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Saban breaks down offense, defense ahead of Rose Bowl matchup with Irish

| Friday, January 1, 2021

Alabama head coach Nick Saban was in his typical character as he took to the podium to address the media on Monday afternoon ahead of his team’s matchup in the Rose Bowl against Notre Dame on Friday. The no-nonsense head coach was locked in and got straight to the point, hoping to avoid any silly business as he leads his team down the home stretch. 

We’re excited to have the opportunity to play in the [College Football] Playoffs this year against a really, really good Notre Dame team,” he said. “And our players are certainly looking forward to the opportunity.”

In his 13-year tenure at the helm of Alabama football, Saban has built a powerhouse. His team has only missed a New Year’s Six bowl game thrice: in his first season in the Independence Bowl and two berths in the Citrus/Capital One Bowl. Even more impressive is Saban’s 4-1 record in CFP semifinal games.

Saban is no stranger to the big stage, and in his last 13 seasons he has posted a hearty 7-3 bowl game record to go along with a 3-0 record in BCS national championship games and a 2-2 record in national championship games in the Playoff era. His Crimson Tide teams — unfortunately for Notre Dame — are also undefeated in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, going 4-0 down in “Jerry World.”

Saban says the location and venue doesn’t change much in the minds of his athletes, though, even considering the fact that this game would typically take place in Pasadena, California.

“Even though the game is going to be played in Dallas, we understand the tradition of the Rose Bowl as well as anybody…” Saban said. “So this is something that every player sort of plays for all season long. And it’s something that, you get this far, you don’t want to just get this far. You want to keep on going. That’s why it’s a playoff. And that’s why it’s important to the players.”

Observer File Photo

Irish head coach Brian Kelly calls corrections from the sideline during Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in the 2018 Cotton Bowl Classic. This Rose Bowl contest between Notre Dame and Alabama will be the Irish’s first trip back to Arlington, TX and AT&T Stadium — a venue in which Nick Saban is 4-0 as head coach of the Crimson Tide — since that loss.

Saban also praised his players’ continued poise through all the distractions of the time. Be it the holiday season or the sweeping pandemic, he said his team’s attitude has remained intact and unchanged for the most part.

“Our players have had good focus in practice,” he said. “We actually practiced Saturday, Sunday and this will be our third day of work against Notre Dame. And our spirit has been good. The attitude has been good. We know the challenge is going to be great.”

Though his primary focus has been his own team’s wellbeing, Saban has been studying tirelessly for the opponents that lie ahead of him, and at present the team standing in the way of him and a sixth national title with the Tide is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Saban wasn’t shy about showing praise toward his immediate opponent either, first commending the Irish defense. 

“Notre Dame is an outstanding team, as I mentioned before. Their defense really plays hard. They’re very physical. Run to the ball. Really have played well,” Saban said. “[They] present lots of problems with some of the things that they do. So certainly going to be a challenge for our offense to finish and do things that we need to do to be able to have success against a very good defensive team.”

Saban then turned his focus to the Irish offense, which has also been impressive this year under first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and third-year starter and graduate student quarterback Ian Book. 

“Offensively, these guys are one of the best offensive teams in the country,” Saban said. “They’ve got lots of weapons outside. Ian Book distributes the ball really well, runs the offense well, makes plays with his legs as well as his arms, can make all the throws. They’ve got an excellent running game. Have really, really good balance, really good tight ends. So this is a team that presents a lot of challenges for us in every way. But that’s what we would expect, I guess, from any team that you play in the Playoffs. And [it will] certainly be a great football game.”

Saban was asked about the often wide margin of victory in CFP games; through 12 CFP semifinal games played to date, the average disparity is 21.3 points. Saban said it could boil down to offensive teams having a slight advantage in college football, but that in turn means, in these games, the defense must show up against some of the top offensive talents in the country.

This will be something weighing large on Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s mind as his team is the biggest underdog in the history of the Playoff and is facing one of the premier offenses in the country, boasting three of the top five in Heisman finalist voting.

“You’ve got to be able to play good defense. So you sort of try to keep from getting beat before you can win,” Saban said. “And that’s something we certainly have to work on to try to make this game be a close game.”

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