Gene Chizik Previews The Alabama Game

Nov. 22, 2011

ESPN College GameDay Gear

Alabama Press Conference - November 22, 2011

Head Coach Gene Chizik

Opening statement...
"Obviously this is a great rivalry week for us. We're excited about playing in another Iron Bowl. We understand the great challenge we have in front of us playing not a good team, but a great football team. We're certainly going to have to play our best game of the year to have a chance to win. We're prepared to continue practicing this week. We'll be very focused. So far everything's been really good during the week at this early juncture. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be fun for our fans, and again, the importance of the rivalry, we certainly understand that. We can't wait to play."

On talking to the team about past games in the rivalry...
"You talk about the history of the rivalry. We don't necessarily focus in on what happened last year or what happened the year before unless it, in detail, pertains to a certain part of the game that you're referencing to because of scheme or because of that part of the game which either handled well or we didn't handle well. As far as the overall what we did last year, or what we did the year before and all that, no that's not part of what we do unless it specifically relates to something we're trying to impart to our players. New year, different year, different players, completely different dynamic. Yes, we refer to the history of the rivalry because it's very important, but in terms of us specifically going back over the last two years, we don't really pay a lot of attention to that unless it pertains specifically to what we're teaching them."

On there being an "anything can happen" theme with this rivalry...
"I think that's certainly the theme, and we know that, and I think people across the country know that with any great rivalry. That theme doesn't just pertain to 2009 and 2010. You can go back to a lot of years where it was the same thing. Again, I think yes, the message is there, but we don't specifically point to last year or the year before as that's what can happen. They know that, the guys that were on the team, and the guys that weren't that we were recruiting at the time, they were certainly all aware of it."

On LaDarius Owens possibly being back for the Alabama game and was he making strides before his injury...
"He was. I was really proud of him before he got injured. The South Carolina game, I think, was when I really noticeably saw him making some serious strides at the defensive end position. He's gotten bigger. He's filling out. He's 250-plus pounds right now. He's really done a great job of getting his body prepared, and he was really coming along. Where he will be by the end of this week, I don't know, but we'll try to get him ready."

On if there are any things in the playbook that they have not shown yet...
"Every game, you have a little bit of that, there's no question. Really, that's true on offense and defense. We'll always have that. It's not going to be any different than any other week in terms of what new wrinkle here and there that you throw in there. They do the same thing. Your opponent every week doesn't just come and do the exact same thing every week, meaning they're going to stick to their base of what they do, but they'll hide it with a different formation, or they'll create a new way to get to the same play. I think everybody does that. We've done that all year, both offensively and defensively. It's just part of what you do every game."

On being prepared to take more risks for this game...
"We go into every game right now deciding what we feel gives us the best chance to win. Is some of that risky? Maybe. Is some of it low risk? Maybe it's a little bit of both. Obviously, we understand the importance of winning the game, so we're going to do whatever we have to do that we feel gives us the best chance to get that accomplished. Are there some things that you do in games that you feel are risky? Only if you think it has a great chance of working, on both sides of the ball. We'll always make those decisions based on that."

On Clint Moseley's progression from his first start to this point...
"I think he's done some nice things. I don't think there's any question that he's a little more comfortable back there, obviously, than he was three or four weeks ago, whenever that was. There are some things he's done well. There's times when he hasn't had an opportunity to do some things well because he's been under some duress. Overall, I think he's definitely progressed."

On being able to stop Alabama's running backs...
"They have a stable of running backs, and they have an offensive line right now that will knock you off the ball. They're very physical up front, and they're very deep up front. It's no secret. They want to run the football, and they want to play-action off the run, and they're really good at it. This is a game when it just comes down to being physical and holding your gaps and coming off blocks and just being a very aggressive defense when it comes to being able to stop the run. There's no secret to them. They're going to do what they do. They're going to come here and feel like they have to change anything. It has to start with the defensive line up front and those guys coming off the ball and trying to get vertical penetration. It's going to be about our linebackers fitting and our safeties fitting, and if there's a misfit anywhere on the run, then our safeties have to bring the ball down. That's pretty much 200-year-old football."

On special teams having the potential to win the game...
"I think special teams can always have an opportunity to win games, no question about it. I think the field position battles give the team an opportunity to win. It's invaluable. We've had games where for a whole half, we've had guys starting inside their own 20 for a half. When you do the percentages on chances to score touchdowns when they start inside the 20, it's very low, and to do it consistently, it's hard for people to do, so just that in itself, and being able to keep the ball on the other side of the 50-yard line. That's going to be a huge emphasis for us, no question about it. I think it's not just your punt team and how well your punter punts. It's about the opening kickoff and how well your punt return gets it out and how far does your kickoff return team get it out? Did you get one first down? Did you get no first downs? If you got the ball out to the 18, and you didn't get a first down, you're punting from your own end zone. Now all of a sudden the field position is swung in a bad way for you. Now if you're not playing great defense, then here we go again. It's not just about your punt team, it's about your kickoff return team, it's about your kickoff coverage. It's about your punt return team, trying to get you 10 yards every time they touch the ball, whether it's by saving a ball that's bouncing and you save 10 yards that way, or your punt returner catching the ball, or him actually returning the ball. All of those little hitting yards in there that no one really pays attention to. They're huge."

On this week's routine without classes helping with preparation...
"I think it helps. I don't think there's any question that it's kind of more like what the NFL guys do. Obviously we have some things like study hall and some things that are very important for us that academically we have to get done, but it's on their mind 24-7. I think it's a good thing and it needs to be. You only play this game once a year. The importance of this game needs to be on their minds 24-7, so I think it's a good thing."

On the importance of the staff explaining the significance of this game to new players...
"At the beginning of the week, I told our staff that our job is to make sure that not only the guys that haven't played in it, there are some guys that haven't played in it that were born and raised in this state, and there are some guys that haven't played in it that weren't, and so you have to really educate your team. They hear it, they know it, they've seen it, they were recruited when the game was played a year, two, three, four, five years ago. Everybody knows about it, but when you're in the middle of it, understanding the importance of it before you get here, it's huge. I hear so many players after they get done, and they say `Boy I look back on that game and I realize.' Well I don't want you to realize it then, I want you to realize it now, and so that's part of our job."

On seeing signs of improvement by Auburn's defensive line against Samford...
"I think so. I think it is always hard to measure when you are looking at different levels of competition, obviously, but when you look for the little things, using your hands, coming off the football, trying to establish a new line of scrimmage, there were some good things in there. There were also some things that kind of repeated themselves, losing contain on the quarterback just caused us to give up too many first downs this year on third downs. We did that once during the game. So, I think there was progress, but I still think that we're still searching for our best game up there."

On the success Auburn has had stopping running backs similar to Alabama's Trent Richardson...
"To me, it is a mindset starting out. These guys have to understand the physical nature of this game, the physical nature of games when you are playing against great running backs. There are no great running backs out there that don't have a great offensive line in front of them. If they're rushing for 1,500 yards, they have guys in front of them that can block. You go to the backup tailback who has rushed for somewhere around 600 yards. That's 2,100 yards from the tailback position. You have a good offensive line up there, so it starts with the mindset of your front four and your linebackers, and it's a mindset. Alabama doesn't try to trick you. They do a great job of formationing people and doing things of that nature, but they have about four running plays, and they are going to ask you to stop it, and there's not many that have, and I think that's pretty obvious for everybody that watches football. I think it starts with the mentality. I think it starts with your front four and your linebackers, and they have to decide how physical they want to be on Saturday. That's where it starts."

On Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron...
"The first thing that stands out is he's really protecting the football. We've played in 11 games now, I think he's thrown only five interceptions, which tells you that he is protecting the ball. He's managing the games. He has great players around him. They can run the football. I think they do a great job of not putting too much pressure on him to make him feel like he has to win the game. He has a great defense, he has the best defense right now out there that he can play with, and that matters at the quarterback spot. I think he's done a really nice job of managing and running the offense. There's no question about it. He's got a good feel for it. They do a really nice job of the play-action passes coming off the runs where he has great protection and it might only be a three-man route, but he's going to get great protection to sit in there and wait for a guy to come open. They haven't given up many sacks. He hasn't thrown many interceptions. They run the ball well, so I think he is protected really well all the way around without question. I think that's why he's had a lot of success, and he's managed the offense and the team very well."

On all of Auburn's coaches collaborating well on special teams...
"I feel like we do a really, really nice job of covering the details of our special teams. Coach (Jay) Boulware is our special teams coordinator, and we've been together five years now. It's been a progression over five years getting to this point. I think it all starts with how important they are to you and what emphasis you place on those special teams, but he does a good job leading it. Most every other coach on our staff is involved in some way or another with those, but we put a lot of meeting time, a lot of practice time into what we do on special teams, so it is very important to us and I can definitely argue that out of our seven wins this year that special teams have definitely played an enormous part in a lot of those wins dating back to the first game where we got an onside kick. That's where it started in game one, but you can see in most every phase right now we've played well on special teams."

On the challenge of getting past Alabama's defense...
"I think it is what it is. It's real simple. You're not No. 1 in the SEC in virtually every category without having really good players and a lot of them and being coached really well. They're physical, they get off blocks, they love to play the game, and they play really hard. Big challenge. Huge challenge. People have had a real hard time, doesn't matter who they are, people have had a real hard time running the ball and throwing the ball on them. We definitely, I'll say it again, we have to find our best game out there. Certainly offensively, we have to find our best game out there to move the ball, but we have to find our best game out there all the way around in order to have a chance to win the game."

On which scenario has more pressure on the game, having everything at stake or looking to cause an upset?
"I'm not going to really be able to differentiate because it's the Iron Bowl. It doesn't matter what side you're on or where you are. Where you are in the big picture, whether it's BCS, conference championships, whatever it is, it's a huge game. It's a pressurized game just from being the Iron Bowl. Yes, I have been on both sides of the fence, and I don't think when you're in the middle of it, I don't think you look at it like that at all. You're on the daily grind of every day trying to do whatever you have to do to give your team the best chance to win. When a conference championship or a national championship was on the line, I didn't look at it like `Wow it has to be this because if we don't, it's..." You have to be great because we have to play great in this game. It really doesn't matter, at least for me personally, it doesn't matter where you are. It only matters that you understand the importance of the game and that you do everything you can on a day to day basis to give your team a chance to win. That's how I look at it."

On not giving the team any underdog speeches...
"You have to play great because it's the Iron Bowl. This is a rivalry. I don't think I have to sit here and tell 120 guys we're an underdog. They can read. They have ears. I don't have to tell my team that. We have to play because this is an extremely important game to so many people. You have to love it. You have to love being able to just having an opportunity to play in this game. Every year, somebody in this game makes history. Every year, somebody goes down with a play or two in a game that people talk about forever. That's the way this game goes."

On what the most important thing is that they can do to impact the team and impact the outcome...
"That we stay focused on how we prepare and really don't get caught up, although the pageantry of the game is so big and the importance of the game is so big, that you eliminate everything outside of the circle of everybody that has to go out on that field and participate in the game. That's coaches and players. Everybody has their role. Some it's a big role, some it's a small role. That's coaches, that's players, that's trainers, that's managers. We have to have our whole football team, everybody that's included in that circle, be focused on what their job is. Although there's a lot of cool things going on with (ESPN's College) GameDay being here and just the pageantry and the passion of the game, I love it and that's what makes it great, but at the end of the day right now the people that are going to be responsible for what happens inside the white lines, every one of us has to stay focused every single day to finally get to Saturday. That's the most important thing, period."

On the importance of having offensive lineman Brandon Mosley ready to play on Saturday...
"It's going to be big. That's a huge part of the puzzle for us. He's a tough kid now, he's a tough guy. If there's any way he can play, he's going to play. He's made some strides, but he's one of those guys that's going to be tough to keep out of this game. We'll play it day by day, but if there's any way he can play, he'll play."

On giving copies of "Roll Tide War Eagle" to the players to motivate them...
"I don't have any copies of it on hand, but they can certainly pull it up. I'm sure there's a way they can do it."