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SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME


December 5, 2009


Javier Arenas

Greg McElroy

Nick Saban


ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Alabama 32
Florida - 13


THE MODERATOR: We'll continue on with Alabama. We'll ask Coach Saban for some opening comments on the game and then we'll take your questions for Coach or either of the players.
COACH SABAN: First of all, we're extremely pleased and happy with the team's efforts tonight. I think that a lot in life comes down to expectations sometimes, and we didn't come here looking for a moral victory.
And I think while we were excited about what we accomplished last year as a team, I also think we learned a lot about resiliency and critical lessons in life about the intangibles it takes not to be denied, and actually used -- I told Tim this standing outside -- some of the characteristics he has, in terms of what he did for his team last year in the game, in terms of being a phenomenal competitor, as an example to our guys relative to how everybody had to buy in not to be denied in this game, but that was an intangible that would make the difference in the game.
To be a champion, that's what you would have to do. And the players trusted in the plan. Did a great job of going out and executing it. Showed great mental resolve. Played with a lot of physical toughness. And I have never been prouder of a group of players or the people in our organization.
I'm talking about the coaches, everybody in our organization who helped prepare the players for this. It's a fantastic win against a great football team and a very well coached team, and I've never been prouder of a group of players for what their accomplishment was in this game tonight.
Greg did a phenomenal job. We had a good game plan. We did a great job of executing it. And defensively, even though we got a little confused in the second quarter, we did a really good job of making adjustments and playing better in the second half. And I got them stopped in the red zone a couple times which we weren't able to do last year.
This is a great victory for the state of Alabama. I'd like to thank everyone in our organization who worked so hard to make our program one of the best programs in the country, whether it's personal development, academics, player development, or helping these players launch their career when they leave our program. Those are all things important to have a first-class program and we have a lot of people involved in that.
Our fans are part of our team. They've been a great part of our team all year, and we certainly appreciate all they've done in terms of creating enthusiasm for our players and making our players feel what they do has a lot of -- gets a lot of positive self-gratification for them because of our fans' passion and enthusiasm, and we appreciate that as well.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. Greg, Coach just talked about expectations. I would say nobody exceeded expectations like you did tonight. Was there anything you had been doing previously that precipitated this sort of break-out performance?
GREG MCELROY: It's kind of difficult to say. You know, no matter what, as long as you play this game, you're going to have ups and downs no matter what. You always have to have faith around yourself and the people around you, in order to be completely successful we all have to work together as a unit.
So the break-out performance wasn't mine. It was my offensive line. It was my wide receivers. It was Mark, Trent, Roy. It was the defense. In order to be a champion, Coach told us, you have to have a team full of champions. That starts at the highest level, with Coach. And he's a champion.
And this team can now call themselves champions. So regardless of individual success, this game was about Alabama against Florida. And a lot of people hype it up to be individual matchups and things like that, but that's not what it was.
It was about having the heart and determination to get the job done. That's what we were able to do.

Q. Coach, the cliche is that when you get to this game and don't win it, you immediately start working to get back to win it. How much truth is there in that and how much did you put into, A, getting back to this game, and, B, in particular, that we're going to face this opponent, how much work did you put into them over the offseason and at other times?
COACH SABAN: I think there was a time when we had a team meeting after the Sugar Bowl right before we started the offseason program back in February that we kind of showed a picture to the players of the SEC Championship, and we also said that there were some great teams and we would have some difficult times, but that we had to work to beat the best team in our league. And right now the best team in our league is a team that beat us in the SEC Championship game.
And everything you do, every time you go to work, every time we lift weights, every time you run, every time we practice, it's not to be as good as the guy you're playing against, it's to be as good as the guy you have to beat to be the champion.
And that's the best team in the league. And our players bought into that. They worked extremely hard. I'd also like to say that this team, different than last year's team, had to have that kind of attitude because of expectations. A lot of people had a lot of expectations based on last year. Last year's team wanted to prove they could be a good team.
This team wanted to prove that they could do something special and they wanted to be as good as they could possibly be. And that's how they worked. And that was the buy-in. And I think that's why playing in this game last year indirectly was a lesson that we all learned.
I think we also learned that when you play in championship games, you can pretty much assume that the other team's going to be pretty good, and you can pretty much assume that they're going to have resolve and they're going to want to win the game. And it's going to take an undying relentless, not to be denied attitude to be able to be a champion. I think that's what we learned last year. That's how we played this game. And that's how we won the game as a team.

Q. Greg, what was the significance holding up two fingers on the podium out there? And then if you could also talk about your feelings and emotions.
GREG MCELROY: The two fingers signifies 22; this is our 22nd SEC Championship for the University of Alabama.
It's something that's important. It's a big reason why a lot of people come here, is to play for the tradition. Our fullback said it best tonight, Baron Huber, he said: If you could write a page in history, what would you want it to say?
And we wrote our page tonight, and I think that's just a tribute to the teams that have come before us. There's a lot of pride in playing at Alabama. And I know I sure am proud to have the opportunity to play here.
What was your second question?

Q. (Indiscernible) you were taking a knee.
GREG MCELROY: It was kind of surreal in a certain extent. We really kind of went out there and we knew it was going to be like a boxing match. It was going to be 15 rounds. We knew it was going to go down to the very end.
And I think those last couple of minutes, that drive, the heart showed by the offensive line and the running backs, and I think it all came full circle in the sense that all the things we've done, all the 110s we've run and blood, sweat, conditioning, all the reps in the weight room, that's what it's all for, taking a knee against Florida to win the SEC Championship.

Q. Coach, could you talk about the play of Mark Ingram today and feeding off the good blocking that he received from your line?
COACH SABAN: I think that, first of all, to talk about any individual player on our offense would be a little unfair to not talk about every player that played on offense.
I think our offensive line did a fantastic job. Greg did a fantastic job. Our receivers did a very good job, not only of catching and making some big plays but also of blocking and all of our running backs, Mark and Trent both, as well as Roy Upchurch when he had an opportunity, did a fantastic job.
I think Mark showed a lot of resolve today because he did have a hip pointer. He did practice but he really wasn't full speed until Thursday. We didn't know how he would respond after last week's game where he got a little frustrated in the game and he also got injured.
But he went for it today, played a great game. Did a fantastic job for us. And I'm really proud of the character that he showed coming off of last week's performance as well as coming off the injury that he had and showed a lot of mental toughness and grit out there tonight.

Q. Nick, congratulations. There were several plays in the second quarter that were made with great effort. It may not have been the most perfect tackle in the world, but the P.J. Fitzgerald tackle when the score was 9-3, and then on the ensuing drive after you got the ball back, McElroy made a huge play for the first down and Trent Richardson made a great run for six yards when it looked like he was going to lose three. Can you talk about the effort of those plays?
COACH SABAN: They didn't even have anybody on the gunner that came down on that side and we lost contain. P.J.'s a good athlete. He did a great job of getting a great athlete on the ground and Trent made a couple of runs, and I remember that one where really probably should have been a two-yard loss and he made six yards.
But I think that's the kind of relentless competitive attitude that not to be denied really kind of means. Guys making those kind of plays, extending themselves, done it in every play of the game.
We really told the players a story yesterday about Sugar Ray Leonard who actually said that the first time I fought in a championship fight I lost. I prepared. I knew the strengths and weaknesses, I was in great shape, but the thing I remember about the second time I fought for the championship and won was I had an unrelenting, not-to-be-denied, intangible attitude, and I was going to have to do it for 15 rounds and go toe to toe, and that's what made me win.
And I think there's a lot of examples out there today of the way our players competed and played in the game that showed that kind of resiliency, and that's what it takes to be a champion.

Q. Javier, on your interception, what was your responsibility on that play? And talk us through it. And second for Coach Saban, last year you were in the same position going into the fourth. Tebow made the play, this year your defense finished. Could you talk about finishing all the time, if could you talk to that?
JAVIER ARENAS: On the interception they ran a play we see a lot even from our offense. And we were in the coverage that we were in, I had No. 2, but if No. 3 came out he was my responsibility.
And they had athletic guy, No. 3, which was the tight end, very good tight end. And so I knew I had to be on my Ps and Qs when he came out I read him, seen him. I went up to make the play?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that the key to the game today was we did a better job on third down. I think we had a little different philosophy of how we played the game today. I think it was a little simpler for the players. I think when we played man to man we did a really good job of covering them. When we pushed the pocket with five guys we did a good job with pressure, whether we got sacks or not. The goal was to make Tim throw the ball from the pocket, not let him run and try to cover people. And when we had to do that, we did it twice in the red zone.
We actually were in a pressure, and on the play that Javier made and when they reloaded the back to block the pressure, the plan was to, what we call, hands out of it and go to cover 7, which is what we did. They ran the man beater to beat the blitz and check to it.
Then we dropped zone and actually Kareem should have been in the deep third and that route that they run is something that we see a lot. And Javier recognized it and got up underneath the throw. The field was shrunk that's why he could make the play and did a great job reading it.

Q. Nick, in your career, when you face a team that you've lost to the previous season, you've done that about I think it's 14 times. Certainly collegiate. You've only lost once. You're 13-1 in that scenario. What is it about your coaching that creates a record like that? It calls for a modest answer, but, really, what is it about your coaching that creates that record?
COACH SABAN: I don't know. First of all, I didn't know anything about the record. So you caught me kind of off guard here. But I think that really when you play someone that you haven't played before, you learn a lot about how to play them and what you need to do have success. We had a completely different philosophy in how we played defense in this game compared to the way we played it a year ago.
But I think it's what we learned from playing last year. We would rush four guys and play pattern match and Tim would run for a first down about three times. We didn't do that very much today. We sort of learned our lessons and made good adaptations.
I think our coaching staff did a fantastic job of putting together a good plan. Kirby has done a fantastic job all year and does a great job of implementing it in the game. And to have players out there to make adjustments on these things, I think creates an advantage for us. And they understood the offense and what they were trying to do and responded a couple of times in critical situations in ways that helped us make plays.

Q. There was a time earlier this year after Game 3 or 4 where you said any player who hadn't bought into this team needs to do it now. I was wondering if there was a time this season, maybe tonight or some other time, where you thought that everyone had bought in?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that we probably have a guy or two somewhere around that hasn't bought in. Most of those guys don't play a lot. You've got to be responsible and accountable and be able to do your job. That's not just knowing what to do. There's a way you have to do it in terms of the effort, the toughness and the intangibles and the dependability you have and discipline you have in carrying out your responsibility.
And I, quite frankly, think when you have a critical mass of players on your team that think like that, they really don't want the other guys that don't think that way to be out there with them.
We have a lot and we have a critical mass. Do we have all? I'm not sure I'm ready to say that. Maybe these guys can comment on it. But they'll get there. They learn, they grow, they grow up like kids, and they find out what it takes. But you don't compromise your beliefs in what you have to do to be successful and you don't let them compromise doing right to do it.

Q. Greg, on that second effort run by Trent, you made a block. And did you flash a muscle pose to the Florida bench? And all night long is this the most emotion you've showed during a game?
GREG MCELROY: As far as the muscle pose is concerned, I don't have a lot to show off, so no. And if I did so, it was totally by accident.
And as far as emotion is concerned, this game is full of emotions. It's a revenge game to a certain extent. It's a game that we came up just short 15 minutes shy of last year. So, yeah, we were all emotional.
Why would you play the game if you didn't care to a certain extent? This is what we put in all our time for. This is what we spend hours upon hours preparing for. These are the games that you come -- you want to play in college football. This is a tremendous atmosphere, and I couldn't help but get overwhelmed by it at times. But at the same time our execution and our willingness to stick with the plan allowed us to really persevere through adverse situations.
So, yeah, when things went our way I was going to get pumped up because if I'm carrying out my fake on the backside, I'm going to root for those guys to run, just like a fan would.
So it was a special game. Special to be a part of this team. And it sure was a tremendous victory on all accounts.

Q. Greg, during the season when you hit kind of a lull in the middle of the season. Does any of that criticism get back to you? You guys are so insulated all the time. Does it affect you? Does it matter?
GREG MCELROY: I think everybody wants to be praised and wants to be celebrated at all times, but that's just not the nature of the beast. As long as you have faith in yourself and continue to enjoy what you do and what you put in a lot of time for, then you will be successful. It's just recognizing the little things that allow you to be successful throughout the course of the game. And sometimes you can get away from that and see the whole picture.
And sometimes that can be a real negative. So at this position, yes, take the good with the bad. And oftentimes you get way too much credit, which that's just the way it is. And oftentimes you get a lot of blame, too. I just do it like my idol, Tony Romo, does, and take the good with the bad and go out there and have fun when you play the game.

Q. Greg, seemed like you ran the rhythm throwing the ball from the minute you stepped off the bus. From this week of practice and the game plan and from just waking up this morning, did you have the feeling that today was going to be a big day throwing the ball?
GREG MCELROY: You know, you have expectations, but you never really understand what it's going to take to get a victory until you actually set out there on the field.
So I thought that we had a tremendous week of work. I thought the game plan was sound. Coach McElwain, Coach Pendry and Coach Cig, Coach Williams and all those guys did an awesome job putting it together and making it clear what they wanted us to accomplish.
You can't say enough about the work that our offensive line did, from left to right, James, Mike, William, Barrett and Drew, those are the guys that allowed us to be successful in the passing game. It's not what I did or Julio or Marquis or any of those guys did. It's about the fact that I was kept off my back for a majority of the game. And that's a true testament to what they did, because they have a great front seven that was out there tonight.
So it was a great win, great victory, and it's really fun to go to the University of Alabama.
COACH SABAN: I'd like to thank the media and everyone who has covered our team all year this year. I said something about that yesterday at the press conference. I know our players really appreciate the positive self-gratification you give, and we appreciate all your hard work that you do in covering our team and making a lot of people aware of what our team's all about. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

End of FastScripts




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