly been everything that we thought he would be, and I think that’s because of the kind of person he is, the kind of competitive character he has, the leadership qualities that he has. The guy’s always trying to get better.”
On how important it is for his team being battle-tested heading into the SEC Championship
"I can’t answer the second part of that question. I think the key to the drill is, you’ve got to try and win every play when you play in games like this. You’ve got to keep battling for 60 minutes in the game. You hear the old adage, play one play at a time, but I think that’s probably more important in games like this than in any games that you play. We’ve had to do that several times. Does that help us? I really don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully our players can stay focused and play one play at a time and play the next play, whether we had a good play or a bad play so that we can try to play with the utmost consistency possible in the game and not get frustrated. Keep our poise and kind of show the same kind of resiliency we’ve had to show this latter part of the season."
Will the offense having faced adversity in the Iron Bowl help them for facing the Georgia defense?
"It is what it is. We need to execute better. We need to create more positive down and distant situations for ourselves. We can’t have as many negative plays, which is what this defense thrives on relative to their pressure and the way they do things upfront. It’s going to be difficult to continue to kind of overcome those circumstances. The best way to overcome them is to not allow them to happen to start with because you execute, the players are confident in who they have to block, what they have to do. Knowing the other team has got really good players, you’re going to have to play the best you have all year."
On Will Anderson's impact on the team
"I think he’s been one of the most productive players in college football as a defensive player. He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do. He’s a very consistent player. He’s very disciplined in terms of doing his job. He does it with tremendous effort and toughness. So I don’t know that … There’s a lot of good football players out there on both sides of the ball. He’s done as much for our team as anybody ever has. I don’t know how that equates into recognition or how you compare him to other positions or how you compare him to other players in the country because I don’t get to see those guys all the time. But he’s done as much for us as anybody could ever hope for."
On what looks different about the back end of the Georgia defense compared to last year
"I don’t know that I see a lot of differences. I think they do a really good job up front. They do a really good job on the back end. They try to disguise what they’re doing. Their corners probably play off a little bit more than they play up on people. I don’t know what their plan will be against us. Look, I think they’re outstanding. Maybe they have simplified things, but they’re still really aggressive and do a lot of very, very good things that have made them the best defense in the country."