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Everything Nick Saban and Kirby Smart Said During Their First 2021 SEC Championship Game Press Conference

The Alabama and Georgia coaches held their first press conference as their teams started preparing to face each other in Atlanta.

The coaches both met with reporters for 20 minutes on Sunday evening. Here's everything that was said:

Nick Saban 

First of all, the SEC Championship Game is a great competitive venue. The environment is outstanding. It's a great college football atmosphere. This is one of those games that you work all year to have the opportunity to play in.

Georgia has been the No. 1 team in the country for good reason. They're probably the most consistent, most dominant team week in and week out. So obviously going to be our biggest challenge, toughest test of the year.

Take a lot of quality work this week, attention to detail, good preparation, and do the best we can against an outstanding team, both sides of the ball and on special teams. These guys score a lot of points. They can run the ball. They can make big plays passing it, and their defense is No. 1 in the nation. So that kind of speaks for itself.

Q. I'm just wondering if you had an update on Brian Robinson. We saw he left the game after his 37-yard run and didn't come back.

NICK SABAN: He has a lower body pulled muscle. We'll kind of see how he progresses during the course of the week and see where he's at. I can't tell you any more than that right now. We'll just kind of see how he progresses during the course of the week.

Q. Coach, obviously you guys played a strenuous game last night, and Georgia finished up early on the day. You're very experienced in this game and in playoff games. Does that matter a week ahead of time, recovery time? Can that make a difference in even a miniscule amount, in your opinion?

NICK SABAN: You know, you never know how players are going to respond to those types of things. I think it would be difficult to say. We certainly don't view it as an advantage or a disadvantage. We all had to play games yesterday. Our teams had to prepare for them. We've got to go through the process of getting ready for the next game.

I think the players are sort of used to playing day games, night games, night games on the road, getting home at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and having to play the next week. These guys are young, so they've got plenty of time to recover.

I think probably psychologically it's probably more important in terms of how you look at what's coming up. I think sometimes that can get affected by the last game. But hopefully, given the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country, our players will look at it like a real challenge.

Q. You've had some dominant nose guards and defensive tackles in your stint there at Alabama. When you look at Jordan Davis, what stands out to you?

NICK SABAN: I mean, I think the guy is one of the most dominant players in college football. Any defensive lineman, I guess you can look at a lot of things, but the number one thing is how hard are they to block? And he's really hard to block. He's got great size. He's very powerful, but he's got really good initial quickness, short area quickness, and can push the pocket and pass rush.

He's about as good a player as I've seen for a long time as an inside player on any college football team.

Q. Obviously, Alabama's had some success with Georgia the last few years. Is there carryover? Can your team gain any confidence from last year's game, or do you think there's any momentum that comes from that experience of playing Georgia?

NICK SABAN: No. I think that's what's happened in the past in games really doesn't have a lot of impact on what happens in the future. I think that you've got to line up and play well in this game. What happened last year doesn't matter. What happened the year before that doesn't matter. You've got to play well in this game. So that's the challenge that we all have.

Q. Over the course of the season, you guys have dealt with some adversity in different ways. Of course a lot last night. How have you seen your team grow when it comes to facing adversity through the season?

NICK SABAN: I would say the way they faced it last night, the resiliency that they showed, making plays in critical situations in the game, not giving up in the game, defense making critical stops, getting the ball back in the four-minute situation. Giving our offense a chance to score, and then the offense making the plays they needed to make to tie the game up. A lot of adversity in and of itself in the game last night.

I think the players, it wasn't always pretty. We didn't always execute perfectly. But we were able to make the plays we needed to make to get back in the game and eventually have success in the overtime.

Over the course of the season, I think sometimes when things have gone poorly, players have responded very well, but I also think that it's something that you need to do on a consistent basis. Because sometimes you create your own adversity by not executing or making mental errors and thing that you do puts you in the situation that you're in. It's great to have the resiliency to overcome it, but you'd like to be able to sustain with consistency so you don't get in those situations.

Q. Kind of an adversity question. You've gone down double digits. Obviously you did it yesterday, even against Texas A&M. I know the past games against Georgia don't matter, but you've gone down double digits against them when you faced them in Atlanta. What is the key -- I know you don't go out with that being the goal. But what is the key when things don't go your way and you're down double digits? Is it composure? Is it adjustments? What is the biggest key at that point when you do go down double digits?

NICK SABAN: It's probably a combination of all the things that you mentioned. I also think you've got to have -- the players have to have the right mindset to keep playing. Play the next play, try to win the next play. Everybody do that. Keep your poise. Make the adjustments that we need to make and just keep playing the next play and don't look at the scoreboard and look at it like I'm going to play different when I'm 14 points behind and I'm going to play different when I'm 14 points ahead.

Because really you should be trying to do the best you can in every one of those scenarios. So just keep playing the next play. That's something that we really try to get our players to sort of have the mindset to -- that's how you compete in the game. Keep focusing on what you need to do to get the result and do it one play at a time.

Q. Also want to add just a quick recruiting follow. The other teams in the league, except for you and Georgia, can be out and about recruiting this week. Is that something that bothers you that other teams are out there doing that, or does the magnitude and exposure of this game outweigh that given that everybody wants to be in this game?

NICK SABAN: I think it goes both ways. I think your point about the magnitude of the game helps your exposure is something that's significant in recruiting. Relationships are significant in recruiting. We both have to postpone those things for a week. I don't know if that's significant. It probably depends on the player.

Q. Is there anyone in Georgia that sticks out to you, other than Jordan Davis, as someone who's given you an issue to deal with?

NICK SABAN: I think the fact that they've got like nine different players that have 4 1/2 tackles for a loss. One guy has 8 1/2. They've got five different players that have multiple sacks. There's nine different players that have at least two sacks. So there's a lot of issues.

They're well coached. They've got a good scheme. The players do a good job of executing it. They've got good linebackers. They've got good front people. They're aggressive in the secondary.

This is not a one-man wrecking crew. This is a really, really good group of players who play well together. There's multiple players that have ability to make plays.

Q. We didn't see Jalyn Armour-Davis last night. Do you have an update on him?

NICK SABAN: He had a little hip injury and wasn't full speed. So we'll see how he responds this week and see if he can be able to play in this game. That's something that will be kind of day to day as well.

Q. And a quick follow-up. You mentioned Brian Robinson earlier. How did you think Trey Sanders kind of stepped in and filled the void for him in the fourth quarter in overtime?

NICK SABAN: He did a good job. He did a nice job with catching the ball. He did a good job in block protection, especially on some critical passing situations. When they blitzed, he made great pickups and ran the ball fairly effectively. So we were pleased.

Q. Just after watching the film, what did you think of the offensive line in terms of the sacks that were allowed and some of the rushing yards in the first half?

NICK SABAN: Obviously, it wasn't very good. We didn't do a very good job of pass blocking. We didn't do a very good job of finishing blocks on the running plays. So it's pretty obviously to everybody that we didn't execute very well.

Did a much better job in the second half, I think. Wasn't always perfect, but much, much better. I think some of the adjustments that we made were a little better for them to execute relative to the way Auburn was playing us.

So we made some improvement during the game, but it wasn't very good in the first half.

Q. I think you all threw for 417 yards last year against Georgia. What stands out about how they're holding up this year against the pass?

NICK SABAN: To me they've got some really good rushers up front. They do a great job of pressuring the quarterback. They've got really good scheme in terms of how they pressure the quarterback. They mix up the coverages in the back end quite a bit.

They've been very effective with the way they play pass defense all year long. So it's going to be very challenging for us. It's not just about throwing the ball. It's about protecting, whether it's man to man, zone, reading it, throwing the ball to the right guys. There's a lot of things that go with that.

When we play the best, we have some kind of balance on offense, which really wasn't the case last night. So it's going to be important for us to be able to create that as well.

Kirby Smart

 Just excited, first and foremost, to be in this game. I've always said it's one of the greatest atmospheres in all of sports. It rivals against everything I've been a part of, from College World Series to National Championship games to anything and everything. Just the atmosphere is incredible.

So many people in this region care so much about this game, and I think the SEC administrators have done a tremendous job keeping this game at the level it has for many years. I grew up watching this SEC Championship when it started in Birmingham. It's grown. It's grown and grown and grown. It's a large part of the Southeast footprint.

Our guys have performed well, have done a good job this season, and you earn the right to have an opportunity to go out and play a team from the West.

I know Alabama well. Really good football program. Coach has done a great job over there. We've got a lot of respect for their team and the way they play and the style of play. As we all know, we've had some matchups in the past and look forward to this one.

It's a great opportunity for our guys to go out and play a really, really good football team. So I'm excited for that. I know our players are really excited. Just ready to get back to work tomorrow.

Q. You've been around some of the best players in the history, defensive players in the history of the Southeastern Conference, and you've got a team full of them again this year. I'm just wondering from Alabama, have you seen Will Anderson, and what do you think of his game?

KIRBY SMART: Yes, we've overlapped two or three opponents, maybe Tennessee and Florida. Maybe somebody else, I can't remember. Yeah, he's a tremendous athlete. He plays with so much passion and toughness and energy.

When I see him play, it reminds me of Rashaan Evans at times before Rashaan moved to inside backer. He's so explosive, twitchy, and tough. So he strikes people and really strikes blocks really well. It will be a key part of the game in terms of the way he plays and affects the game. He does a really good job.

Q. Kirby, just wondering what your thoughts were after watching the tape of Alabama yesterday. Offensively, what were your thoughts about the game they played at Auburn?

KIRBY SMART: To be honest with you, I haven't even gotten all the way through that game. We put this game to bed. We've had cut-ups and things like that done, work that was done beforehand. That game goes in today. We've got a lot of things to continue to work on.

I know the type of quarterback that we're up against. I know the skill at receivers that we're up against, the running backs they have, the tight ends, the O-line. They're not recruiting players that can't play in the SEC over there. So they've got a tremendous staff and a tremendous offense.

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Q. Coach, you know it will be brought up this week. Obviously, having lost six in a row to Alabama, Georgia has, your games have all been tremendously competitive, probably including last year over in Tuscaloosa. Halftime leads in all of them. Is there any -- what can you point to about having those leads and not being able to sustain them to the end? If there's a commonality or just owed to what Alabama is year in and year out.

KIRBY SMART: Well, I hadn't been a part of all those, but obviously, this year is this year, and every year is independent of the previous. I don't think there's any overlap between the two. I know people want to make it that, make it some kind of overlap. Every year is independent of the previous. Our job is to go play the best possible game we can. That's what we've been trying to build towards this year.

We haven't played our best yet, and we think our best is still out there. That's the goal.

Q. Kirby, you guys went through an 8-0 league run by an average score of 40-8, and Alabama has played 5 of its 8 games decided by a touchdown or less. I'm asking about in-game adversity. I know you've had adversity this year with injuries and next man up type of things, but have you had any like what you would call a significant in-game adversity? Is that kind of -- I don't know if concern is too strong a word, but just kind of wondering what your team will respond if it's a 14-14 game in the fourth quarter.

KIRBY SMART: I don't know. I think you have to find that out. The team that we're coaching out here every day, they've been through some adversity, I can assure you that. We make for adverse situations every day in practice, and we challenge them each and every day.

So to the level that they can be challenged, they go against each other every day, and they go compete. That's what we ask our guys to do is to play like there's no scoreboard. If you play like there's no scoreboard, what does it matter if you've been in one of those situations or not?

If they truly compete like every play is independent of the previous, then you feel good about the way they compete. If you don't and they're relaxed, then they're not who we think they are. The biggest thing is preparation and understanding that you don't want the moment to be too big for you. You do what you're asked and let our guys go play. That's our goal.

Q. Also wanted to ask about recruiting. You've got most of the league that's able to recruit this week. Is that something, as much as you love recruiting, does that gnaw at you? Obviously, you want to be in this game, but does that bother you that other teams are out there recruiting, or does this game, the magnitude of just being in this game kind of outweigh that?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I would agree with the latter there. I mean, the magnitude and coverage and exposure that we'll get, those same coaches and those same teams will be watching the same players that we're recruiting. They'll be watching this game, I can assure you of that.

That's the best advertisement you can have is to go out and play well.

Q. Understanding that this is a different Alabama team, is there any value to be gained from having played them? I guess particularly in the case of Stetson.

KIRBY SMART: Any value to gain in what?

Q. Yeah, having played against Alabama last year, will that help him in any way this time around on Saturday?

KIRBY SMART: I think experience is extremely valuable, but I don't know that it's pertinent to having played them. What it's pertinent to is playing in the SEC schedule and playing the gauntlet that you play. And him playing last year certainly helped him this year, and playing more this year helps him this year.

It's not relative to who you play. It's relative to playing.

Q. Coach, what do you like about this team that may remind you of your 2017 team and maybe what's different?

KIRBY SMART: This team has responded to all the things we've challenged them with. We hit them with different things each week, things we want to really focus on accountability from their standpoint of holding other players accountable from week to week for different things. And they've done it each and every time, every time we've asked. They've been up for the challenge.

The 2017 group had some really good leaders on it. I feel like this team -- you know, that team, it wasn't fully recruited by our staff. So we had a lot of guys that bought in and believed what we were selling, where this year all these guys have kind of been recruited by the staff. They seem to connect well. There's a lot of really good kids on it.

Q. Kirby, obviously Alabama is the team that Georgia hasn't gotten past yet. Everyone knows the history. Do you confront that with your team this week, or do you do your best to ignore it?

KIRBY SMART: I don't know what you mean confront. Do you talk about it? We talk about the opponent every week we play somebody, right? But we focus on ourselves. We focus on execution. We don't focus on history.

I think every team is independent of the previous. So I mean, it is what it is. Our guys got to go out and play well. What happened in those games will have no relevance to this game. I think anybody with good coaching sense would tell you that. They're independent. Both teams are different in a lot of ways.

The focus will be on what we can do, what we can control, how we play, and how we execute. I think that's the most important thing.

Q. You said yesterday the strength of this team is the players. You have complimented them at other times on their focus, and they've avoided any temptation to look ahead. What does that -- how does that maturity play now that you're up to this stage of the season in the postseason? Is that something that you think you can lean on and have a trust in this group of players?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I wouldn't worry about them looking past anybody we've got left to play, I can assure you of that. They've had great focus thus far in the season. Obviously, that's not a concern. The maturity level of the team to not look past those other teams just tells me that they're listening and they're focused and they're driven.

But their energy will have to be put in a different direction because it's not going to be the lackadaisical, the doesn't matter if I do it exactly right. Hey, Coach, we're better than them. It's one of those, hey, look, we've been working to be at our best. All these weeks we've practiced, we've practiced to be at our best, not to practice to the level of who we're playing.

Regardless of who that was, we want to be at our best when the best is needed. The more you recall that, the better you do at doing it. So the big challenge is can you execute in the moment when you're needed to?

Q. I was also going to ask if you know anything more about Kearis Jackson today?

KIRBY SMART: No, I don't know much about any of our guys in terms of the injury things and that. Some of them have been in for treatment and things like that, but until you get on the field with them, that's usually the sign that you find out more.

Q. Kirby, what stands out about this cast of Alabama receivers? Obviously, you guys are familiar with Metchie from last year, but they've obviously lost a number of guys there.

KIRBY SMART: They've got one of the best players in the country in transfer, and he's elite. He's really good. The guy comes out and dominates at gunner. He's a weapon out at wideout. He does a tremendous job. Slade Bolden's been there, it feels like forever, a punt returner and a slot guy.

The young receivers they've gotten, we recruited most of those guys. The kid Ja'Corey that made the play last night, known him a long time. A South Florida guy that's made a lot of plays for them. They've got wideouts from all over. There's no shortage of talent at wideout, I can promise you that, never has been.

The guy distributing the ball to them is playing extremely well too.

Q. Coach, do you feel like there's any advantage, us wrapping up our game, having our starters out by 1:00, and Alabama playing a pretty physical game late into the night in four overtimes? Does that hurt us from a preparation standpoint going into the game next week?

KIRBY SMART: I don't know. I just got three questions about how many games have been played that are really tight in the fourth quarter. That seems to be thought of as an advantage. I think it can be parlayed however you want it to look.

Certainly people can say that, and they can say that -- I'm a big believer in strain. In football, most of these kids grew up playing week to week. The good ones all played 15 games in a high school season and played for state championships. They played back to back to back to back. That's kind of what you're used to.

I'm a big believer, if you strain, you get used to straining, and you strain. Our guys in the second half haven't had to strain as hard because they haven't had to play. It's one of those things, it's just however you want to look at it.

Q. Following up to that, do you feel like that will be something you'll focus on practice this week is pushing them to play four quarters?

KIRBY SMART: Well, we can't play four quarters in practice. We wouldn't be as good on Saturday. So you have to be -- a fine line between your team that's your team right now, and if you want to get them better and get them in condition, you should have done that a long time ago.

I think the big thing right now is making sure you're at your fastest, you're healthy, and you can execute.

Q. Coach, we've talked quite a bit so far about Bryce Young, but when you look at the first year starting quarterback, what impresses you about his poise, his accuracy, and just how the moment never seems to be too big for him?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, he's just what you said. It's like he's composed at all times and has great presence in the pocket, great distributor of the ball. Knows where all his outlets are. Can draw the defense to him and dish the ball, much like a point guard in basketball.

This is just one of the best I've seen as far as quick release and getting the ball out, distributing the ball really good.

Q. Coach, certainly appreciate the time here today, I can't help but want to talk about Stetson Bennett. I know you've been asked about kind of his journey, but to do what he has accomplished after leaving the program and coming back, I was hoping you could speak to where he is, maybe where he started and where he is today.

KIRBY SMART: He started as a walk-on that came in -- I guess he came in with Jake Fromm's class. Correct? I'm sadly mistaken if I'm wrong there. He started as a walk-on, and he's now playing for the SEC Championship. What a wild ride he's had from start to finish.

You go back and look at the newspaper articles and the media outlets after the -- maybe the Rose Bowl when he had to play Baker Mayfield. That's when the legend really started. But he started as a quarterback that played the role of Baker Mayfield for 12, 13 practices, and that's kind of where his legend began with us because we knew this guy was a really good athlete, smart with the ball, did a lot of good things.

But as it would have it, he did want to go play, and he wasn't going to play at the time. So he went and played junior college and got playing experience and ended up coming back.

Q. Brock Bowers is one of the candidates for freshman of the year. You kind of talked about him off and on. Can you just talk about Brock's evolution, and is there any player that you've coached or prepared for comparable to what we've seen from Bowers this year?

KIRBY SMART: There's been special freshmen that you go against, and now that you're asking that question, nothing really pops out. There's been really talented wideouts to me, and there's been really talented like backs because I feel like, to play running back and receiver in our conference, it's the one place that an elite, really good prospect can walk in and impact a game.

It's less getting overpowered out there. It's rare to me to see a tight end and do the things he's done as a freshman. I think we're going to see it more and more with these kids coming midyear because it helped Brock to get here and get started where he did and get that timing under his belt. Just no moment has been too big for him.

Going back to the Clemson game, it was just another game to him. We knew from that game when he started out catching it, running after the catch, I mean, he made some plays that this guy is going to be a weapon. I can't think of any. There have been some really, really talented freshmen in our conference. But just at that position, it's kind of unique.

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