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A Very Special Week

Nov. 20, 2012

Opening Statement “This is a very special week as we all know. It’s a very important week for so many people in this state and so many people that are both Auburn and Alabama fans. This is a great game. It’s a game it’s a privilege for me to be now part of what would be my seventh one, and it’s very unique. I think there is just a difference in this game.

“I’ve been in a lot of great rivalries and there is a difference in this game -- just the importance that it has with the fans on both sides, former players, alumni, so many people that hold this game in very high regard -- and so it is very important for our players and our coaches and certainly our fans.

“We’ve got a great football team that we are getting ready to play in Tuscaloosa, and we know that. For us to be able to have a chance to be successful, we are going to have to, obviously, play the best game we’ve played all year and be very sound in everything that we do in all three phases of our game. Obviously, they’re very well coached, and they’ve got some great players, so our work is cut out for us.

“But we feel great about being able to play in a game like this because it’s a privilege and all of our players know that. It’s something that they will always remember the rest of their lives. We started preparing yesterday. We’re preparing well and we’ve got to continue to do that the rest of this week in order to give ourselves a chance to win.”

Has he noticed anything different about the players’ mindset this week… “I think so. I just think that is what comes with this game. Certainly, we have a lot of guys on our football team that are from this state, so they grew up from birth hearing about this game, and quite frankly, the ones that we have on our roster from other places understand the magnitude of how big this rivalry game is. I think even if you weren’t born in this state, you at some point watched it on TV or have heard about it through the years. It’s a very unique game, so I think that there’s an extra focus and an extra intent in terms of just being ready to prepare. Our team looks at this game differently.”



What are his memories of the 2010 Iron Bowl? Has he talked to this year’s team about that game... “We talk to them about the history of the game in general. This will be the fourth time that I’ve been up there and played a football game in that stadium in this game. We don’t necessarily focus on just one game. Obviously, the 2010 game was a very special year and very special game, but we really we talk about the history and tradition of the game and the passion of the people and what it means.

“That is part of the conversation, but this is a new year. It’s a different year. It’s a whole different set of circumstances for everybody playing in the game and for everybody involved, so we’re really trying to focus on the here and now. But we certainly educate them about the importance of the game and the history of the game in the past.”

About a video that was shown to the Auburn football team… “I think it just reiterates the importance of the game and really trying to get everybody’s attention on the impact that it has on so many people, not just the ones playing in the game. We don’t take that lightly. We feel a great sense of responsibility because of so many people that will be affected by this game come Sunday morning. There will be daily reminders.”

What has the staff done to get Jonathan Wallace ready for his first road start… “The sound factor, the noise factor is something that we started working on yesterday. It will be definitely a different venue for him. With him being a young man that’s grown up around this game his whole life and heard about it and seen it and understands it, it’s going to be different for him. But he’s a young guy that really embraces these types of moments, and I think that he is a young guy that will prepare as a professional like he usually does, but it will be different for him. He knows that.

“We’ve talked to all of our quarterbacks, and really all of our team, about the poise that you have to have when you go up there. There will be ebbs and flows in the game that you have to live through and get to the other side of those valleys that can happen in the game. I think he is a young guy that you can tell him everything that you want to tell him about it, but he is going to have to go up there and get a feel for it and experience it. Early in the game it is going to be very unique for him, but I think as the game goes on, like he’s really done in all the other games, he’ll adapt and adjust.”

What is his relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban… “Coach Saban is a great football coach; his body of work wherever he has been really tells the story. I don’t think that there is anything that I can say that can inform anybody any differently. On a professional level, he’s always been very professional, very respectful with all of his opponents and all of his peer coaches, likewise, everybody with him as well. That’s my dealing with him. He’s very successful for a reason, and I think I don’t need to tell people all the reasons. I think it’s very obvious.”

Who will start on the offensive line in the Iron Bowl… “We’ll see health-wise. I think health-wise will play a part in the picture, and we’ll make those determinations later in the week.”

On Christian Westerman’s status for the Iron Bowl… “That’s part of what we’re looking at right now in terms of health, and we’ll know more probably Wednesday or Thursday. Right now it’s going to be a wait and see with him.”

On Cassanova McKinzy’s status for the Iron Bowl… “Trying to get him back healthy again. He’s got a little bit of an ankle situation that he’s trying to make some cuts on. I thought he made a little bit of progress yesterday, but he is going to be in the same boat.”

Can he can give any update on the free safety position… “No, same deal. We’ll wait, and we’ll look at it toward the end of the week.”

On Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron… “I think everything with their offense starts with their offensive line. Number one, I think it’s an extremely talented, well-coached offensive line. I think for a quarterback there’s great comfort in that, but he’s been very, very efficient. He’s very good at protecting the football. McCarron has done everything that I think you do in games to win. He protects the ball. He’s got an offensive line that he knows is very good at protecting him. He’s got a running game that can offset a lot of different pressures because, if you pressure that running game and you’re wrong, you get two guys in or out of a gap and you pay for that with a long, explosive run. I think he has made very wise decisions. I think he has made some really, really tight throws, some throws in some narrow spaces, but it all goes back to the decisions that he has made. He’s very efficient in his decision making, and he’s very efficient with where he places the ball.”

On potentially knocking Alabama out of contention for the national title… “I think just a win in Tuscaloosa is huge, because of what it means to our fans and players and coaches. That’s really what we are focused on. Whatever the ramifications of that mean, they are what they are. It’s obvious, but when you go into a game like this, whatever the situation is, your number one goal is to win the game because it’s the Iron Bowl, and whatever happens beyond that, like I said, it is what it is. Our number one goal is to go out there and fight and play extremely hard because this is a very important game for so many people. Obviously, a win in Tuscaloosa would be great for our fans and our players and everybody involved that loves Auburn.”

Do people associated with Auburn talk to him about the importance of the Iron Bowl… “I think that as you go around and you speak and you are at so many different Auburn functions, I think that is always part of the topic that people are going to bring up and talk to you about. I’m going on my seventh year here, either as an assistant or head coach, so I get it. I understand the importance to all of those people, all of the alumni and former players that you get calls from and things of that nature. It’s just very important to everybody and that’s not something that goes away and is a conversation that happens once a year. I think it happens a lot because that really shows you the magnitude of the game.”

What usually determines the outcome in the Iron Bowl… “It’s been different. I can go back to 10 years ago to 2002, when we had just come off a tough loss to Georgia, and we went down to Tuscaloosa, and we didn’t have any running backs, and we didn’t have any fullbacks, and Alabama was coming off a big win, and we were able to fight through the swings of momentum of the game and win. Even if you look at 2009 and 2010, the way those two games unfolded, you just have to get through some of the peaks and valleys and the ebbs and flows of the game, and you know that there are going to be things that happen in the game, particularly when you play on the road, that you just have to weather.

“You’ve got to weather the storm, and I think that both teams have been able to do that. They were able to do that in 2009 when we went up 14 when they potentially were going to play for the national championship. I think it is one of those games where guys have to continue to play. They have to be able to expect the unexpected and play through those things; that’s been my experience with the game dating back 10 years.”

What makes the Auburn-Alabama rivalry so intense… “I think that part of what makes this rivalry different and great is that it’s different than the Michigan-Ohio State (rivalry) because people are going to go back to their home states, and they’ll play it again next year. The Texas-OU (Oklahoma) game would be another example of a game that I have been involved in which is a tremendous rivalry. It’s a great rivalry, but it’s different than this one.

“Number one, you don’t have any pro sports in this state, so this is pro football, baseball, basketball all tied into one. This is what this state is all about, and, as you guys know, when you’re born in this state, you’re usually born one or the other, and if you’re not, you’ve got to make a decision real early on which one you are and then you can’t flip. That’s just the way it is.

“It’s the success that both programs have had traditionally over the years. There’s a long period of time in there where they didn’t play, but if you just look at the last 10 years, there’s been two undefeated seasons in the last 10 years in this league, both by Auburn. You’ve got the last three national championships that came out of this state. I think that the tradition and the history of the success of both programs, certainly in the last 25 or 30 years, contribute to it as well.

“You know people are going to go back to work on Monday and Tuesday after the game and for the next 300 and 60-some odd days and they’re going to have conversations about it. It’s different than when you go home to Michigan or go home to Ohio -- not that those aren’t great, great rivalries -- but I think that’s the difference in this one.”

Has he talked to the team about this being the 40th anniversary of Punt, Bama, Punt… “We haven’t talked about that specifically. What we have talked about are some of the traditions and some of the games that have gone down in history and what this means, but we’ll have conversations pretty much every day about different things.”

On what role he sees Tre Mason playing in the Iron Bowl… “It starts with our offensive line. That’s where it is going to start, and we’ve got our work cut out for us. That’s a very, very talented, physically strong front seven. I think Texas A&M, out of everybody all year, has run the ball the best, but a lot of that was quarterback scrambles, quarterback runs, especially early in the game. It’s just hard to line up and run the ball at that front seven with traditional running game ideas, but we have to play well up front right now.

“Our offensive line is going to have to have the best game that they have played all year to give Tre Mason or anybody else that touches the ball a chance to run it. Obviously, we know that Tre has to have an opportunity to get in there and run it some, but it’s going to start with the offensive line.”

On any possible vulnerable areas that he has seen on film of Alabama’s defense… “They don’t have very many vulnerable ones. You may be able to hit them with a little something here or a little something there, but they are number one in our league in just about every defensive category, so that indicates that there are really no weaknesses. You have to continue to try to gain field position advantages in special teams. You’ve got to hope for a turnover here or there, which they’re not turning the ball over much. There’s not a lot of true what you would be able to say “weakness” on their defense. You’ve just got to find ways to get first downs and try to hit a big play here and there, but they’re hard to come by.”

How many times has he seen a team raise its level of play and do something that shocks him… “There are those possibilities out there for sure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it, but we’ve all seen it. I think it’s a mindset with a football team on what your team wants to come out and physically and mentally be able to accomplish in that one game. The circumstances of what’s happened before or what’s going to happen after really have to be eliminated, and you have to narrow that down into a laser-focused vision on what’s going to happen that day. If guys do that, then good things can happen, and we’ve all seen that. We certainly know that anything can happen in a rivalry game, but for us to be able to go and win the game, we’re going to have to play by far the best football game we’ve played all year and play it with a lot of energy and emotion and passion and play great in terms of execution as well.”

Will he get the best effort out of his players on Saturday… “Yes. Yes, we’ll be ready to play, and they’ll be excited about playing. They already are, and our team understands what this game means to so many people other than themselves. They understand that.”

Would a win in the Iron Bowl ease the pain of the losses this season… “I don’t think there’s any question. Anytime you can win a rivalry game, certainly one of this magnitude, it would certainly end your season on a great note.”

On the importance of winning regular season games… “I think it is unbelievably important. It’s the timing of the games, when you get a loss, when you don’t get a loss. There could be a scenario where a team that doesn’t play in its championship game ends up playing in the national championship again. There are so many circumstances out there with wins and losses in terms of when you get them and who you get them against. I think that it makes every win in the regular season extremely, extremely important, but so is the timing.”

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