Q & A with Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier meets the media in Miami

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Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier stepping off the team plane in Miami on Wednesday. (abc3340.com) Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier stepping off the team plane in Miami on Wednesday. (abc3340.com)
Nussmeier said  AJ McCarron is just "scratching the surface" of his potential as the quarterback position at Alabama. (abc3340.com) Nussmeier said AJ McCarron is just "scratching the surface" of his potential as the quarterback position at Alabama. (abc3340.com)
Nussmeier said McCarron's knowledge of the Alabama offense gives him great flexibility in play-calling. (abc3340.com) Nussmeier said McCarron's knowledge of the Alabama offense gives him great flexibility in play-calling. (abc3340.com)

Alabama's first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier met with the media in South Florida Thursday to discuss the upcoming BCS National Championship game against No. 1 Notre Dame.

He was joined at the news conference by his starting quarterback AJ McCarron, who is trying to become the first quarterback ever to win two BCS titles.

Read:  McCarron talks Notre Dame, Barrett Jones and shoe fetish

Here's what the Crimson Tide play-caller had to say:

How would you describe your personal hand print, if you will, on this offense this year, in your first year in this program?

"Well, you know, first of all, I want to say that on behalf of my family and I know our players feel the same way, it's great to be here representing the University of Alabama and have this opportunity to play in the Discover BCS National Championship game. Thanks to the Orange Bowl Committee and the people of South Florida for the welcome we had yesterday. It was great. I know my kids really enjoyed it.

"As far as the offense goes, really proud of the opportunity that our players have created for us, moving into this game. As far as the hand print that I personally put on the offense, when I got here at the end of last year and Coach hired me, it was very important for me to really dive into the offense that was here, obviously that had success, and look at the things that our players had done and done well, and then find things that maybe I had done in the past that I could bring to help fit into this system, so to say.

"And then as any other system, every year you go back and you look at where you did well, you look at what you need to improve, and maybe you look at different ideas outside of your program. That was our goal as a staff was to sit down and kind of mesh it, put it together, look at some other ideas and then move forward."

A lot of people watched the second half of that championship game, SEC Championship game, and said why doesn't Alabama run the ball even more than they do? Why is that not an accurate assessment of your offense? And how did you feel about the run/pass balance you guys had this year?

"Well, obviously the goal of any offense is to put your playmakers in position to make plays. Scoring points, having balance, those are things you focus on. Sometimes as the flow of the game dictates, you do certain things and you start to do them and you do them well and you stay with them.

"Specifically regarding that game, as the flow of the game went, we were able to create big, explosive plays in the running game, and there was really not a need to do anything else at that point in time. So we're going to have a balanced game plan. We're going to go into every game with the ability not only to run it but to throw it, have play actions that come off our runs, all those type of things.

"But as the flow of the game goes, we're going to aggressively try and take advantage of whatever part of our game we think is going to be the most successful."

Doug, in your first year are you the kind of coach when you look back on the season the first thing you think of is maybe the sequence of play calls against LSU that worked so good, or are you the kind of guy that looks at the few plays at the end against Texas A&M, and that's the first thing that jumps out at you?

"Well, you evaluate every play call throughout every game, and when you look at the big picture of things, you can't get lost in the result. You have to look at the process and what got you to that point. You know, as in every game, we go back and review every game, and at the end of the season, obviously in preparing for this game, we go back and look at cut-ups of what we've done, certain calls in certain situations, all those type of things, tendencies, all that stuff. We're always self scouting, always evaluating. Any time you make a call, you come out of a game, God, I wish I had that call back. I wish could call that again. That was a pretty good call, that situation.

"You can do that. And the ones that work are always good ones, the ones that don't are always bad ones."

When you first met AJ McCarron this past off-season, what was that interaction like, where was it, and how much did you guys know about each other at that time?

"I've said this several times: When I first got here, the biggest thing for me was to go back and look at AJ, and kind of how he'd gotten to where he was, and if you go back and look at his body of work, where he started at the beginning of last season and where he ended the season, you look at that growth, and then to meet him, try and get to know the person, and then watch how hard he works and how important football is to him and his willingness to spend extra time, the stuff that you don't see. Like I said, you talk about you can be result-oriented or process-oriented, and he's very process-oriented. He spends a great deal of time when people don't know what he's doing, and he's studying extra.

"To watch what he did through 15 practices in the spring, and to watch where he started this fall, and just to watch the continual progression, and he deserves all the credit for that because of his hard work and effort. His ability really, I think, to bring our offense together."

You guys have seen some pretty good defenses this year. What stands out about Notre Dame's defense when you see them on film?

"To me the biggest thing is they lead the nation in scoring defense. They've given up 10.3 points a game, they do a great job of keeping you out of the end zone. The goal of the game is to score points. I think that right there, their red-area defense is really, really good."

Doug, usually offensive coordinators are in the booth and defensive coordinators are on the field. Is that Coach Saban's preference or yours? And is there an advantage or disadvantage to being in the booth rather than on the field?

"Well, you know, our structure that we have in place in our organization when I got here Coach McElwain had been up in the box, so it was an easy transition, and I'm very comfortable up there.

"One of the things that you gain by being up there is you have very good vision of what's going on and seeing the field. The thing that you lose is you don't have great feel for the game because you're not on the sideline with the players and you really have to rely on our coaches do an outstanding job on offense on the sideline, making adjustments, and giving me feedback of the feel of the game and how our players are feeling because you can't get that feeling, and the emotion play is a big factor in the game of football. There's advantages and disadvantages to both."

Coach Nussmeier, occasionally we've seen Alabama come out, no huddle, and kind of spread things out a little bit with a high tempo right out of the gate, and Nick Saban said postgame that we were looking to get the fatigue started early. Obviously you can't comment on what the plan is for this week, but can you just remark on the value of coming out at up tempo, no huddle?

"Well, you know, I think if you look at college football in general, that's a growing trend, no-huddle offense, speed, hurry-up. As any game you play, the ability to change the tempo of the game offensively or defensively can create a competitive advantage for you, if it's useful in the game you're playing."

You've had I think five quarterbacks drafted in the NFL. Is there any sort of overarching philosophy from your background that makes you well equipped to kind of handle and develop quarterbacks?

"Yeah, I coach good players (smiling). No, I think that I've been very fortunate is the reality. I've worked with some very, very good players, and they've been great people, and AJ [McCarron] being one of those. Just guys that every day give their all. You know, I think if you've got the ability and you're willing and you put in the time and the effort, like I said, I think so much is placed on the position, when you look at results and you say this guy played well, well, he probably played pretty good because the guys around him played pretty good, or he probably played not as well as people think because the guys around him didn't play as well.

"It's one of the hardest positions in all of sports to play.

"When you're playing the position I think it's very important that you stay even keel; you don't get too high and you don't get too low, and realize that you're probably not playing as good as people say you're playing and probably not playing as bad as people say. I feel like I've been really fortunate to coach some really, really good players.

"Like I say, AJ's ceiling is so high. I feel like he's just starting to scratch the surface of where he's going to go as a player."

Talk about T.J. Yeldon and his emergence as a true freshman. It looks like he has not missed a step in that transition.

"T.J. has outstanding maturity. He grew old early. And sometimes offensively as a coaching staff, we have to remind ourselves, especially early in the season, he has such a great presence about him, and like I said, he's so mature that we had to remind ourselves that he is a true freshman, and after having those 15 practices in the spring, he really came into the fall with a really good understanding of what we're trying to do. And as with any young back, you worry about protections, the intricacies of is he seeing the right reads, in the running game. To the naked eye you could say, well, he's running to the right, and obviously reads and those type of things.

"I really think that he's really grown and grown very quickly, maybe faster than we anticipated at the start, but done a tremendous job for us."

Could talk about Manti Te'o and the challenge you have in planning for him and in what way or ways is he the most dangerous.

"Well, you know, the thing that stands out to me about Manti is he always seems to find the ball, as do all great players on defense. You look at the interceptions, the tackles, he always seems to be around the ball. He has great natural instincts. Obviously he's a phenomenal athlete. It's going to be very important that we know where he is at all times."

What does it tell you about Barrett that he was able to play basically three quarters against Georgia on one foot? And are you happy with where he is conditioning-wise going into this one?

"Well, it doesn't surprise me. I think AJ hit on it just a minute ago. You talk about quality of character, you talk about the kind of person that Barrett is, and nothing would surprise you. As far as the injury goes, obviously he's back practicing. This is great. Moving forward we expect him to continue to be ready.

What has this whole last year been like for you? And have there been any big surprises about joining the Alabama staff?

"Pleasant surprises. Working with the group of coaches we have on offense has been an outstanding experience, great, great coaches, a lot of experience. Working with Coach Saban, the way he structures everything, the attention to detail, you just can't say enough about it. Everything is process-oriented, like I touched on before.

"As far as coming and being a part of the University of Alabama football program, it's been an outstanding experience. You can anticipate what it's going to be like, but I don't think you ever really know until you're there. This place is really special, and I just feel very fortunate that we've been able to be a part of this."

When you look at the tape of Notre Dame's defense, how does it compare to the top defenses in the SEC?

"Well, I think it's very, very comparable. This is as good a front seven as we've seen. They do a great job jumping in and out of their odd defense and going from an odd to a four?down front, and they've got big, physical, fast players. They run well on the back end, very well coached. They're just a really, really good defense."

In the world of assistant coaches, what does the Frank Broyles Award mean to you guys?

"Oh, I think it's an outstanding award. Any time you can be honored as the Assistant Coach of the Year, it says a lot about what your team has been able to accomplish and your unit specifically when you talk about an assistant coach."

Talk about Amari Cooper

"Yes, Amari obviously has had a very, very good season for us. You know, when you get a wide receiver of his caliber, and to have the big-play capability he has, obviously the big challenge early on is not to give him too much to where he's playing slow. So we really started with a small package for Coop, and it's kind of evolved as it's gone, and now he has the ability to do a lot of different things for us. And that's just any young player getting into a system, learning, but obviously his ability to create big plays in the passing game for us this season, it's been a huge part of our success."

We talked to AJ [McCarron] a bunch about the benefits of having the freedom to change plays before the snap. From your perspective what is the benefit to that? And being so high up in the booth, are there any moments of anxiety to have it in his hands?

"No, because I know how hard he prepares, and going into the game, we're talking all the time about, hey, thinking about calling this in this situation, here's what we can expect. This is this, this is that, getting a feel for how he's feeling the game and the game plan. I think that's very important. There's really no anxiety from that standpoint.

"I think that when you have a quarterback that has the ability to see defenses like AJ does and spends the amount of time studying, understands the game, it gives you flexibility, and it gives you the ability to do that."

Can you talk about what some of those specific challenges are of having such a long layoff for an offense?

"Well, as in any game, ball security is an issue, and I think a lot of it is you don't spend a lot of time in live tackling-type situations, especially for the ball carriers.

"You know, you have such a long layoff before you play that it's almost like a new season. And the preparation, you prepare the way you prepare, and ball security is an issue. And then just getting back in the flow of playing football in a game-type environment. Obviously our players and coaches have been through this before, so the process from when we started our preparation after the SEC Championship was well planned out. We had a calendar from day one, and we're very excited to get out and play."

What in particular does Louis Nix do that's so effective against the run? And what do you expect to see from that Jones-Nix matchup?

"Well, he's a big, physical player, very athletic. One of the things you can say about their defense unit as a whole is they do an excellent job of getting off blocks. They set blocks and get to the football. Obviously there's a lot of key match?ups in this game, and obviously he's a very, very good player."

What does it say about what we can expect to see and the style these two teams play that we're focusing so much on a center and a nose guard?

"Well, you know, they do a great job in the 3-4 scheme, and then they'll go to some even fronts out of it like I mentioned earlier, so they'll play both type of fronts."

How does AJ fit the perception of the Alabama quarterback being a game manager?

"Well, you know, I don't know what the definition of game manager is. I know what AJ does for our offense, and he does a lot, and it's much more than just managing."

What defines a good execution from a defensive front?

"The thing that stands out to me, the most, they're keeping people out of the end zone, giving up 10.3 points a game. But they've created a lot of loss?yardage plays in the red zone, and when you get behind the sticks and you get out of rhythm down there it's very difficult because obviously the field shrinks. They've done a tremendous job of creating their loss-yardage plays for their opponents."

How would you describe AJ McCarron? How have you gotten to know him?

"You get the exterior very fun-loving guy, but he is very competitive and very driven. He has that outward, outgoing personality, can mesh in any type of environment with any type of people. But behind that all is a very competitive and driven young man."

Talk about what you've seen from the back end of Notre Dame's defense.

"They do a very good job from a coverage disguise standpoint. They run very well at the corner position, they tackle very well at the safety position. Motta does a great job, it shows in the statistics that he gets to the football and makes plays. The focus has been the front, but that's a very, very good defensive unit, top to bottom."

Complete transcript of Doug Nussmeier's news conference

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