January 3, 2010

Bama's D thinks it has Texas figured out

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Sean Adams and I were in different locations today listening to the players and coaches. Sean was in the broadcast room, while I was in the print media room.

It's probably worth reading both of our notes to get a feel for what the players and coaches were saying to the national media today.

Today's interviews were with the Alabama defense (LB Cory Reamer, DT Lorenzo Washington, LB Rolando McClain, DT Terrence Cody, DB Javier Arenas and DC Kirby Smart).

And the Texas offense (Greg Davis, Colt McCoy, Tre' Newton, Jordan Shipley, Adam Ulatoski and Chris Hall).

I agree with Sean that the Alabama confidence from today's press conferences was off the charts. They think they know what's coming, and they are highly confident they can stop it.

Texas, on the other hand, sounded like they were going to get a handful of opportunities to score in this game and had to be ready for those moments. To be honest, Texas sounded overly respectful, and Bama sounded like they had nothing to fear from UT.

Here are the big headlines from the interviews I had today ...

1. Alabama LB Rolando McClain all but said he already knows what plays Texas is going to call.

"He (Colt McCoy) doesn't really check a lot," McClain said. "I don't know exactly why, but he doesn't make a lot of checks. We've been practicing for two weeks now and I'll be sitting there saying, 'I know what's about to happen. I know what play they're about to run.'

"That's just from preparation. Coach Smart does a great job of coaching us up."

When asked if that meant he thought Texas was predictable, McClain said:

"I'm not saying they're predictable. It's the national championship, so you should expect something different from these guys. But they get in formations, and if you watch the film and study properly, you'll be all right."

2. Alabama's players on defense were incredibly confident on Sunday when meeting with the media.

"We're a very good team," McClain said. "Whether it's run stopping or passing the ball. We know his (McCoy's) favorite receiver is Shipley. We have to do a good job of stopping him and knowing where he's at.

"Our line has to keep McCoy in the pocket. I think we can do that and come in with some pressure every now and then to keep them off balance. We'll be all right."

McClain talked about how effective the Bama defense was against Tebow as an example.

"Our D-line did a great job containing him (Tebow) and not letting him get out and run and make too many plays with his feet," McClain said. "He had one long scramble. Other than that, he was in the pocket all day. So we have confidence in our secondary coverage. We just have to do a good job of containing (McCoy) as well as getting to him when we actually do blitz."

3. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is already anticipating Texas will go up-tempo with its offense early in the game.

"They've got a fast tempo, a slow tempo," Smart said. "They change the pace of the game. They do a great job of managing the pace of the game. And that's something we've struggled with.

"We self scout, and haven't done a good job with teams who change the pace and go hurry-up. They are going to do that. I can assure you of that. Early in the game. That's just what they do, and it's something we haven't defended well and puts us on our heels.

"They'll probably say, 'They're going to go out and play one call, so we can simplify their defense by hurrying up.' But we've got to have an answer for that, too."

Smart also said Texas is "a good screen team" and we presume he meant the WR screens that Texas uses and not anything with a RB screen. (Although, a RB screen would be nice.)

4. Smart said he talked to Will Muschamp as much as three times a week during the season and then saw those calls diminish as it became apparent their teams might meet.

The two played together at Georgia and then Muschamp hired Smart at Valdosta State and brought him to LSU under Saban.

"We were at Georgia together. I came in on my recruiting visit, and he was one of the guys who took us around," Smart said. "At that time, I didn't know much about him. He was a little bit of a wild man then.

"I've got a lot of respect for Will. He's a very good family friend of mine. We've always kept in touch, shared information.

"When he got hired at Valdosta, he hired me there. I remember the day he got hired at LSU. He said, 'I don't know about this.' I said, 'You kidding me? Going to the SEC?' He was nervous, but it worked out for him, and he got me over there.

"Every week we talked. Two or three times. Usually on Thursday, Friday as the game planning slowed down. We would talk. Share ideas. Talk. As the year got further and further along and it looked like it was going to be a collision course with them and either us or Florida, the communication started backing off.

"As we were getting ready to play Florida, neither one of us was sharing near as much. Then, all communication pretty much ceased other than text messaging."

5. Smart said Bama did not pump Bob Stoops for ideas about Texas when stoops visited Tuscaloosa before Christmas.

"He (Stoops) was at our practice, but we didn't even see him until we were on the field," Smart said. "And then we broke for Christmas, so I sure wasn't hanging around.

"I'm sure Texas thinks they came over and drew on the board and told us all this stuff. But Texas, what have they beaten them like two or three years in a row? I don't even know what it is. Four out of five?

"Maybe we were talking to the wrong guys if we were talking to them. But we didn't really share ideas with them. We visited with Texas in the off-season. We also visited with Oklahoma.

"But I don't read much into that. At the end of the day, we have to do what we do. We can't go copycat someone else."

Muschamp was a keynote speaker at a function for Alabama earlier this year. Someone asked if Muschamp gave away any secrets at that meeting.

"Most of his secrets I think he learned from my boss (Nick Saban)," Smart said. "Even he would admit that."

6. Smart said Muschamp's defense is not like Alabama's defense because Bama is more multiple than the Legion of Boom.

"Will has changed his defense quite a bit from Nick's defense," Smart said. "I don't watch the defense much, but our offensive guys tell me what Texas does is not Nick's defense.

"We probably do more multiple things. He may not do as many, but what he does is effective. It's not like he's simple. Don't get me wrong. But on a scale of 1 to 10, we do a lot."

7. Colt McCoy said Nebraska's defense is "more base and more vanilla" than Alabama.

"Nebraska does what it does very well, but Alabama comes at you from all different angles and all different directions," McCoy said. "So we will see more of that in a sense.

"So one of the things that will be key is me changing the protections to get the offensive line in the right spots, putting the back on some secondary blitzes to help in protection.

"Those little things will help give us an edge in the game."

I asked Colt if this was a game that Texas needed to be aggressive offensively to start the game in an effort to fire the first shot in this fight. He said:

"This is a game you just have to keep plugging away. You know their offense is capable of scoring a lot of points. They've got the Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback who's never lost a game. And so you totally respect their offense.

"For us, we understand their defense is going to come after us from the very beginning. We have to be able to handle their surge and be able to score some points to give our defense some life."

8. Colt said he knows he has to use his feet Thursday for the offense to be effective.

"I don't know if I can be compared to Vince as far as running," McCoy said. "But I do understand if they need me to use my legs, I'll lose my legs. I've done that my whole career. Whatever it takes to win is kind of my mentality.

"If I have to rush the ball 40 times to win, that's what I'll do. I'm not saying I'll rush the ball 40 times. But I understand that might give us an extra opportunity. That might move the chains. That might score some points. Whatever I have to do, that's what I'm going to do."

9. Greg Davis said Terrence Cody often times occupies one or two blockers and then throws one to the side when the ball comes his way.

"You'll see guys get on him," Davis said. "In offensive parlance, you see him covered up. But then nothing happens. They're just two big guys sitting there like two monsters going at it in the old sci-fi movies.

"Then all of a sudden, as the ball carrier gets close, the offensive guy gets discarded, and the monster eats your running back.

"That's kind of what you see. Along all their defensive front. You see them covered, but you don't see much movement, so they play with great pad level and try to keep everything clean for Rolando McClain."

10. Colt McCoy said he expects Alabama's defense to be the best he's ever faced.

"I can honestly say I think this defense is the best I've ever played. From watching film, I fully expect it to be the best defense I've ever played in four years. So you have to go out there and trust each other and go out there and have fun and do your best.

"This year, to win 13 games, it's been a challenge to go from a little shaky now and then to being really good to being a little shaky again, it's pretty tough. It takes a toll on you. But when you look at the grand scheme of things and look at where we are, it's been a special ride."

McCoy said Texas hasn't played its best game of the season yet.

"We haven't played the best game that we can play all year. We haven't been close. Offense, defense and special teams have not come out and played a game where we are all on top of it. That's still out there. That's what we're expecting to do Thursday night.

"But at the same time, we have a truly tough opponent. Our hands are full."

When told Rolando McClain described the Bama defense as "11 crazy guys trying to make plays," McCoy nodded yes.

"I don't know if they're crazy," McCoy said. "They look pretty smart. And that's what scary. They are all really smart. They know where they are supposed to be. They are flying around, and they all want to make the tackle.

"You look at the LSU game, every time the running back ran the ball, he was at the bottom of the pile with 11 guys on top of him. They are just really good.

"We can be as prepared as ever for Alabama, we can study every single blitz they've ever ran, and I guarantee you they will show us three or four new blitzes they've never shown before coming from different places, mixing and matching their zone and man-to-man coverage.

"That's my biggest challenge is knowing when is it man coverage, when is it zone coverage, and when am I hot. Coach Davis and I talk about all our different protections and schemes all the time, and I have the opportunity this game to put our line in the best situation possible.

"As am out there on the field, I have the opportunity to audible and change some things from run to pass. There's a lot of stuff out there for me to do this week, and I feel like I'll have our guys in the best situation possible. We just have to execute."

McCoy said first-down efficiency will be a huge key to the game.

"We have to stay ahead of the chains and get at least 4 yards on first down because that limits some of their blitzes and limits what they do," McCoy said. "That gives us a lot better opportunity to take advantage of some things.

"When you find yourself in second-and-long and third-and-long, they can do anything. They can come after you. It's a nightmare when you get in those situations. So staying ahead of the chains is key for us, and that's when Coach Davis said I might use my feet a little bit and run four or five draws, counter reads. It's one of those things in this game, as we get a feel for it, it may be a game like that."

McCoy said he goes to bed dreaming about game preparation. He was careful not to say anything about nightmares.

"You go to bed studying your gameplan book, and then when you wake up, you look over there and see it again," McCoy said. "I enjoy the challenge of knowing Alabama has the best defense in the country.

"I'm just trying to relay that to all my teammates, the backs, the receivers, the offensive line by saying, 'Prepare. Prepare to win your battle. There's going to be a golden opportunity out there, somewhere in the game and be ready to take advantage of that through your preparation.'

"But this week is fun. For me, I'm a competitor. I love the challenges that come about. I love playing in pressure situations, and that's exactly what this is."

BONUS NUGGET: Chris Hall and Adam Ulatoski sounded fed up with all the questions they continue to get about the Nebraska game. ... Tre' Newton said Texas didn't have any big wrinkles planned on offense, but Jordan Shipley said Texas did, even if they would be subtle to take advantage of some matchups.

BONUS NUGGET II:Mack Brown has 450,000 reasons to win the BCS title game, by the way. That's the bonus he receives if Texas finishes the year No. 1, according to his contract. He would receive $100,000 if Texas finishes No. 2 or No. 3.

Mack has already earned $100,000 for winning the Big 12 and another $100,000 for appearing in a BCS bowl game.

His income so far this season now totals $5.2 million with a chance to grow.

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