Nick Saban, Da’Ron Payne and QB Tua Tagovailoa following 26-23 OT victory over Georgia for the National Championship

NICK SABAN: Obviously, this is a fantastic win, a fantastic night for the University of Alabama. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of players, especially the resiliency they showed in the game, getting behind, not playing very well in the first half, kept clawing back in the second half, and even after we missed the field goal to win it in regulation, still showed resiliency to overcome hard and made some great plays.We needed a spark on offense. Tua certainly gave us that and did a really good job. Defense stepped up when they had to. We didn’t do very well on third down in the first half, which really hurt us, but this is a great win, it’s a great team win. Someone tried to give me a game ball. I don’t think you give anybody a game ball. It has to be a team ball, and that’s exactly what we’ll do with it.

When we lost last year on the last play of the game, we said don’t waste a failing. That’s the lesson we all wanted to learn. I think the resiliency this team has shown all year long certainly proves that they sort of learned something from that. Couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of coaches and a bunch of players and the people in our organization who contribute to the success of the University of Alabama.

Could you just go through the decision to change quarterbacks at halftime. Was there any resistance to do so?

NICK SABAN: No. I felt like that we’ve had this in our mind that, if we were struggling offensively, that we would give Tua an opportunity, even in the last game. No disrespect to Jalen, but the real thought was, you know, they came into the game thinking we were going to run the ball and be able to run quarterback runs, which we made a couple of explosive plays on. But with the absence of a passing game and being able to make explosive plays and being able to convert on third down, I just didn’t feel we could run the ball well enough, and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did.

I couldn’t be prouder of him taking advantage of the opportunity. We have total confidence in him. We played him a lot in a lot of games this year, and he did very well. He certainly did a great job tonight.

Nick, after Tua threw that pick, he came over on the sideline, put his arm around you, and it looked like he said, Coach, it’s okay. I’ll get it back. I wonder if you could walk us through that. And were you surprised at his moxie?

NICK SABAN: Well, the issue was we missed a signal. In other words, everybody was running a running play, and he thought it was a passing play. So it causes a problem when all the receivers are blocking instead of running a pass route, and then it sort of quadruples the problem when the quarterback throws it to him anyway.

But we learn from those things, right?


NICK SABAN: And he was just reassuring me that he would learn from it.

First, when it’s like a game like this, first half not playing so well, the field goal missed at the end of regulation, is it — it looks like it’s hard. What did that feel like in the moment?

NICK SABAN: Well, it is hard. We knew it would be a hard game. Georgia’s got a great team. They did a great job. They had a good plan against our defense. Their quarterback did a really good job of checking some plays and hitting some passes, but it was split safeties in the middle of the field. So we were struggling a little bit in the first half defensively, but if you can’t overcome hard, you’re never going to have any great victories in our life.

So that’s what our players know. We try to teach them to play the next play and show resiliency and make the next play. So that’s exactly what we did. We got them stopped to a field goal in overtime and took advantage of the opportunity even though Tua probably couldn’t have thrown that pass if I could have got a hold of him after he took the sack, but I couldn’t get out there fast enough. (Laughter).

You partially answered my second question, but I guess you really have nothing left to prove. I mean, however many championships it is at this point. What keeps you coming back through hard games, obviously some of them end well, but what keeps you coming back here year after year?

NICK SABAN: It’s not just about winning a championship. You want to do the best job you can, and every team wants to be successful. As a coach, you want to see your team reach their full potential. But as a college coach and the thing I like about college coaching is you have an opportunity to affect people. You have an opportunity to help players be more successful in life because they’re involved in the program, whether it’s personal development, academic support, graduating from school, learning lessons. The message to the team tonight after this game was I hope you take something from this game and the resiliency that you showed in this game and it helps you be more successful in life.

So it’s not just about winning the championship. I mean, I know that’s what you all write about and what you talk about and all that. We like winning, and we hate losing. But there’s more to it than that.

Coach, I noticed after the game you had a moment with Anfernee Jennings. He was up on the stage as well. I was wondering if you could walk through that moment and what it was like getting him up on stage to enjoy it as well.

NICK SABAN: Anfernee’s been a great leader on our team, had a fabulous game against Clemson, had as many production points as any player had all year. Got hurt late in the game with two minutes to go in the game and the guy is such a great competitor and was such a big part of the team. It was really important to our players that he got here today because he’d been in the hospital for quite some time. It was just great to see him. He was so happy for everyone. I think he’s happy with the success that he had this year, and he knows in a couple months he’ll be able to come back and contribute to the team again.

Alex Leatherwood, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, they also joined Tua in having great performances tonight. What is it about this freshman class that’s allowed them to excel and set them apart?

NICK SABAN: Najee Harris played really well. Jerry Jeudy made a nice catch at the end. So this was, I think, one of our best recruiting classes, this freshman class from last year, especially with offensive talent. So that’s something we have to build on in this year’s recruiting and continue to build on because we’re going to lose a lot of good players who are seniors, probably have several players go out for the draft. So our team turns over a little quicker, so it creates a lot of opportunity for younger players to get a chance to play, and those guys play a lot this year and contribute a lot to our success.

Nick and Tua, I guess this question is for both. Nick, you said you couldn’t get out there quick enough for the sack, but what was your vantage point and impressed with the execution Tua made on the game-winning touchdown? Same with you, Tua. Could you walk us through the touchdown pass a little bit and what you saw.

TUA TAGOVAILOA: We called four verticals on that play. After the sack, we just got up and took it to the next play. And throughout that process, we got the ball. It looked like they were running two trap. The corner trap on that single receiver side, and I held the safety in the middle as the over was coming. I looked back out, and he was wide open, Smitty was wide open so I hit him, and here we are now, thank God.

Nick, can you speak to the improbability of leaning on this many freshmen this late in the season with this much at stake. I mean, you’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t remember you winning a game quite like this.

NICK SABAN: No, I don’t think we ever have, but a lot of those guys were in spring practice last year. A lot of those guys are really mature for their age. And they were ready to make contribution and they certainly did a fantastic job for us this year. There’s no doubt about that.

I think one of the things that makes me most proud of this team is — and I’m surprised nobody asked it — we’ve never had this many games missed by starters in a season ever, and to be able to overcome that with the next guy up, whoever it was, to go out there and play the way they played together as a group and trusted and believed in each other, and I think that respect and trust is something that’s really important to have in a good team. That’s something this team had.

This is for Tua. Tua, you’ve played in games before, but most of the time it’s been when the games were already in hand. What was that like to come in with Alabama trailing? And at what point did you feel like I’ve got this?

TUA TAGOVAILOA: We practice throughout the year. We go in with the ones sometimes. Us freshmen, we go in with the ones sometimes. We trade reps with the ones. We go in with the twos. And I think preparation leading up to this point has been the key thing with our offensive coaches helping us throughout the process. And just building the trust within each other, from the O-line to the receivers creating a bond with each other. I think that’s helped us build confidence coming into this game to where, if you’ve got to go in, if your number’s called, then you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to give the team the best placement — or how should I say this? To give the team the best opportunity to win the game.

Coach Saban, two seasons ago we saw you make a fantastic decision to do an onside kick, and it worked for you. Today we see the change in quarterback, and it worked. Is this just part of the excellence that you were speaking about earlier this week?

NICK SABAN: I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I think that, to a large degree, I trust players, players that do things the right way, players who prepare the right way, practice the right way, they’re dependable. We try to create a culture of accountability for our players so that they can be successful personally, academically, and athletically. When players respond to that and do it, I have total faith, trust, and confident to put them out there.

So I have that, and Tua and I certainly had it, and Da’Ron, he played when he was a freshman too. He’s the most articulate nose guard in the country if you guys would ask him a question.

This question is for Tua again. Hawaii to Alabama is a long way distance-wise, culturally. What’s that experience been like for you this first year? Have you ever been homesick at any point? Just kind of sum it up.

TUA TAGOVAILOA: I do get homesick at times. I miss my family back home. My parents are here. I’m talking about my dad’s siblings. I don’t know how Coach Saban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama. Thank God he found me and we’re here right now.

I don’t know, the biggest difference from Hawaii and Alabama would probably be there’s no beaches, but other than that, the people are very nice. The people are very religious. There’s football too. So how much better could it get?

Where does your poise come from to allow you to come into a situation like this tonight and perform the way you did?

TUA TAGOVAILOA: I would say my poise comes from my faith, just being able to come onto the sideline every time after I go into a drive. I just pray for peace. I just pray, asking God, let your will be done in me, and the rest will follow. That’s the best way I could explain it. Before I go into a drive, I pray a little bit, say my prayers, and we do it. When we come off the field, say a little prayer just to keep me calm, and we go from there.

Tua, a couple years ago, Marcus became the superstar of college football and really put Hawaii on the map in terms of skill players. I know you were hailed as the next Marcus. Did you hear from him today? And I see you up there with your Hawaii lei? What does it mean for your state and for Polynesian people?

TUA TAGOVAILOA: This is very big for our state. For kids back home, making our state proud is the biggest thing, and to be able to do this on a national level, on a big stage is just a great opportunity. It’s just great exposure for us as well, you know, our people. I mean, I just thank God that I’m here.

Did you hear from Marcus at all?

TUA TAGOVAILOA: I heard nothing from Marcus before this. I don’t want to check my phone right now. I just want to see my family and just enjoy this win with my team.

This is for Da’Ron and Tua. Da’Ron, you had two MVP performances. Why do you think you played so well two successive games? And for Tua, did you have a special relationship with DeVonta? You had that pirouette move against Vanderbilt and now the winning touchdown to win the National Championship?

DA’RON PAYNE: I just wanted to go out there and just give it my all and just leave it all on the field. No matter what happened in the outcome of the game, I just knew I gave everything. I think I did that both games, and it just came — my dream came true.

TUA TAGOVAILOA: For me, I would say I have a good relationship with DeVonta. I think that goes for all our skills. Throughout practices, we get the opportunity to throw it to everybody. When things aren’t going right in practice, we come and talk about it on the sideline while the ones are in, just try to change things up sometimes. I think that’s the best way to explain it, you know, creating our bonds, just being able to come on the sideline and talk to each other about what we could have done better on that play, and we go from there.

Da’Ron, Coach Saban mentioned that the changeover on defense and Anfernee Jennings injured — we could go through the injuries. But tell me about the process of adapting on the defensive side of the football this year.

DA’RON PAYNE: I think we just tried to do a good job of everybody just knowing what to do. All the young guys buying in and focusing on the playbook, and when they’re name is called, not being nervous or anything, just being able to play ball and just execute the game plan.

Da’Ron, what were you thinking at halftime? Maybe what did your coach have to say to get you guys going again?

DA’RON PAYNE: I definitely thought we weren’t executing as a team. I think we went in, and Coach Saban told us that and told us we needed to tighten things up. I guess the team heard Coach, and we came out and tried to play our best ball, and everybody gave it their all until the last minute.

This question is for Da’Ron and Nick. Every year, almost every year you guys have replaced defensive coordinators. How have you kept the program or the defense at a high level? Has it gotten increasingly difficult over the last couple years?

NICK SABAN: We’ve been very fortunate all the time we’ve been at Alabama and the time we’ve been at LSU, we’ve always played the same system on defense, but we’ve always been able to hire somebody who knew the system, who had been in the system before. Kirby had been in it before. Will Muschamp learned it. Jeremy Pruitt had been in it before. So it was an easy transition for them to continue to implement the same thing for the players.

We’ll have to look at what we want to do to try to get the best coaches in there to help our players, develop our players with this next group, but we have some good coaches on our staff.

Nick, as a coach, how do you balance fostering competition in the same position group with making sure everybody’s working toward the same kind of broader team goals? I’m talking obviously about quarterback.

NICK SABAN: Well, I think we spend a lot of time talking to guys about what are your goals? What are your aspirations? What do you want to accomplish? And what do you want to do? I obviously like it when one of these guys tell me they want to play in the NFL someday, and they want to graduate from college. So every time they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, when they’re not accountable, whether it’s in school, as a person, or as a player, I just can ask, how is this behavior going to help you get where you want to go?

So it is about the individual. It is about the individual and their goals and aspirations for what they want to accomplish. But it’s also having respect for the principles and values of the team and trusting in and respecting those as well as their teammates and not putting those goals and aspirations ahead of what’s best for the team so that they buy in to doing their job.

I just never want one of our players to ever give any reason to use the word “but” after they describe them. There’s one word — the two most compelling words in the Draft in my years in the NFL, in a Draft report on a player was always and and but. Because when you rate a good player, and he said and he was a good person, he went to a good school, he was loved by his teammates, he was captain of the team. If they rate the same player, and they said but — he’s got a domestic violence charge against him, he’s got five positive marijuana tests — which guy do you want to put on your team? So why would anybody give anybody a reason to say “but” about what they do, and that’s what we try to get our players to do so that they create value for themselves and their future.

Coach Saban, you mentioned the importance of third-down conversions in your opening statement. This is for you and Da’Ron. Tell me a little bit about what was difficult about stopping Georgia in the first half and then how you were able to shut them down on their drives and forcing them to punt closer toward the fourth quarter.

NICK SABAN: I think Georgia did a really good job because there were three occasions where they played split safety coverage, which denies the ball deep in longer yardage situations — third-and-20, third-and-11, and I think third-and-9 maybe — and they ran draw plays. And Sony Michel made people miss and made a first down.

So then we started playing more man to man and middle of the field coverage, and Jake Fromm, that guy, he knows where to go with the ball, and they were running what we call chop routes, was inside fade to the slot receiver. That’s what they hit for an 80-yard touchdown to Hardman.

So we just kept trying to adapt and adjust. And then when they got ahead in the game, we started playing a little more man to man, and they actually were running the ball a little bit more, which we got off the field on several third downs because we were playing pretty good coverage.

DA’RON PAYNE: My thing was just, like I said earlier, the way we executed. Coach Saban and Coach Pruitt always talk about just farm your own land and do your job, and I think we were just out there trying to make plays instead of focusing on what we had to do as a defense to be successful. But I think we settled down and just got back at playing good ‘Bama defense.

Is there a time, or can you think of a particular time, whether it was during spring practice or even during the season, that you kind of looked Tua and he did something, and you thought, he’s as good as advertised or maybe even better?

NICK SABAN: No, I think all year long we had lots of confidence in Tua, and we played him so that, if this situation occurred, that he would be ready to play. I know that he was never in a situation where he was behind and had to come back in a game, but the game experience, the confidence, managing the team — he does a really good job in practice. Jalen was sick a couple days before the Clemson game, and the players really respond well to him. He’s a good leader. He’s very well liked by his teammates, and he’s got a very positive, upbeat attitude that affects other people around him in a very positive way.

So I think all those things are really positive attributes for a quarterback, and I have total confidence in him. But I also think I should say that we would not be here in this Championship Game if it wasn’t for some of the very good plays that Jalen Hurts made throughout the course of the year. We have two guys that we have really good confidence in, and they have really tremendous respect for each other, and they help each other. So that’s something that’s pretty unique on our team.



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