TRANSCRIPT – College Football Playoff Semifinal Champion Teleconference: Alabama

Nick Saban

Alabama and Clemson will play for the 2018 National Championship. Look inside for a transcript of the College Football Playoff Semifinal Champion Teleconference. Nick Saban, Tua Tagovailoa, and Xavier Mckinney represented Alabama.

Nick Saban
TUA TAGOVAILOA
Xavier McKinney
College Football Playoff Media
Conference
GINA LEHE: On behalf of the College Football Playoff,
we’d like to congratulate Alabama and look forward to
welcoming them to the Bay Area. We’d like to welcome
head coach Nick Saban. If you would, please make a
brief opening statement.
Nick 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.

Q. 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?
Nick 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.

Q. 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.
Nick 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.

Q. 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?
Nick 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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?
Nick 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.
Q. 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?
Nick 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.

Q. 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?

Nick 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.
Q. Going even back to the recruiting process, do
you remember the first time that you saw Trevor
Lawrence play?
Nick 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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?
Nick 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.

Q. 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.
Nick 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.

Q. If Christian Miller can’t go, could we possibly
see LaBryan Ray have a bigger role in this game?
Nick 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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?
Nick 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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.
Q. 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.

Q. 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.

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