I'll have audio and transcripts for Dabo, Trevor Lawrence, Austin Bryant, Nick Saban, Tua and Xavier McKinney, the Orange Bowl Defensive MVP, shortly. Stay tuned!
DABO: Thank you. Well, just kind of long day yesterday and traveling back, and quickly turning the page to this incredible opportunity that we have in front of us. But first of all, I just want to say thanks to all the CFP folks. Y'all know y'all do an amazing job working all year to make this a great experience, and the Cotton Bowl was just awesome for us. Everybody associated, our players had a great time, and it was just a really, really good week.
We played a tremendous opponent in Notre Dame, and we played a heck of a ballgame. Really proud of my guys. They've worked their tails off all year to put themselves in this situation, so we're excited about heading out to California later in the week.
You know, I think that this is clearly the two best teams in Alabama and Clemson, and it's going to be an exciting game. I mean, this is the way it should be, and we know we've got a huge challenge. Want to congratulate Alabama, as well, for just another amazing year, and Coach Saban and what he's done, it's just – they're hard to beat.
But we're excited about the challenge, and we're off and running with our prep, and got a short week to kind of get ready to make the long flight out there on Friday. But we're so thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.
I know you've used the Rocky movies going into this in the past, but now that you've seen Alabama for four years, what's the biggest thing mindset-wise that you emphasize with your players in preparation?
DABO: Well, I don't really have to emphasize it with this group, I mean, because they know. Like you said, we've played them now four years in a row, and this is a veteran team that we have. They understand that this is a game where you just have so little margin for error. I mean, it's two or three plays, literally. You've got to have great preparation mentally and physically to get yourself ready.
I mean, these are two really good teams that are both hard to beat, and you've got to do the little things to give yourself a chance, whether it be that field position battle, it's where your guys are, it's your footwork, positioning, it's technique, because you just don't have a lot of room for error, either team. I think when you look at this game, I think both teams are kind of mirror images of each other to be honest with you, really good defenses, dynamic quarterbacks, very talented running backs, and explosive skill, and just kind of built in the trenches. We're so similar.
So it's going to come down to just execution and mentally being sharp and making those two or three plays that you don't know when they're coming. So you just have to truly play every play like it's the play.
But we love that challenge, and we know exactly what's coming for sure with the type of team that we're getting ready to play.
I'm curious if there has been any more that you've been able to learn about the situation with Dexter or the two other players and if you anticipate any sort of an appeal process going through prior to the National Championship game?
DABO: I have not learned anything, like I say, since Thursday. Obviously we played and traveled all day yesterday, but Dan Radakovich is leading that front, and I know that they'll be having some meetings and stuff today and trying to figure out what the moving-forward process is going to look like. Obviously we don't have a lot of time for this game. I'm hopeful that maybe something positive will come out, but I don't know anything at all.
And then beyond this game, we've got – there will be an appeal process that our players for sure will want to battle because there's consequences for next year. Dexter obviously has the ability to go pro, and with Zach and Braden, Zach has got a year left, and Braden is just going to be a sophomore. There's a longer runway for dealing with that and the process that's in place and what they've all got to do, but I don't know anything at all as far as relevant to this game.
The other thing I wanted to ask you, you've talked a lot in the past about how you can watch recruiting film of a guy and see the talent that they have, but you don't really ever know how that translates until they're actually doing it on that stage. At what point did you realize that Trevor was never going to be overwhelmed by the stage that he was on, that he's sort of the coolest guy in the room all the time?
DABO: Yeah, well, you know, I don't think I can say I actually knew until I started coaching him last spring and just saw how quickly he processed things, how easy it was for him. I don't know about easy, but just his preparation, his focus, but his ability to absorb installation and then take it to the practice field and how quickly he adjusted to kind of the speed of everything. He just never really looked like a freshman.
That's probably the main thing, but the other thing is, to be honest with you, when he committed, you obviously could see greatness on tape, but as far as who he is, he's a little bit like Deshaun in that way. But he committed to me December of his junior year, and at that time we had two really talented high school senior quarterbacks that were getting ready to sign with us in the class ahead of him, and then we had a couple of really good ones on the team already, and to this day, he never asked me about another quarterback, ever, not one time. Never asked me one question about anybody that we were recruiting, anybody on our roster, and I just think that to me, that was one of the things that I knew early on, like this guy here is – he's kind of got a – he's got a rare confidence and focus. Just has always been really locked in on himself and who he is and not worried about things he doesn't control.
I was hoping you could speak on the development of Nolan Turner and specifically the interception that he made in the Notre Dame game and certainly all the family – well, since the passing of his father, as well.
DABO: Yeah, well, he's really developed into a great player. He's just an amazing story. It's amazing how God orchestrates things. His senior year in high school – and I had offered him an opportunity to walk on here at the time. We weren't recruiting any DB's, and after that first National Championship game in '15 out there in Arizona, all of a sudden I had four DB's leave early that decided that they were going to turn pro, because as a coach you're assuming these guys are back, and it's hard to go recruit when you don't have scholarships, so really had not recruited hardly any DB's, and then all of a sudden those guys decided to go ahead and go pro. T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse and Mackensie Alexander and Travis Blanks, they all left. Now we're going out and all of a sudden we've got about three weeks to recruit DB's, and we found K'Von Wallace, and I didn't know who K'Von Wallace was until a week before signing day. And he's a starter.
We found Isaiah Simmons out in Kansas. I had never heard of Isaiah Simmons until about eight days before signing day. We were able to get Trayvon Mullen, who we had recruited, but wasn't sure how it was all going to play out and if we'd have a spot, and then we were just kind of looking around, and I said, you know what, I'm going to go back and look at Nolan's film again, and I called his high school coach. I mean, I looked at his tape, and I'm like, man, this kid can play, and as – I called Buddy Anderson, and when I called him, that's what he told me. He said, Dabo – Buddy has been coaching like 50 years at Vestavia High School, and he said, Dabo, this guy is as good as any player I've ever had. He goes back to when I was playing high school ball, and he's seen so many guys come and go, and just for whatever reason, he was just kind of overlooked. And I think Alabama had offered him a walk-on spot.
So I showed Brent the tape without telling him who he was, and Brent was like, man, this guy can play, where is he at, who's he, kind of a deal, and I was like, that's the only confirmation I wanted right there.
So we took it from there, and we signed Nolan, and his genetics, just – we knew he was talented. He can run. He's explosive. He's twitchy. But now he's just developed physically. He's a 212-pound kid, and the confidence, he knows the game. So he's a redshirt sophomore and has really had a great year for us.
You know, I knew last year, he tackled Lamar Jackson in the open field up at Louisville as a redshirt freshman, and I was like, okay, this kid here has got a chance. So it's just been a – he's just one of those developing guys, and he's going to be a great player. He's already had a heck of a year for us, but the play the other night was a big play. He's made a bunch of them. He came back later and got a ball out on the sideline. So I'm just really, really proud of him, and he's a great example to his teammates, and he's a great example to us as coaches and a great reminder that you've got to trust your instincts. You can't get distracted because maybe a guy has got a million offers but you don't see it, or you see it and he's got no offers. You've got to be convicted in what you believe.
If there is one other constant through all these four games with you, not only you and Coach Saban, but it's also Hunter Renfrow, the development of Hunter Renfrow and what kind of asset has he been in your building of your program there at Clemson?
DABO: Well, I think he's a great representative of everything we want our program to be about: Grit, heart, toughness, perseverance, belief, just character and class in everything that you do. And that's exactly who Hunter Renfrow is. He's just an amazing young person. He just graduated. He's getting married in April. Just a wonderful story. I mean, he's what makes college football special, stories like Hunter Renfrow, and just really proud of him, and glad we've got him for one more game. So thankful.
Outside of getting a chance to go play for the National Championship, the best thing is I get one more week with my guys, this senior group, and just what a special group it is. I'm just so thankful I get one more week to prepare to go do something we all love to do.
I know you compete against the ACC, you compete on a different level against South Carolina, your state rival. When you're sort of looking at your plan in the off-season, are you competing? Are you looking at Alabama as a way, as a team that you're competing with that you're sort of looking at their standard, and are we keeping up to their standard?
DABO: No, no. I think when you start comparing yourself to other groups, then you miss out on (indiscernible). We study everybody in the country, but more importantly, we've got our own standard here, and we want to be the best version of ourselves year in and year out. So that's what we focus on is what we did good, what we did bad, how do we continue to improve. But we don't try to be anything other than the best version of us.
I think if we try to be something that we're not or try to do things that aren't within our culture or structure or our beliefs, then you can get off track.
But we pay attention to everyone out there, not just Alabama, but everybody, whether it be schematics or anything that's new or cutting edge, whatever. We're always trying to get better. But at the end of the day, we just try to be the best version of us, and we're not trying to live up to anybody else's standard. We've got our own standard here. That's all we try to do year in and year out is stay true to our core values and the things that we believe in, and then we start over every year. But we learn and grow from each season. We learn from other people. But we don't sit around and try to compare ourselves or anything like that.
Now that you're getting to be sort of an expert in the playoffs, I'm wondering, what do you consider to be the ideal number of days between the semifinals and the championship game? And would the playoffs be better serves if all of the semifinals – the semifinals were played on January 1st every year instead of December 28th or 29th and having bowl games after that?
DABO: Yeah, well, I guess – I mean, if I had my preference, I would prefer to not have to manage Christmas at the bowl sites. I mean, ideally I would prefer to play the games on the 1st to allow everyone to have a little break for Christmas. That would be my personal preference. But it is what it is, and I understand why, because it's just they don't want to push the game back – the National Championship game back, so they're trying to have it on that Monday, and so to – for us to try to play a game on the 1st, obviously that's tomorrow, so that would be a really tight turnaround.
So I think they did the right thing, the CFP, because that was – I know we all complained about that. I remember one year it was like the biggest – it was the quickest turnaround. It was crazy, what you're trying to do, and moving a lot of people around and getting back and getting situated just to feel like you're prepared for that moment.
So I think this is a good amount of time. I would love to have maybe one more day, but I do think this is a very good time to be able to have yesterday to travel back and now we've got a full week, full eight days of prep. I think this is the right amount of time for sure.
I wish we didn't have to manage the Christmas process, but I would rather do that than to push the game later in January, number one, or have to have a shorter week of prep for the National Championship. I wouldn't want to do that. And that's why they made the adjustment that they did.
GINA LEHE: We are now joined by Trevor Lawrence and Austin Bryant.
Trevor, I've wondered, Dabo said something a moment ago that you had committed to Clemson after your junior year or during your junior year or something like that of high school when they had tremendous talent at your position coming in, and you just didn't seem to care. You've never worried about someone else's ability, just your own. Why was Clemson the right choice for you?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: I think just kind of everything, not the depth chart, not that kind of stuff, just the culture and the coaches and just everyone on the team, the guys I wanted to be around and the type of people I wanted to surround myself with, and then obviously a great team that's going to play for championships. So those were the big things that had me wanting to go here. And then I just knew that all this stuff will take care of itself and that this is the right place for me.
What, if any, impact did another high school star from your state in Deshaun Watson having such a great career at Clemson have on your decision or your interest in Clemson?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: I mean, he kind of laid the path. I think just what he did here and what he was able to accomplish was something to look up to, and definitely seeing him do that, it was kind of like, you know what, why can't I do something like that. I think he just kind of laid the path and if anything gave me some confidence to be able to come in and kind of do similar things to what he did.
Trevor, in speaking to Alabama tight end Miller Forristall, he talked about your friendship and being high school teammates and all, but he said you have discussed this match-up for a long time. Can you kind of go into when was the first time you even approached him, maybe even playfully, about meeting up in this kind of situation?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: I think we talked about it right as the season started or before, maybe even right when I got on campus. I can't remember when the first conversation was, but a few times kind of as the season has gone and we've seen how everything has progressed, we've kind of joked about it and talked about it, and it's cool that the first time we get to play each other and be on the same field since high school is for the National Championship. So it's going to be awesome. Me and him are good buddies, and I'm excited to see him, and it's going to be a lot of fun.
Can you just kind of go into how – obviously your relationship goes back to your freshman year there and that quarterback competition, just kind of go in deep about what his friendship with you and that relationship means to you?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, it means a lot. I've been through a couple different quarterback situation as far as like in high school and then also here in college, but that was kind of the first one, and came in as a freshman, and he was a junior, and he was another quarterback, and he was trying to – he had just transferred there the year before, and he was trying to get the starting spot his senior year. We were competing and working, and then I ended up starting a little bit into that season. It was tough on him, obviously, but then he ended up moving to tight end and was a really good player at tight end, so he got a bunch of offers and went to Alabama. I think since then, since he kind of accepted that role as tight end, our friendship grew, and he still to this day is one of the hardest workers I've ever played with, and he's a good guy.
This question is for Austin. This is the fourth time you'll get a chance to prepare for an Alabama team. I'm wondering if you've had a chance to dig into them much film-wise, and what is the difference between Alabama you've seen in the past and Alabama with Tua?
AUSTIN BRYANT: No, I haven't had much time to dig into them film-wise yet. Probably only seen like 13 plays. This morning I woke up and I couldn't sleep, so I watched a little bit. But they're a heck of a team. Everybody knows that. They're going to be well prepared. They have a great offensive line, great offense in general that plays lights out, have a bunch of plays, and then we all know that quarterback, as well as their backup quarterback, he can hurt you with the ball, too. It's going to be a tough challenge, but we've got a little time to put a plan together and prepare, go back to the drawing board and hopefully produce a different result than we did last time.
Trevor, I know quarterbacks have a tendency to cross paths with one another. Have you crossed paths at all with Tua coming up through high school days and camps and things like that?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, one time we were out in California for Steve Clarkson's camp thing, this past summer, and I saw him out there. We didn't talk a ton, but we introduced ourselves and just talked for a minute, and he seems like a really good guy, but I didn't really get to talk too much to him.
Austin, your three linemates were all first-team all-ACC this year, all got named to All-American teams, and all of them appear in various first rounds of NFL mock drafts where we haven't quite seen your name. Do you ever feel a little underappreciated or slighted maybe from the outside that the other three seem to get a little bit more publicity or however you want to put it, although you kind are all kind of equals, and also was it a little bit of vindication in that regard that you had such a wonderful Cotton Bowl and earned the MVP honors?
AUSTIN BRYANT: It's easy for someone on the outside looking in to assume that I feel that way, but all of those things are things that I can't control. There's a way people perceive me or see other people, and I can't control that. All I can do is do what I can do, put the work in each day and prepare to play my best game. All year I felt like I've done that. I feel like I've played better than I have last year. That's really all the vindication that I needed is just to see my progression from last year until now. It doesn't really matter what the media portrays or puts out there because I know what kind of player I am, and believe in myself and have full confidence in myself to play the best that I can each and every Saturday.
And then a quick follow-up for Trevor, now that you've been through it for a week, what were maybe some of the challenges like or just give me your thoughts on your experiences for the first time in college being away for a game for an entire week, all of the extra media obligations and all the other stuff that comes into being one of the focal points of a semifinal game, all the hype and all that stuff.
TREVOR LAWRENCE: I thought it went well. I think definitely there could be some challenges as far as just not being focused if you don't really know what you're there for as far as getting caught up in all the other stuff. But I think our team did a great job of focusing. I think we had one of the best weeks of practice we've had all season, and we were really locked in and I knew what we were out there for, and we had a good time, and we enjoyed everything else, but ultimately we knew what we were there for, and I think the guys and the coaches did a great job of keeping us all locked in.
Question for Trevor: I'm curious in the film study, especially secondary-wise from Alabama, how well do they disguise their coverages, and how hard is it to read from the pre-snap reads from that secondary at Alabama?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: I mean, well, we just got back yesterday evening, so I haven't really had much time to really break them down yet, but I watched a little bit. They're just a great defense all the way around. Alabama every year always has a good defense, and I think it's going to be a challenge, obviously. But I mean, I think the biggest thing is just they have great players. They have length in the secondary and speed, obviously. But every position they've got good players, so we'll get that broken down, and the coaches have already been working on that, I'm sure, so we'll get in there probably today and I'll get a look at that.
From starting this year as a backup to taking over as the starter, how difficult was the transition for you personally, and at winning the team over, as well?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: I think it was just one of those things, you just have to earn respect and just kind of show what you can do and prove yourself a little bit, but coming in, I would say the biggest thing is not to be that guy that's cocky and comes in and thinks he's going to do all these things. You can be confident, but I think it's just got to show through how you play and all that stuff instead of what you say. So I think just coming in and kind of going to work and not really worrying about anything else and just doing what – just controlling what I can control and doing what I thought was best. Just gradually earning the respect of my teammates and just kind of showing what I can do I think has helped me earn their respect, and now to this point I feel like everyone on the team is really close and we're hitting our stride at the right time.
Trevor, the hit that you took against Syracuse in your first start, what was the reaction like from the coaching staff after that, and what did you kind of learn from that whole experience?
TREVOR LAWRENCE: Well, I think we learned a lot of things as far as if one player goes down, it's not like – it's not the whole team. We've got guys, and Chase stepped up and played great and brought us back, and that was awesome to see him do that. I think that's something that we learned is we've got depth and we've got guys that can play all around, so I think that was big for I think just the fans and the team to see, and for Chase to be able to do that was awesome.
And then also just being smarter about taking hits and stuff like that throughout the season, I've learned not to take a few hits, and still learning, obviously, but just being smarter about throwing the ball away and that kind of stuff.
Alabama teleconference is at 12:30, so I'll have audio and transcript for them in a bit!
I was going to ask Saban what he recalled about recruiting Justyn Ross and if he expected Ross to make as big of a splash as he has this year as a freshman, but someone beat me to it and didn't even ask the question as well as I would have. So instead I asked Saban how much of a loss Dexter Lawrence is for the Tigers should he not be eligible. Tua was asked about his ankle, and he said it was sore after the Orange Bowl. He said he was receiving treatment daily and will all the way up to game day. Audio and transcripts are below!
SABAN: Well, you know, it's a real opportunity for our players to be able to play in the championship game again against an outstanding Clemson team. Coach Swinney and his team have had an outstanding year, and being 14-0 and ACC champs, they've got a really nice group of players on both sides of the ball. They're a complete team in terms of their offense being very productive, averaging 44 points a game and 530 yards. The freshman quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, has done a fantastic job for them all year long. They've got great balance on offense in terms of their ability to run and throw and a talented group of receivers. Their defense is one of the best defensive teams in the country in lots of different categories, and they've got a really good front seven, and they're very well-coached. This is certainly a complete team.
But again, our team is very excited about having the opportunity to be in the college football championship game again. This is several years in a row we've had to play, or got the opportunity to play Clemson, which is one of the great programs in the country right now. We're certainly looking forward to the challenge.
Obviously you were talking about what a great job Dabo has done at Clemson. He tells the story about when Tommy Bowden was fired and he was coming into coach, he kind of regretted that he hadn't taken the job with you that you had offered him. Then he talks about after his second year where he thought he was going to be fired but then he wasn't and said it was going to be the best decade in Clemson football. Can you tell me what you saw in him as a young coach, obviously, other than being an Alabama alumnus, and just the job that he has done and coming through with their problems and having the best decade in Clemson football?
SABAN: Right. Well, I think everybody here at Alabama, because Dabo was a player here and a coach here, has a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's really a personal friend that I personally have a tremendous amount of respect for, as a coach, as well. They've done just as good a job as anybody in the country when it comes to what they've been able to accomplish over the last decade in terms of consistency and performance each and every year. They do a great job in recruiting. They do a great job of developing players. It's just a really, really good program.
We have a lot of respect for him, and that's why we tried to hire him years ago, but things worked out extremely well for him, and we're happy for him and his family.
I'm wondering if you can think back to your preparation for the 2015 game, and if you had taken much notice at that time of Hunter Renfrow, and having now played him about to be for the fourth time, how your opinion of him or take on him or preparation for him might have evolved since then.
SABAN: Well, he's an outstanding player, no doubt, and he's got great quickness. They do a really good job of using his skill set effectively for what he can do. He's difficult to cover because of his quickness. He's a very crafty, smart player, got great hands, and I can't remember back to 2015. But we thought he was a good player then, and we think he's an even better player now.
Do you find it interesting at all, or is it more commonplace maybe than people give it credit for, that there are guys with that kind of talent that still managed to kind of fall through the cracks in recruiting?
SABAN: Well, I think that probably even more so now than ever before because of early signing date and what some of this does is for a player who maybe is undersized or develops a little later or has a great senior year, maybe a lot of programs have already signed a lot of guys, and they're not really going back looking for players like this because they've already made all their decisions in recruiting.
I think it's a little bit of a disadvantage for late-developing players, not that I know enough about Hunter Renfrow to say he was late developing. I know he was a smaller guy that really worked hard to get to where he is right now, and it's certainly paid off for him.
I was just curious, you've talked about how you tend to focus on looking ahead, not behind you, but in preseason when Alabama and Clemson were rated No. 1 and No. 2, how much even in the back of your mind you were anticipating this match-up coming this point of the season?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think as the season evolved, just knowing how well Clemson played all year long and how they were pretty dominant in their league, it was no surprise to me that they would end up where they are right now. You're always looking at the next game and not looking too far ahead and all that, but it's no surprise to me that they're in the championship game, as well.
How much have some of these match-ups in the past, the past three years really, do you feel like have come down to kind of a single – I wouldn't call it like a trick play, but pulling something out of your sleeve like the onside kick, things like that, to make a difference in a game like this?
SABAN: Well, I think when you're playing against a very good team and you anticipate that it's going to be a really tight game that you're always looking for somewhere or someplace in the game where you can create an advantage for yourself and try to put your players in the best position to have a chance to be successful. You know, I think we do that for every game, but I think when you play in games like this, sometimes those plays can have a huge impact because it's probably going to be a pretty close game.
I just wanted to see, what do you remember from the recruiting process with Justin Ross, and what have you seen on film from him this year at Clemson?
SABAN: Well, he's played outstanding for them. I mean, he's made a lot of big plays. He's a great vertical threat. He's a big target. He's very crafty for a guy that is just a freshman. We thought he was one of the best players in Alabama a year ago, and certainly recruited him with as much enthusiasm as possible. We just came up short. It's no surprise to me that he's having an outstanding year, and we'd love to have him here, but we've got to try to prepare to play against him.
Didn't it come down to very late in the process that you guys felt like you were still in the mix with him, even the final 24 hours where it was still up in the air as to where he could go?
SABAN: You know, I don't really know. That would probably be a better question to ask him. We thought we were in the mix, but sometimes you think that, and sometimes a guy has already decided what he wants to do. We knew that the competition was always going to be really keen versus Clemson, and it's unfortunate for us that it didn't work out our way.
Going even back to the recruiting process, do you remember the first time that you saw Trevor Lawrence play?
SABAN: Ooh, I think it was when he was maybe a sophomore. Even then, there was no question about the fact that he was going to be one of the best players in the country at his position. He certainly is that. Had a great high school career, and again, we tried to recruit him here, as well, and things have worked out well for him in terms of the position that he's in and the job that he's done for them. We know he's a fine young man and really a great competitor. He's certainly proven that over the course of this season.
I'm not sure how much time you've had to watch on film, I know you guys have been traveling, but what specifically kind of stands out with his game based on just what you've seen from him on the field during his freshman season?
NICK SABAN: Well, he certainly doesn't look like a freshman, that's for sure. I mean, he's got a lot of poise and does a really good job of executing their offense. He's very instinctive in terms of making the reads that he needs to make and doesn't make a lot of mistakes in terms of where he wants to throw the ball, and he's got a great arm and he's very accurate. He's got some really good skill players, and they've made a lot of explosive plays because of it. But he's also done a good job of taking what the defense gives in terms of making a read sometimes. They have great balance, so their ability to run and throw I think is what makes them effective, and he certainly does a great job of executing it for them.
You've faced Dexter Lawrence the last couple of years; how much of a loss do you think that will be for Clemson facing them this time around if he should not be eligible for this game?
SABAN: Well, obviously we have a tremendous amount of respect for Dexter Lawrence. He's probably one of the best linemen in college football, no doubt, in terms of his production and his performance. He's played really well against us in the past. They've got a great front seven. I know they've got a lot of other really good players, and they all complement each other. They didn't seem to have a lot of issues last week in the game, still sort of playing to the standard that they've been able to play to all year long on defense. But we think he's a real special player, really special person, from having recruited him, and he's got a great family, and I'm sure he's got a very bright future ahead of him.
There's already been some questions about some players you missed out on recruiting, but the decision three years ago to take Josh Jacobs, I was hoping you would comment on his development and overall his development throughout this season.
SABAN: Well, Josh has been a really good player for us, very consistent player in all phases of the game in whatever he's been asked to do. He's one of our best special teams players, and he's really played well for us all year long, especially in these last few games. He's had some outstanding performances. We've always been really pleased with Josh and what he's been able to contribute and his contribution has certainly helped us be successful offensively. I think our offensive staff here has done a really good job of utilizing his talents, and his production has reflected that.
If Christian Miller can't go, could we possibly see LaBryan Ray have a bigger role in this game?
SABAN: Well, they don't really play the same position, so LaBryan has done a nice job for us, and we want to continue to be able to play him in the role that he's played in. But they don't play the same position, so I don't think that'll be a factor.
There's this sort of conventional wisdom that the defensive line is probably the toughest position to recruit to, that it's just harder to find these great players. Clemson and Alabama obviously have done a very good job of that. What is your opinion on that particular aspect of recruiting, finding defensive linemen?
NICK SABAN: Well, I do think that most people would agree, whether it's the NFL Draft or trying to find guys and recruit guys when they're in high school that have the size and athleticism to be effective in terms of their power, ability to strike, as well as athletic enough to pass rush. I think it's even more difficult now with sort of the spread because there's more loose plays, plays in space, where it requires guys to be able to run and play in space.
I would agree with you that these guys are hard to find, and I would agree with you that Clemson has a really good crop of guys that have played well for them, but that's been the case every year that we've played them.
I'm curious, you're sitting here with six titles, potential opportunity here for a seventh, which is just tremendous. I wonder when you first started out as a head coach and you kind of looked down the line about what you had hoped to achieve, your most fantastic dream or thought or definition of success, how would you have defined success this deep into your career?
SABAN: Well, you know, I think that my goal is always – I define success by are you getting your team or that particular team that you're coaching right now to play to their full potential or their capabilities or the standard that they need to play to to be the best version of themselves. That's individually and collectively on all sides of the ball, and that's how I've always looked at it, and that's how I continue to look at it. Hopefully if you've got good enough players and you can do that, they're going to have the best chance to be successful.
I think as a coach, that's always what you want to try to achieve with your players, and I'm not sure that I've always been able to do that. Some years better than others, some teams better than others, and certainly that's a challenge that keeps us going in terms of what we're trying to do looking ahead to the next game, to the next opponent, to the next thing we have to do to try to help our players play better.
GINA LEHE: We'd like to welcome Tua Tagovailoa and Xavier McKinney. We'll open it up for questions.
I was wondering if you had had any interactions with Trevor Lawrence, if you knew him personally at all, or what you think about the way that – since you obviously had to go through a situation last year and into this year of QB controversy and who's going to start and all of that stuff, I was wondering how you thought it was handled at Clemson by Trevor Lawrence and some of the challenges that go along with that.
TUA TAGOVAILOA: Yeah, well, I haven't really gotten the opportunity to speak with him or get to know him on a personal level, but I think he's done a tremendous job with handling the quarterback situation they've had, you know, early in the season.
I think he's done a tremendous job throughout the season keeping composure throughout the season, and going out there and helping his team become successful. You know, at the age that he is, coming in as a freshman, to be able to handle everything he is the way he is, I think he's doing a tremendous job, and he's got really good guys surrounding him, as well, on that offense, and I just think overall he's done a tremendous job throughout this point in the season.
Do you find or did you find over the course of your career that being able to kind of play on a big stage as you have at a young point in your career, is that a skill you had to develop, or is it just sort of the natural part of your personality, to be calm, cool and collected during those situations?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: I think it's something you kind of develop, but then again, I think it also comes down to coaching. When you go out there, you've got to feel comfortable first, and when you're comfortable, then you're able to play fast. I definitely think that comes from practice, you know, the amount of reps that you take over practice and just the coaching that you get, because once you start to feel comfortable, then I mean, the sky's the limit.
I think for Trevor, he can attest to the same thing.
Obviously you went into last year's game with a different role, but from an experience standpoint what's the biggest difference for you in terms of being back on this stage at the College Football Playoff?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: I mean, this is just another great opportunity for not only me but for me and my teammates. This is something that we've wanted since the ending of last year's game, you know, so we're just one step closer to achieving what we want to as a team. Just got to go in with the mindset that this is a big game, but you've got to go in being confident, I mean, and just go out there knowing it's football.
What would you attribute to – obviously against Oklahoma, 28-0 start in the first quarter or got off to a 28-0 lead going into the second quarter, sorry, but it was kind of the fast start you guys usually get off to. Why weren't there those nerves, those jitters that go with those big games, that happen in big games sometimes?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: Well, I think we had a lot of off time, and being that we're practicing against our own guys for a good amount of time, it's like you just get antsy. Throughout practices, our practices have been pretty hard, you know, going against one another. I think we all just wanted to go out there and just play. That's a testament to the guys that I'm surrounded with, the O-line, the skills. The defense gave us the ball back early in the game, as well, and we didn't execute as well as we wanted to, although the score showed a little different with it being 28-0.
I think there still could have been opportunities for us to have done a lot better, but I think overall, our guys have done better with just, I guess, finishing, starting fast and finishing strong.
Xavier, a lot was made going into the season about the secondary's lack of experience and the kind of quality players you were replacing, and then you had some injuries along the way, too, so how much has this group kind of grown with each game and each week?
XAVIER McKINNEY: Well, first of all, I appreciate the question. I feel like this group has definitely done a great job this year. I know we had a lot of questions coming into the year about, I guess, how good we would be and how well we would play and who we lost and who we didn't have, but we felt like we had the guys to get the job done from the start. So I feel like we've worked hard all year, tried to prove everybody wrong that kind of doubted us, that still doubt us. But we just keep going, and we're going to keep working hard and keep improving from here. Our goal is to try to be the best secondary in the country, and I feel like we've done a great job in doing that and getting that done, and we've still got a lot of work to do, of course, but of course we're going to keep working and try to get that accomplished.
And for Tua, Josh Jacobs is one of the few guys, key players on the team that wasn't like a really highly rated recruit. Can you see his work ethic, his drive? How much do you see that drive to be good in kind of every aspect of his position?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: Well, you know, when you look at a player like Josh Jacobs, you just see someone who's very small, but I'm grateful that Josh has got his opportunity. You know, I think he's a person who comes in day in and day out, working really hard, and he does everything the right way. I mean, it's nothing that surprises me, nothing that surprises my teammates, but Josh could be the first to tell you that his success could never have been done without the people that surround him. I think he's done a tremendous job for us up to this point, and I think he will continue to keep doing that.
Xavier, where do you feel like you've improved the most through 14 games, and where do you feel like you need to get better?
XAVIER McKINNEY: Well, I feel like there's a lot of things that of course I still need to do to get better. I try to work on that every practice, every game. But a couple things that I feel like I have gotten a lot better with is just my open-field tackling, my man-to-man coverages, but of course there's still a lot of things like just blitzing the quarterback, getting pressure, working on my pass rush moves as far as either going off the edge or going up through the gaps or wherever I have to blitz, just getting better with my disguises. But like I said, there's still a lot of things that I need to improve on, and I'm never really satisfied with how I play and kind of what I do in the games and do in practices. I try to make sure to keep that an emphasis and just keep pressure on myself as far as me getting better because I know good is not good enough, and I just keep working every day and every practice and every game.
Tua, same question for you. Where do you feel like you've improved the most through these 14 games, and where can you get better?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: Well, I'd say for me, I think the biggest thing with improvement has been, I guess, being a leader on the offense, and I guess my decision making. I feel the second half of the season, I kind of fell off from the things that have helped me become successful throughout the first six games, seven games in the season. But I definitely think decision making, and I think improvement. There's always room for improvement, you know, and I'm going to continue to improve on my decision making, continue to improve to be a leader for the offense and for the team, but you know, it makes everything a lot easier when you have coaches like the coaches that we have and players that want to be great. So yeah.
Tua, the plays when you and Jalen are on the field together at the same time, how fun are those for you, and working those into the game, do you enjoy kind of getting that opportunity to have both of y'all on the field at the same time?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: Oh, I enjoy it. It's really fun. I think it's fun for the fans, as well, you know, no one knows who's going to get the ball, and I mean, if I get the ball, I mean, it would be unique because I don't run as much, and when Jalen gets the ball, he can run and he can throw it, as well. I mean, it helps us out as a team. I mean, it's just a unique way of being able to use both of us.
Xavier, when they unleash some of those plays at practice, Jalen was saying the other day there's a lot more they haven't used. What's it like trying to defend them, whether Tua is out wide at receiver or whatever the package looks like?
XAVIER McKINNEY: Well, we don't – the ones and the ones, we don't really get to see that package very much.
Then from the sidelines, what's it like seeing that when they've used it this year?
XAVIER McKINNEY: Oh, it definitely – I kind of get excited because I know something good is about to happen. Just to have both of these two guys out there on the field at the same time, that's pretty amazing, and it's a lot of – between the both of them, there's a lot of different things that they can do in that one play or whatever play they're running. So just to see that lets me know that we're going to have some type of big play or something good is going to happen.
Tua, I'm sure you're getting tired of answering this, but how is your ankle doing, and do you expect a similar sort of training treatment routine this week as you did going into last week's game?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: Yeah, you know, after the game, it was definitely sore. I couldn't tell if it was any better or if it was the same. But I guess I can say it's better. I have treatment going on right now, as we speak, and I think we're still going to stick with that 24-hour treatment protocol. Up until the game, I think I'm still going to be getting treatment, and I'm still going to be going through rehab and therapy, as well. But I definitely think it's improving, you know.
Tua, going back to last year where Jake Fromm gets to play in a National Championship game as a true freshman, you get to play in that game and now with Trevor Lawrence, what does it say about that position that you're seeing all of you guys get to shine on this big stage? What's the contributing factor because it's not just working hard, because guys have been working hard for the last 20 years, but why do you think that's been able to happen so much recently?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: I won't be able to speak for Jake or Trevor, but I think for me, I think that's the determining factor is how you start. You know, I definitely don't think it starts from high school or your early years in college. I think it starts earlier than that, and I think it – it goes from home I would say. Your parents are your first teachers, and I think your work ethic comes from the teachings of your parents. I think they're a testament of that. Their hard work with their families and what they've put in throughout the years up to this point is just paying off, so they're reaping what they've been sowing all these years. It's not just something that popped up for them or they're kind of new to. I'd say this is just something that they've been growing and growing with, and it's something that you grow into.