We are pleased and happy to have the opportunity to be here but first I'd like to wish everyone a happy holiday. We certainly had a great holiday! I think when you have little ones like our granddaughter it makes Christmas really something special but this is a great opportunity for us to be in the College Football Playoff for the fourth year in a row. A special thanks to the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the special folks associated with the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The city of New Orleans, the hospitality here has always been outstanding for the players. I'd also like to thank [Sugar Bowl] CEO Paul Hoolahan and Allstate for their support of college football.
I'm proud of the fact that we will have 25 guys that will have their degree playing in this game. I think that brings the total to 126 that we've had in the last five years of players who have played in playoff games or bowl games with their degree. That makes us very proud because that is what we try to accomplish for our players to be able to develop their careers both on the field and off the field. That's certainly something that will benefit the quality of their life.
I think when you get an opportunity like this, which is a special opportunity to play a team like Clemson or any team that is in the playoffs at this point. The players obviously have to expect it to be a very difficult game as almost all these games are like a dogfight so you have to be able to overcome adversity and everybody has to take ownership to do their job. It comes down to what do you want to accomplish and what you are willing to do to do make it happen.
It's like anything in life I think, you make up a goal, you understand there's a process of things that you have to do to accomplish the goal, and you have to have the discipline to execute it every day and that's not necessarily a feeling - it's a choice that you choose to be persistent at the things that are going to help you be successful and you resist the things that are not going to help you be successful.
To this point relative to the preparation, we've had I've been really pleased with the coaches and the players and how they are going about that. So hopefully we'll get started down here and be able to pick up where we left off and get ourselves ready to play an outstanding game against an outstanding team.
On Alabama’s journey to get back into the playoffs and how proud he is of the way this team has persevered:
Well I think that you know one of the statements that I made last year after we didn't succeed in the championship game is don't waste the feeling. Which means learn from the things that you did or didn't do and I didn't think we finished very well. We didn't finish very well in the game, we lost the game at the end of the game, and I think your identity as a team starts with how you finish. And this team has an opportunity to try to finish this season a little better than what we did the last. I'm proud of the way they went through the season. I think we lost our identity a little bit in the last game, maybe forgot who we were and what we needed to do to be able to succeed in our last game. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to sort of rectify that in the playoffs.
On his team responding to failure after losing the last game and then getting into the playoffs:
We've responded all year long and won 11 games. We didn't finish like we wanted too. I think we need to show that we can do that.
On balancing the bowl experience and preparation for playoff games and how this game has consequences:
Well when we came to the first game four years ago we were trying to balance the bowl experience with the whole playoff experience not having ever done that before. Our players make the decisions about curfew and what they do and how they do it. I give the leadership on the team the opportunity to do that. Each passing year they have been more serious about the game and less interested in the bowl experience. They have experienced consequences in the game, good consequences and bad consequences. I think they understand that after going through the experience as I do, the fun of it all is having success. The fun of it all is winning the game and no matter what you do, you do not remember all the things that you did but you always remember whether you won or lost the game. That has changed a little bit with our players, which does not disappoint me at all. I would love to see them have a good time and be rewarded for having a great season but the playoffs have significant consequences. The opportunity that you have really does not afford itself. The two [having a good time and the outcome] do not fit together that well.
On injuries or suspensions heading into the game:
We don't have any suspensions but I think everybody's aware of the injuries that we do have. Dylan Moses was injured in practice, the third practice that we had and he won't be able to participate in this game. Hootie Jones, we lost in the Auburn game. So those two guys are definitely out. Shaun Dion Hamilton is out. But we do have Mack Wilson, and a couple outside linebackers, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis, that have been able to practice and come back and play. We've had a significant number of injuries on defense, some are back and we've lost some other guys.
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll:
Hope you guys had a good holiday. It's a good opportunity to be here. The people at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and people of New Orleans have been tremendous. It's a great opportunity for us.
We've still got a lot of work ahead of us. We have to put a good week of practice and preparation in before the holiday. Got back out on the practice field here today ?? or yesterday. So we're facing a really tough team that's highly ranked in all areas, the best team we've played in terms of statistics. They have a tremendous front seven who can get after the quarterback at length, athletics, second?level defense, ball?hawking guys are good.
Coach [Brent] Venables does a great job with his team. It's been very difficult to prepare for. He has a variety of pressures, fronts, coverages. So they're number one for a reason. We've got a big challenge ahead of us. We look forward to it, but we know we've got a lot of work to do.
Q. Is the offense where you envisioned it would be after 12 games right now?
Daboll: I'm really focused on this week. I don't go back in terms of numbers or anything like that. And we'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we weren't concentrating solely on the task at hand with the team that we're about to play, personnel?wise, scheme?wise. Look, you try to put together a good plan every week, execute that plan and give your players the best chance to be successful. And that's really where our focus is right now.
Q. The trademarks of the SEC defense are athleticism, scheme. Can you just talk about Alabama?
Daboll: Yeah, this is the most talented team that we've played. It's very well?coached. Again, they've only given up 30 points one time this year, 38?31 against North Carolina State. They've given up 20 points twice. One game they lost to Syracuse 27?24. And Louisville, I think, scored 21. Other than that, they've been under 20 every game. They're exceptional on third down.
It's just a challenge. It's a challenging defense in terms of the personnel and the scheme that Coach [Brent] Venables runs. This is the first time I've had about a month here. It's a little different for me coming from the National Football League where you only have a couple weeks if you're one seed or two seed.
So we've had a lot of time to go through every play you can go through the whole season and pass things and analyze everything you can analyze. There's a lot of information. But no question, this is a good football team.
Q. First of all, like you said, coming from the NFL, can you tell me what's the most similar thing working for [Bill] Belichick and [Nick] Saban and what's the most different?
And, secondly, as the guy who won here last year, do you use last year's game to scout this game, or is it totally for you what they've done this season?
Daboll: To answer your first question, Coach [Bill] Belichick and Coach [Nick] Saban are very similar. They're very demanding. They're very detailed. They expect your best effort. They expect you to leave no stone unturned. You have a responsibility to the team. That's your role. Whatever your role is, is very important, whether you're an assistant coach, whether you're a quarterback, whether you're a running back, whether you're a guy that does the video or the equipment.
So everybody has a role in the organization. They're the leaders that are in charge of the organization. So, obviously, you have two extremely successful leaders. And so they're very, very similar in terms of how they run an organization, the principles and values that they stand for.
So it's been a transition for me. I've worked for Coach [Nick] Saban as a GA twenty?some years ago. Not much has changed.
Q. Differences between the two?
Daboll: I think Nick [Saban] dresses a little better. (Laughter)
But, no. They're both outstanding to work for. I mean, I've been blessed. 14 of the 20 years that I've been doing this, I've got to learn from those two men, not just football, scheme?wise, which they're exceptional at, but how they run an organization.
Q. When you left college football the last time versus now, how much has changed?
Daboll: Well, look, this league that I've been privileged to be a part of has been unbelievable, extremely good talent.
There's not, like, huge, huge differences. There's some scheme things in terms of the quarterback runs and some of the things that you can do, sure. But everything is run here very professionally through Coach [Saban]. And the competition is great in the SEC. The fan base is unbelievable. The atmosphere. It's pretty interesting. The crowds and everything that goes along with the pageantry with being involved in the SEC from my first year has been a little bit eye?opening because it's packed houses. I mean, it's pretty cool. It's pretty cool.
Q. How has your relationship with Jalen [Hurts] evolved from when you first got here?
Daboll: Well, I think, when you come in as a new person ?? and it's not just with Jalen [Hurts]. It's Calvin [Ridley], Boze (Bradley Bozeman); it's any of those guys. Your goal is to try to help those guys be better players as a coach. So anything that you can do to try to improve them and teach them is important for that role, I think.
But having a personal relationship with your players, they don't really care how much you know until they know how much you care. I've got a lot of respect for all the guys in our room. It's a demanding program. They work their tails off. They're good in their preparations. They practice hard. They're good students. They're good guys.
So every day it's just like you and I met. We have to start somewhere and build up that relationship. And it's been good. I've got a good relationship with them.
Q. What did you take from the Auburn game with them and breaking that down that would help them in this one?
Daboll: Yeah, I think that every game is so unique. We really don't focus too much on the things a month ago or two months ago.
Look, I think that it's not just the quarterback position; it's every position. You hope you improve throughout the year. That's what good teams do, is they get better at the things that they're not really good at. Look, sometimes it's not always perfect. And the quarterback position, you really need ten other guys you need a whole unit to play well for everything to work. We constantly work along with the other guys and everything that we ask them to do. Whether it's the passing game or the run game, I think that everybody needs to improve in their areas.
Q. What's your assessment of the Auburn game?
Daboll: I'm so focused on Clemson right now. That's a month ago. It would be a disservice to sit here and talk about anything but Clemson. That's just kind of how I was raised, and my focus is on those guys.
Q. How about the difference between working with teenagers and 20 year olds after working with grown men for so long?
Daboll: Yeah, that's a great question. I had Gronk (Rob Gronkowski). (Laughter) No, but he's outstanding.
I have children that are their age that are going to be a freshman in college in a year and a senior in high school and all their friends that I've been around. So it's, obviously, a little different. Because you're trying to help those guys any way you can be better men, too. It's not just all football. You're there for them if they're having a personal issue. You're there for them in their studies. You're trying to help them develop to be as good of a man as they can be.
So they soak everything in. There's so much other stuff going on for these guys. In the National Football League, it's football. That's it. But there's a lot of other things outside of it here that you really have to, I'd say, hone in on and be there for those guys.
Q. Is it more satisfying, less satisfying in that regard?
Daboll: It's different. It's neither. I've really enjoyed being around these guys. I've enjoyed their work ethic. Look, younger guys are a little different than 27 year olds or 40 year olds that you deal. But these guys have been really good in everything we've asked them to do.
Q. When you have a guy like Jalen [Hurts] who's taken some criticism about his playing, how do you talk with him and help him deal with that?
Daboll: You move on.We're in the public eye, you know? So you really have to focus on your job.
And that goes for everybody. You have to focus on your job and doing the things that you can do, playing smart, playing tough, playing competitive, understanding the team we're about to play, understanding the stuff that we're installing. And really focus on that. That's where all your focus has to lie. Anything else is really not doing you any good. You really got to just move on to the next deal, just like you got to move on to the next play if a bad play happens.
Q. When Jalen [Hurts] comes off the field, what's the first thing you'll try to get across to him?
Daboll: Well, I think it depends on what's happening in the game. I can't just give you a generic thing. Review the series and some of the stuff that the defense is doing or some of the stuff that our guys did. But each situation that comes up is different. How are they playing on second and one? How are they doing on this? Is the pressure game on third down? What adjustment do you have to make?
And that kind of transpires throughout the game. It's not just the first series or the second series. The game usually develops, and then you have to get a feel how they're playing you and what you try to design. And it's a constant adjustment game. That's the world we live in.
Q. When you came here, what was the biggest adjustment in the recruiting aspect of things that you didn't have to do?
Daboll: Recruiting. Overall.
Q. How did you adjust?
Daboll: Well, I mean, recruiting is a relationship business. So going out on the road, you know look, there's a lot of rules in recruiting. So that's the first thing that I had to really hone in on. I've got the compliance officer's number on speed dial. But there's different things you can do at different times during the year. So getting ready for a draft is a little different than spring recruiting. You can't have conversations with the guys. You can go and speak to the coaches. You can't work them out. You can't get them on the board. So, really, it was more in the areas that they wanted me to go to was diving in, building a relationship with the coaches, constant communication. You really got to stay on top of it. It's the lifeblood of any good organization in college sports.
Q. How are your freshman receivers coming along?
Daboll: Good. Yeah. Very smart. These guys work really hard. They're an impressive group for starting out. They're my oldest kid's age. And, God bless them. But these guys are pretty impressive with their acumen to the game. They pick up things quickly. We have a wide variety of things that we do. And they've gotten better and better. I think Coach [Mike] Locksley has done a really good job with those guys, helping them improve. They have good attributes, too. Quickness. They can run. They run some good routes. They have good ball skills. So I think their future is bright.
Q. How do those three guys, the other receivers, assert themselves when Calvin [Ridley] is taken away?
Daboll: In the passing game, depending on the protection you want to use, you either have five guys out, four guys out, three guys out, sometimes two guys out. So everybody has a role. And wherever the ball is going look, Calvin Ridley is a very good football player. And he's his own guy, but he's got a very good skill set.
So you'd like to get your best playmaker the ball and put him in different spots. But everyone has a role. So if he's getting doubled or they're rolling to him, there's other parts to the pattern that goes to the progression. And he's not always the first progression on a read. He's a very productive player that has a good skill set that you want to try to use.
Q. Talk about [Irv] Smith and his development.
Daboll: Sure. New Orleans guy. Position, flexibility. He's versatile.
Again, the coaches that have been here and recruited these players and how Coach [Nick] Saban runs the organization, all these guys, I've just been very impressed with their maturity and how they do things.
Tight end isn't an easy position to play. Besides quarterback, there's probably more on a tight end's plate than anything, with the run game, the pass game, when he's hot, when he's not, combination blocks with the tackles, pass protection. He's got to do a lot of things that the offensive line does and still a lot of things that a receiver does. And Irv [Smith] is smart. He's competitive. He's a very selfless guy. He fits well into the room. Him and Hale [Hentges] do a good job of working together when they're in those packages. I've been very happy with Irv and his mentality.
Q. How would you describe Clemson's defensive line as a unit and what makes them so formidable?
COACH DABOLL: Well, they're talented and athletic players. They've got length. Their end guys, 99 and 7, are really good pass rushers. And they've got a variety of moves. But they get up the field, they're disruptive. They're hard to block with one tackle. You've got to use some chips and some bangs and things like that to slow them down. And, you know, they get the edger off the pressure and then the two inside guys who have size and length, they get penetration. So they have a good package with their blitzes. But they can get a lot of penetration with just four of those guys. All of them are going to play in the National Football League.
Q. How much of it is a balancing act between using a lot of personnel, you know, a lot of players versus, you know, maybe relying on one guy because, again, he's a hot hand? I mean, the incorporating of the players for exotic reasons?
Daboll: Yeah, I think we've used our guys, all of them. And all of the young guys have played quite a bit, too. We have different personnel packages with different guys in them, whether it's the running backs, the receivers. They're all responsible. We have quite a bit of personnel packages. Who's in the game, whether it's two tight ends, two receivers, four receivers, three receivers, two backs. So we try to spread it around in terms of getting guys not just play time but, you know, they're all pretty good players. So to keep guys fresh and use them, that's kind of our goal.
Q. Do you think there are diminishing returns by using maybe too many players?
Daboll: No, I think the players that we put out there, we plan for, I think we have confidence in whoever that is. So, I mean, if we didn't have confidence in the guy, we wouldn't be using him.
Q. After the Auburn game, Nick [Saban] talked about focusing on getting more of the playmakers involved. And he also spoke about kind of doing it easier, making things easier on Jalen and on the offense and the whole. How do you go about doing that?
Daboll: Look, we plan each week according to the opponent that we get. We're always looking for I'm not saying easy completions, because there's really not easy completions in football, you know? You use different drops. You can move the pocket some. But we've done that all year. We'll try to do what we think is best for this game and execute it as well as we can do.
Q. Talk about the impact that a physical running game obviously, you've been on different ends of the football has on the defense as opposed to just as effective a running game but not so physical.
Daboll: I think football is a physical sport. So one of our goals is always to be a physical football team. That starts up front with the line and the tight ends trying to get movement at the line of scrimmage in the running game, working your double teams, your combination blocks. And it's not easy. Running the ball is not easy. Whether they load boxes or they have a very good defensive front. But your goal as an offense, as a football team, is to be a physical football team. That's one of the most important things in terms of winning, executing the physical part of it.
Q. We asked Coach [Nick] Saban about Damien [Harris] getting the ball, Josh [Jacobs] getting the ball, Najee [Harris] getting the ball. He says there's only one ball.
Daboll: I'd say that's right. There is one ball. (Laughter.)
Q. How do you spread the ball around?
Daboll: You use different personnel groups. And we expect the ball to go where it's supposed to go. I've been involved with a lot of high profile guys. And the ball's supposed to go where it's supposed to go. And whoever gets the ball, they're supposed to do it. I've been involved when Rob Gronkowski is the one target. And you have guys on your football team that are very unselfish, that don't worry about that. And wherever the ball is supposed to go, that's where we expect it to go.
Q. How good is Jalen at getting the ball where it's supposed to go? How good is his decision making?
Daboll: That's his role as a quarterback is to make good decisions, protect the football, and lead the team down in points. It doesn't matter how you get there. That's the role of a good quarterback. Can you execute drives and score points, touchdowns in the end zone? Can you protect the ball, and can you make good decisions?