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January 5, 2019
Santa Clara, California
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Like what I've said all along, you know, in any profession you're in hopefully with the time you spend in it, you get better, and then obviously coming here to Alabama and having an opportunity to work with Coach Saban and the staff that he's put together over the last three years that I've been here.
As I said before, you can't help but learn things, and I mean, it's been great for me. It's been great for my career. Obviously this is a great place and it's been good for us.
Q. How good is this offense? You may be sitting on top of the best offense at least at Alabama before.
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think coming into the season we thought that we would have a chance to be really good on offense with all the skill kids we had coming back obviously with the offensive line.
Obviously there are some unknowns with Tua, he had a small body of work from the National Championship Game a year ago but for us on offense, it all has come together with guys being very unselfish. It starts with having a quarterback like Tua and even a playmaker like Jalen, who we've had opportunities to play in certain situations and it's really been good are to us.
Q. How do you explain almost what happened in reverse, staying on campus to begin with and coming in and winning the game?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think it speaks to the character of Jalen. I've said this quite often but being a coach's kid, he grew up in the game. He understands it, obviously. You know, him not being a starter was very public, but the thing that I've seen out of him and just the way he's approached things, he's worked all year long to improve himself. He's always been prepared when the opportunity has presented and it was great to be able to have him come in and with Tua going out with the injury, to come in and execute and to give us a chance to win the SEC.
Q. How important is it to have a center as reliable as Ross on the offensive line and what have you seen from him as a leader is this?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think it starts with being strong up the middle. Our center is the guy that starts the process of getting everyone on the same page with the calls up front and having an experienced veteran like Ross who we moved over from guard, he's played a lot of football around here for us. It's been great, especially for a young.
Q. Early in the season, struggling to close out games the way you would like to -- what can you see as the issue how to improve that?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: It starts when you get ahead on people and you're trying to control the tempo of the game like we do, coach is big on us playing complementary football. When you get ahead to utilize the clock, when you run the ball into heavy numbers of defensive players, it creates some issues for you.
Now, I thought what we had been able to do as we finished the season with some of the controlling the ball at the end of the game, we've been able to execute a little better. Our backs have made some safeties unblock guys, miss, and I thought we've kind of did a really good job from a fundamental standpoint up front to cover people up and give us a chance to control the ball.
Q. How do you sum up the New Mexico experience?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I don't. That's so long ago, that you know, it keeps coming up, but for me that was ten years ago. I've been here for three years. I've been at Maryland. There's no need for me to sum it up or go back there. It was a great opportunity at a young age as a head coach.
As I said earlier, you learn from everything. It was a great learning experience for me.
Q. A lot of guys take that first head coaching job and they don't know what they don't know and it takes time to realize it. Is that accurate?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I think it's very accurate. The first time you're ever a head coach, I've equated it to having your first child. You can read every baby book you want to prepare you for having a baby, but until that thing comes out kicking and screaming and hungry and crying, you react.
As I said, great opportunity here and having an opportunity to work under one of greatest if not the greatest coach of all time in Coach Saban has been a great experience for me.
Q. Would you be at Maryland if you had not gotten this opportunity?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: As I said before, I think being here has helped me and also maybe played a part in me having an opportunity to become a head coach again.
Q. What kind of challenges are you facing, in quite frankly a defense that's not very good -- not your words, my words -- and two, a very challenging defensive -- what kind of challenge is that for you guys?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: It's a huge challenge. When you look at Clemson on defense, as I explained to our offensive players when we were going through our scouting report, they are a combination of Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU and Georgia all in one. Their front seven, by far, is one of the better front sevens that we face. They have got length over there at the corner position. Two, tall long corners that run well and you can tell, see some of the leadership coming from out of the safety position. Brent does a tremendous job in terms of how he goes about scheming and game planning. It will be a tremendous challenge for us but luckily for us the last four or five games of our season, we've faced defenses similar to this and we've had an opportunity to get better with each game.
Q. What have you seen from Tua and his comeback and working back?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, I thought he was finally healthy. He's been pretty much banged up since the Arkansas game where he first had the knee and we had to fight through that part of the knee injury that he sustained and then he gets the high ankle sprain in the first drive of the SEC Championship Game.
You know, I thought last week we saw him healthy and usually when he's healthy and he has the ability to be a threat as a thrower as well as a runner, it opens up things for us on the offensive side.
Q. How big is it to have that one, two punk punch?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, that's huge for us to have the ability for your backup quarterback to be a 26-2 starter, a guy that's continued to improve with each day and each practice.
I can't say enough about things about both those guys. Tua, obviously, really took advantage of the opportunities and has been really good with spreading the ball around to all the playmakers.
And then having a guy like Jalen with his skill-set to be able to come in and still utilize him in some of the game planning but also be there if Tua is not available. I think everyone on offense has a lot of confidence in Jalen as a quarterback.
Q. Is it difficult balancing your responsibilities with Alabama and getting things going at Maryland? Don't look like you're sleeping a lot?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I haven't and the time change doesn't help here, either. It's definitely been a little difficult and the closer we've gotten to this game the more difficult it's become.
But as I said before, I owe it to these players and the staff here to make sure that I finish what we started and put a lot of my time and energy into preparing us for this game.
When I have my own personal time, which we do usually in the evenings, late, that's the Maryland time where I'm making phone calls and being in touch with people in recruiting to try to have at least a foundation set so that when we get done with this game, I can hit the ground running up there in Maryland.
Q. Nick Saban gives you guys personal time?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, usually about 10:00 at night until 6:00 AM.
Q. With the time change, are you rolling out of bed about 3:30 in the morning?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I woke up about 3:00. Usually I wake up at 4:30, 5:00 on Central time, but we'll be all right.
Q. How much credit does Nick deserve for this offense, because this didn't start with you, this was four or five years ago.
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: There's no doubt. Anything and everything that involves with the Alabama football program starts with the philosophies of the head coach.
As I said in August when I had my first opportunity to speak, this is Alabama's offense and what you do as a coordinator and you learn, and I had an opportunity to see Lane when I came in as an analyst. I stayed on to see the things he added.
You usually can come in and add things but I think the biggest thing is just the personality of the play caller and implementing how you call games based on the Alabama offense. This offense and the running game hadn't changed over the years. We're always going to be an offense that wants to establish the run.
I think what we've been able to add, in addition to some of the drop back passing game or some of the things that our quarterback does well with the RPOs and the zone read stuff, we've been very fortunate that we've got a lot of skill throughout our offense and it's hard to pick a guy to defend or try to take away.
Q. Alabama is No. 4 in every meaningful passing stat. Did you ever think you would see that ever at Alabama?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, when you had an opportunity to see Tua, what he did last year, which we saw as the second team quarterback and you had an opportunity to see Jalen's continued development and with the skill receivers we had last year, having coached the receivers, those three freshmen I call the "Ruggrats: Jeudy, Smitty and Ruggs, those guys, they are very nominal athletes. They are really competitive guys. You knew that you want them involved in your offense.
So it was like a perfect storm, having a quarterback that has the ability to throw the ball. Having receivers that can create match up issues and then obviously the offensive line and the running game, being very complementary to what we do.
Q. You're a veteran coach and this program lost six coaches. For get the players. Six coaches, how big is that?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think because the philosophy of who we are, it doesn't change, because it starts and ends with Coach Saban. It's about the six coaches coming in and learning and understanding the Alabama way, the way we do things.
You know, if you know Coach, he's not big into change. He is looking to always improve and quality control the things that you do, whether it's offense, defense or special teams, but ultimately, his philosophy, you can fill it throughout the whole program.
With the six coaches that came in, they are all big-time coaches. They have all about been very successful at their former places where they have been. They have all come in and fit in very nicely. It's nice the way it's worked.
Q. When you came in, where were you in your mind --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: You know, I came in with the idea of wanting to see or get behind the curtain of the Alabama football program, look and see the consistency of how this place has won, and how Coach has been able to adapt and change and improve as a coach. It's like taking a sabbatical and going to study and become better.
When Lane called me about coming in as an analyst, they wanted to transition to some more of the spread, the zone read stuff.
I thought it was a great opportunity, not just for me, but to come to Alabama and also get an opportunity to see how Coach does things, to see how this thing works and get it behind the curtain view of it. It helped quite a bit.
Q. Did you and D.J. ever interact?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I actually stayed on at Maryland with D.J. through the first two weeks and right after Christmas was when I decided to move on.
Q. He came down to Tuscaloosa?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Maybe. You might know more than I do.
Q. How has it been having Dan on the staff?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think Dan, Josh, Brent, it's hard to single out one guy. They are all veteran coaches. They all have helped tremendously in terms of the way we go about game planning and preparing for opponents.
Dan obviously is a veteran guy that's had quite a bit of success as a coordinator and even as a head coach. With all those guys, Joe, Danny, Josh, Jeff, they have all been very helpful for me as the guy that's kind of leading the charge with the offense and to have veteran guys like that on your staff, makes things easy.
Q. How have you seen him develop the quarterbacks?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I think you can see that the proof is in the pudding in that both Jalen and Tua have gotten better and continued to improve with each game.
The way our quarterbacks have played this season has been tremendous. They have taken great care of the football. You know, the thing going into it with the quarterback, the thing you always want out of your quarterback is a guy that's going to find a way to distribute the ball because we have quite a few playmakers but also is a guy that scores points.
And ultimately as the quarterback, it's your job to move the offense down the field and score points. Both those guys have been able to do that for us.
Q. What is it about Dan's coaching that's benefitted the quarterbacks specifically?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Much like how I approach coaching quarterback, there's not a lot of gray. The one thing when you come in and coach a quarterback, you want to take as much gray out of it as you can, whether it's in the reads, the passing game, the decision-making and Dan has done a really good job there with training those guys and installing the game plan, things that we come up with.
But he's also done a really good job of drilling those guys on the fine nuances of playing the position.
Q. Now that you've been behind -- what do you take away from this time with Saban? What are two or three things that will forever stick with you that he does?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think the big thing is defining the culture. Every person that's in our program at Alabama understands what the culture is and the one voice of how we go about approaching things.
I think the other thing that Coach has done is his consistency and how he goes about working. This is a guy that comes in every morning at 7:20, 7:25, he's there till 10. He's very demanding of our players. The quality control of always taking what we've done whether it's good or bad and looking at it and diving deep into it and making sure we can do the best we can possibly do, not just in the football part of it but recruiting, player development, student athlete development.
It's so many things that I've taken from being here with Coach and the rest of the staff but I think the biggest thing is just work ethic and how he's consistently always looking to improve and not real big on complacency.
Q. With a lot of guys, they have work ethic, there from 7 to 10. What is it that separates him from other guys?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: It's the attention to detail. I mean, he's very demanding. Very few times will you catch an Alabama team not prepared for a situation. We will spend as much time as we need to to make sure that we get it right.
His attention to detail is unbelievable in terms of how he approaches offense, defense, special teams, recruiting. Every piece of that program, you can feel his impact on it.
Q. How do you balance keeping Tua in the game --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, the good thing for me is that's above my pay grade in terms of how much he plays. Going into it last week, Tua, we felt in practice he looked really, really good to us. We're going to play him until the doctor tells us he's not able to play.
It hasn't been tough balancing it because we thought he had a really good week of preparation last week, and he's off to a good start this week thus far.
Q. What would seven championships mean?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, he's not going to talk about it. That's the good thing, and so because he's not, I'm not. We're worried about taking care of this one.
Man, what a great opportunity. As I told the offense, some of these guys have been a part of this game three or four times when you look at the guys that have been in the program, and I told these guys. You know, I've been in this game 28 years and I have not had a sniff at the National Championship until I came here.
So you don't want to take these opportunities for granted, which is easy to do when you have an opportunity like most of these players have had to come in and play in these games.
And I know for Coach he looks at each one individually. It's a separate deal that's not a cumulative effect of seven en. I think it's all about this one. You know, we've got a formidable opponent and a tough, tough draw going against a good Clemson team. But we've had a good week and we're looking forward to the game.
Q. Is there any part of you -- these guys, all of you have a chance to be lifetime --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, it's a great opportunity and that's the reason why people come to Alabama, whether you're a player or a coach, or even the media, the opportunity to cover Alabama football. Man, you feel worthy to be able to cover it.
No, it's been a great three years for me. Again, I do think that having an opportunity to work with Coach Saban, to work with coach Cochrane, Jeff Allen, the people that have been a part, and the behind the scenes people that have played a major role in this program; you know, Coach gets a ton of credit and I know this: There are some people that also play integral roles in the way this thing keeps moving and keeps winning. It's been a good three years for me and you know, I couldn't be more happy.
Q. Do you feel like you're able to do both jobs?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I have to. The one thing that suffers is sleep and my social life. You know, usually it's get done with the Alabama work, ten o'clock and then try to return as many text messages and phone calls, and as we've gotten closer to this game it's become a lot harder because it's easy to get your mind -- like I can be out on the practice field and all of a sudden, something pops into my mind about Maryland and I've got to have the discipline to say, hey, stay locked in, and then have to make a mental note to come back to it once I'm done with my Alabama prep.
Q. As you look back -- inaudible.
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think the biggest goal for me was to be able to see how this thing works.
I mean, I've got notebooks full of staff meetings, pregame meetings, practice schedules. I pretty much came in and sat in the background and wrote down everything that was said. I to being great notes on decisions and when decisions had to be made on personnel, on recruiting, on football, on scheme. I mean, to have access to Coach Saban and all these coaches that he's had within his program, like I said, it's like an upper level course where you go away as a professor on a sabbatical and you just go study your craft.
I wanted to come in and see how and why this place has been so successful and I've been able to take that away because I have a pretty good idea of what it looks like, what it smells like and how it should be done.
Q. What factor does it play, when a team is consistently great in the first quarter?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I don't know. I think it starts with, you know, in your game prep, one of the things that we do, we script plays. I script my first 15 plays, and they usually include different formations, personnel groupings, to be able to see defensively how they want to defend us so that we can start the chess match.
I think we've been really good with how we've executed those plays. We usually get them into our players like on Thursday's practice or Friday's work through. By the time we go to play the game, they go through these scripted 15 plays two or three times and I think their execution, we've been pretty good in those opening drives with being able to score points, and I think it can be attributed to the way our guys have executed our opening script.
Q. What do you think might be happening, referring to your opponent, when a team is great in the second?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, once you get into the second quarter, that's typically where you have an idea or a good feeling for how they want to defend you that day. That's where you start the chess match of countering what they are doing and making adjustments to your calls or your game sheets.
So obviously Brent does a good job of making sure he kind of sees how we want to attack him and he starts the chess match from his end.
Q. Did you already put those 15 in?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: No, usually today and tomorrow we'll be working on those here. Got one more Thursday practice today, and once we get off the field this afternoon, I'll sit down and start scripting those first 15 and we'll walk through them here the next couple days.
Q. How has Dan made such an effective --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I mean, I don't know how quick the impact was. He came in and we had some really good players in Jalen and Tua and the receivers and the running backs. I think what Dan has bought to the table for us is the way he's gone about developing and teaching our quarterback the quarterback position within our scheme. You know, I know for him, he's had a background at Arkansas as a play caller. I think some of the things we've done, he's brought some things to the table that have added to our package, much like Josh Gattis has brought things that he's done at Penn State; things I've done at places I've been and we've been able to kind of mold them and organize them so that we have come up with a pretty good package of plays and things that our offense can go out and execute.
Q. How has he made your job easier?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, him being the quarterback coach and me being a walk-around guy, it allows me to be where I need to be. There's times where I'm sitting in the quarterback meeting room. There's times I can go sit in the receiver room, the O-line, wherever I feel like we need to make some improvements or even be there to suppose those guys.
It's helped me being able to make the big picture part of it. This is the first time I've kind of did this model where I'm not coaching the quarterback and calling plays, and it's afforded me the opportunity to have my hands on just about every position within the offense.
Q. Do you remember the first time, how he impressed you --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I mean, I've known Dan in passing over 20 years but he came in and interviewed for the quarterback position. We thought he was very knowledgeable of quarterback play, very knowledgeable of quarterback fundamentals and Coach obviously felt he would be a great fit for us.
It was Coach's idea to come up with me being a walk-around coordinator and it's worked out really well for us.
Q. Would you consider just going straight to --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: No, that never really crossed my mind. I had spoken with Coach, obviously as we were in the process of going through the Maryland hire. Because I've been here the last three years and seen how Jeremy was able to do it and Lane to a degree was able to do it, I knew it was doable.
I thought I owed it to the team, owed it to the offense, owed it to Coach to finish the job that we started, and so I'm here as we talk.
Q. What impact does their defensive front have on you?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Usually when I'm putting the script together, I'm not taking into account what they do. I'm actually putting plays on paper in a series to be able to maybe set things up for later in the game, but also, offering different personnel groupings to see how he wants to defend things.
So you know, I use the opening script to get a feel for how he's going to call it, and we chart it up in the box and we have a good feel based on who we have in the game, the formations we use, the plays we run, how he wants to defend it that day and with most defensive coordinators like us on offense, you do a self-scout. You try to look to see what people see when they study you, and so I utilize that script to kind of help me start the chess match of making adjustments based off of how they want to defend us.
Q. How does this Clemson defense stack up to other teams you've played this year?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: They are by far one of the better fronts that we've faced. The thing I told the offense that stands out to me is they are kind of a combination of LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State all combined.
You know, with LSU, they are a really big, strong front.
With Auburn, they were more much a twitchy powerful group.
And Mississippi State did a lot of movement stuff up front and created some issues for us.
Georgia obviously played a really good game against us.
I thought the last four games that we played, hopefully would have helped us prepare for playing a front like this because they remind me of all four of those teams that we faced at the end of the season.
Q. What does it say about him that you've evolved to where you are now --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: It would be tough to say because there's still times where you feel the impact of him saying: We need to control the line of scrimmage. We need to be physical. Which in my life or my world means, we need to run the football.
It's his program and we try to make him happy. I try to keep him happy. I do understand, and this is one of the things I've learned, being able to play complementary football. That's the part I don't think people really see out of coach because you know, there are times when we get up on people and we do a really good job.
But over the long haul, to keep scoring or to continue to go fast, it puts the defense in bad situations at times. It puts the special teams in bad situations. I think Coach has been great with establishing how we want to play each game and giving me the direction as the offensive play caller.
We are always going to be an Alabama team that's going to try to run the football. We are always going to try establish an identity, establish a physical identity at the line of scrimmage. But I think he realizes the skill that we have in receiver, the quarterback we have in Tua, the running backs we have, that we get in space; that it helps the defense when we score some points.
Q. The thing that I hear most about Alabama and Tua, people say, look, Alabama has always had -- but now four or five deep, really good guys.
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: No doubt, and tight ends like Smith, Junior and our running backs, Josh Jacobs is as versatile a player as I've ever coached.
With that it's hard to defend when you have to defend so many different weapons. For us we always go into a game trying to figure out who are the guys on defense that are game playing records and I would be hate to be on the other side of the ball and say, hey, we have to stop Jerry and all of a sudden Smith carries six balls for 130 yards and we want to stop the run so we put people in the box and we're throwing the ball over our head. That's what the versatility of the offense has allowed us to be and we've had some success.
Q. The touch chart --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: The touch chart, yeah.
Q. What's the importance of that?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I think for me, the big thing is making sure that we're distributing the ball to where people can't say, let's take Jerry Jeudy away. Let's take Harris away. Usually go into a game with trying to get a minimum of 80 plays as the goal. I think we are averaging around 70 to 71 plays a game. Obviously with some of the scores we've had, we slow it down in the second half and we slow it down in the third and fourth quarters where we're not getting as many plays as we typically would.
But you know with the touch chart, it just keeps me aware of who is getting the ball. One of the things I did as a play caller earlier in my career, I used to call good plays, like, hey, this is a good play.
I've kind of transitioned to now I call good plays for good players, and if Damien Harris doesn't have enough touches, I look at the sheet and say, hey, let me call some Damien Harris plays to get him going.
Or all of a sudden Ruggs has not touched the ball in a couple of series, let's call a few plays for Ruggsy to get him the ball.
Q. The up-front guys, Jonah Williams, what does he do for your offense, for his group in particular?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think it starts with his consistency. Jonah is one of the smartest football players that I've been around. To see how he studies the game, how he studies his opponent. Here is a guy that he does his own scouting reports on the defensive linemen he's going to face. He knows the percentage of long stick moves or up-and-unders.
The kid in my opinion is by far one of the smarter guys that I've faced, and his leadership with how he's approached things has permeated the offensive line.
He has set great examples for how you are supposed to approach games and approach practices. He's been a great player to coach.
Q. Last time coaching for these guys and they all speak highly of you, every single player we've asked. What does it mean to have coached at Alabama and these offensive players?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: It's been great and it's like what I told those guys. It would not be possible if everybody didn't put their egos or check their egos aside. We've had a ton of these guys that could have probably put up really good numbers, but they have all kind of put their individual goals aside for the betterment of the unit.
That's the part for me that's been good to see in this day and age of kids who are so self-indulged. I feel really good that the offensive side of the ball, these guys have just been really happy to see everybody have success collectively and then put some of their individual goals aside.
Q. Is there something that you hope is imprinted in their minds after you leave?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think the big thing is the philosophy of who we are on offense and who we are as a team starts with Coach Saban and not one, not one guy kind of runs that. The only guy that does is Coach Saban.
So for us, I think the consistency will be there whether I'm here or gone.
Q. Tua has gotten a lot of the press and everything, but you may have arguably the greatest wide receiver core in Alabama history. Talk about those guys.
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I had the previous of coaching those guys last year as freshmen, at least in Ruggs, Smitty and Jeudy. Everybody who was part of our program knew and saw the ability that these guys had, and they were playing limited roles last year. They were splitting time with Robert Foster and Cam Sims and Calvin Ridley.
But you saw their potential. They are all dynamic with the ball in their hands. They all have the ability to make explosive plays once they touch the ball. They have really opened up things for us on the offensive side of the ball because in years past, you may have had one receiver that was making all the catches or making all the plays, and it kind of makes you one-dimensional and now defenses can take that away from you.
Well, having all three of those guys and the addition of Smith and Waddle has made us more diverse offensively, and it's been tough for people to defend all those guys.
And it's worked out well for us having a quarterback like Tua that has the ability to throw it.
Q. Talk about the quarterback situation, how Jalen stepped up to help you get here.
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: We've said this all year long. We have a really good quarterback room. When your backup quarterback is a former SEC offensive Player of the Year, and he did it as a freshman, it speaks values.
The thing that really jump out to me especially with Jalen, and I said this before: I think the fact he grew up a coach's kid, he understands the game. He knows the business of big-time football, and the way he's approached things has been just great because I think he's used this as an opportunity to continue and own his skill-set, and he knows the scheme of this offense.
Having a guy like Tua who is as dynamic a thrower, decision-maker, that I've ever been around, it speaks volumes to have two guys that have the ability to win games for you. Of course, that would only happen at a place like Alabama.
Q. Have you found it difficult with the transition to stay in the moment with what Alabama is about to do moving forward?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, it's been tough and the closer we've gotten to the game here, the harder it's been for me. Once this game is over on Monday, I'm going to be a full-fledged head football coach at the University of Maryland.
I find myself now, sometimes my mind is racing, working on something Alabama, and a thought pops in my head and I have to write it down and make sure I come back to it.
But these kids have given everything we've asked of them and it makes it that much easier to make sure that we are giving them a great plan.
Q. When Clemson and Alabama play in this Playoff every year, what do you look at in how it adjusts and progresses?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think similar to our program, the consistency of changing pieces, new quarterbacks, changing parts on the field, that they are still able to go out and consistently be really good throughout all three phases of their program.
Q. Have you looked at them at all since the last time you played them last year, knowing that they are Clemson and you might have to play them again?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I mean, I didn't look at them prior to us getting ready for this game, no. We stay focused on the game that we have coming up.
Once the season was over and we started the Playoffs, obviously we did some breakdowns because there was a chance we could play any one of the three teams that made it.
We didn't start our Clemson prep and I haven't looked at any Clemson film until after our game with Oklahoma.
Q. Is there familiarity, playing year after year?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think familiarity is a good thing but each year is a different team. We go back and looked at some of the things we were able to do well against them but also some of the things we weren't able to do well.
You know, they are a good football team. They are really good on the defensive side of the ball and it's going to be a great challenge for us.
As Coach told our team, it's a Championship Game, so the expectation should be, it's going to be a really good game against a really good team.
Q. How scary is it to trust a true freshman at the quarterback position? Even last year, watching Tua in practice and the talent that's there, is that a mental thing as a coach?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: No, by the time these guys play in a week like, this it's week 15 or 16 for us, these guys aren't freshmen anymore. I haven't watched very much tape on their freshman quarterback but I know Tua playing in the Championship Game for us last year in the second half; the amount of reps he was able to take throughout the course of the year, when you get into playoff football, these guys aren't freshmen anymore. You basically call it to fit his strengths and what he does well. To me it isn't necessarily scary to play a freshman. I think you just have to be smart and do the things that he's capable of executing.
Q. Down to the wire last year. Would it surprise you --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Was I surprised -- yeah, I almost fell out of my chair.
Q. Did you just think the vibes he was giving you, or the No. 1 player not leaving?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Obviously No. 1 player in Alabama, good player, has the ability, big-time playmaker, for them obviously but also high school a great player. He was a kid that we were very familiar with.
Yeah, it was shocking but hey, the kid made a good decision, and we felt pretty good about the guys we signed, too, last year.
Q. When did you find out? Right before his announcement?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I found out when he picked the Clemson hat up.
Q. And Clemson's secondary, is that something --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, their two corners are really good. They have both got good length, they are 6-2,190-pound bodies. They run well. They have great, tremendous speed and man-to-man ability.
They are going to be a challenge for us.
Q. How is Najee Harris different than back in training camp?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I think like anybody in our program, you get better as the year goes along, and that's the way the program is kind of set up. We develop our roster from top to bottom with the way we practice, and you know, I've seen Najee make tremendous improvements in the pass protection. I've seen him become a better receiver out of the backfield. He's a guy that has a knack for making people miss, unblocked guys miss in the hole. I think he'll be a big-time player here.
Q. What are some challenges you've seen on tape that Clemson presents?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think the way they move their front. They do a ton of movement, and some of those movement things have been things that have created a problem for us this season.
The pressure that they bring; you know, Brent dials it up and if you don't have the ability to handle the pressure, I think you'll see it more and more and more as the game goes along.
Those are the two biggest challenges for us.
Q. Having three backs --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Yeah, we feel like we've got four. A guy like Brian Robinson, who probably has not played as much as maybe the other three but all four of those guys are very capable. You know, when you look at them, they have some different skill sets that maybe one does a little better than the other.
But having a guy like Najee, rotating in and still being very efficient and being very productive for us helps make our offense more diverse.
Q. What is his skill --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: He's as big as Josh Jacobs. They are all about the same size. I just think he has the innate ability of making people miss in the hole. Very few times does the first guy bring him down and tremendous balance and vision.
Q. How important is it to have a guy like him back there --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, I mean, it's been talked about all year long. You know, it starts with having a trigger, having a guy like Tua at the quarterback position.
With all the skill that we have surrounding him, it's important to make sure that we are distributing the ball and that we are creating matchup issues for guys. Having a guy like Smith in the passing game; having Waddle be your fourth receiver.
Typically when you have a guy like Jalen Waddle being the fourth receiver that puts them on the linebacker or maybe one of their least efficient defensive backs. That creates matchup issues. Tua has been able to those find issues and get the ball to the right people at the right time.
Q. What are they like in meetings?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think they are all really competitive guys. They are all students of the game. You know, Coach Gattis, Josh, has done a tremendous job with continuing the development of those guys.
I had the opportunity to coach them last year when they were freshmen and those guys were guys that stepped on the field, day one, Florida State, early in the first half. They came in obviously prepared enough to play early.
I think you have seen their continued development under Coach Gattis and the way our offensive system has grown. They all have played a vital part in it.
Q. What Jerry Jeudy special?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think he's probably one of the more polished of the route runners. His ability at the top of the route to win and create space is tremendous. And then very deceptive speed. Very few times do you see people catch Jerry and then you'll also see him be able to run by people.
With Ruggs, I think with him, just he is such a powerful receiver. He's that guy that catches the slant, can break tackles but then also has elite speed. Those guys have argued over who is the fastest, who can run the fastest.
But you know, Ruggsy probably, I like to call him the Energizer Bunny. He's a guy that can take a ton much reps, run fast all four quarters and get stronger as the game goes on.
With Smitty, I see him more of the 50/50 ball. We don't have a true, big receiver but we have the ability to throw the ball up to Smitty and he usually comes down with the ball. Again, good, linear, long speed to where he has the ability to get on top of people, and then you know, Waddle is just lightning in a bottle and short area quickness is elite. His ability to accelerate away from defenders. That's what their skill-sets all deliver.
Q. What does it say, a guy like Waddle coming here --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: Well, it's kind of what those three sophomores did last year, playing behind Cam Sims, Foster and Calvin Ridley. We created some niche things for him to come in and do and as he improved and made plays, we continued to build on some of the things and packages that we put in for him.
Q. How has the offensive evolved?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I mean, I think obviously the philosophies of Alabama offense, they have remained consistent. We want to establish a physical identity up front, and be able to run the football. But I do think with because of our quarterback situation and his ability to throw the ball and with the skill-set that we have out at the receiver and the tight end position, it's helped maybe grow the system a little bit and we've been very effective.
Q. What do you see in Jonah Williams?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: He's been Mr. Consistency. You know what you're getting out of Jonah, tremendous student of the game. A guy that studies it, man. I like to call him the Intellectual. He will study his opponent. He will know what their tendencies are and the way he goes about practice, usually he practices the way he plays.
Q. What unique test is Clemson --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think the biggest thing is the matchups. He's going to be matched up against one of the better pass rushers in the country, a guy that Clemson I think has 52 sacks which is unbelievable.
So the pressure that they bring is going to create a tremendous challenge for us up front, and as we oftentimes talk about, winning your one-on-one battle. He's going to have a tremendous one-on-one battle but I'm sure he's excited about it.
Q. Because you see Clemson so often, is it almost like where you know --
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think obviously with the amount of times that we've played each other, there are some familiarity with what they do but like any coordinator, at least from our standpoint, you always look at what you've shown and put on tape and you self-scout yourself to see what you've done.
I'm sure Clemson has done that and we'll expect to see some wrinkles of things that we maybe not have seen on film and we just have to be prepared to be ready to adjust.
Q. We're talking a lot to the seniors about their last game and soaking things up here. How about for you? How much do you try to enjoy what's left here at Alabama?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: The big thing is what we've talked about all along is just finishing the job. Our program is built on the fourth quarter program where it's all about finishing things.
Usually you have a game and so you focus on this game and before you worry about the next, what I told the offense, there is no next. You know, when this one's over, this will never be -- again, it will be a different unit on the offensive side of the ball. People will come and go and you have to create your own identity from after this game.
But for me, it's just been a tremendous opportunity to be able to work under Coach Saban and these offensive coaches, and on the defensive side as well and learning so much and being able to take a lot with me when I leave to go to Maryland.
Q. You've been a head coach before, but what has Saban added to your resumÃ© in terms of the way you are going to be a head coach?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I just think when you look at the consistency of the way he goes about doing things and the way he makes decisions, his process is unmatched in terms of the preparation that goes into making decisions, whether it's offense, defense, special teams, recruiting, player development.
Having had the opportunity for three years to sit in that meeting room that a guy that will probably go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, I've taken so much that I can't even put into words of how much I've taken in terms of how he approaches being a head coach and being a leader of a program like Alabama.
Q. Sometimes success has a lot to do with luck and you were fortunate to come along at a time when Alabama has some really good quarterbacks. How much do you appreciate what Jalen and Tua has been able to do for you?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: I think what they have been able to do for our offense is tremendous. The skill that we have on the offensive side of the ball with receivers, tight ends, running backs, those guys up front on the O-Line.
It's almost a perfect storm having Jalen and Tua as quarterback in this system because it's so diverse. When you look at us, the amount of touches that different players have been able to have and the way we have spread the ball around is tough to defend.
Q. Last question. You got off to such a quick start against Oklahoma. How important will that be Monday night?
COACH MIKE LOCKSLEY: One of our goals is to start fast. We script our first 15 plays and we want to be really good in those first 15 to give us an idea of how they want to defend us in this game. We are gradually getting closer to having those 15 plays finished. We have one more practice today before we have a walk-through and we'll get those things scripted.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports