Nov. 29, 2010
An Interview with: AUBURN'S Lee Ziemba, Zac Etheridge, Josh Bynes
THE MODERATOR: Lee Ziemba will be up first. Could you talk about Auburn advancing to the championship game and facing South Carolina on Saturday.
Lee Ziemba: It's a huge honor to represent the SEC West in this game. Obviously something I haven't done before. It's going to be a real bust to finally play in this game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. I was hoping you could talk about, Mike Dyer has been a guy who has kind of evolved. He hasn't had to do the 30-carry-a-game deal like Lattimore, but what kind of kid has he been and how talented a back is he?
Lee Ziemba: Mike Dyer is a very tough running back. You notice he runs the ball in between tackles a lot. In fact, sometimes Coach gets on to him for not bouncing stuff. It's very rare to see in a freshman back.
He runs with a low pad level. He works his tail off. He's improved greatly since the beginning of the year.
Q. And what about kind of the attitude -- because he was obviously a highly recruited guy who could have come in with a big head and maybe alienates some people. Didn't seem like he did that.
Lee Ziemba: He definitely tried to, worked hard to earn a spot on this team, not just thinking it was going to be given to him. And we couldn't be more proud of the guy.
Q. When you think about where you are now and where this program is, does it seem just staggering from just two years ago? Because I know the way that '08 season ended, UT Martin was your only win down the stretch. When you look back at that, is it amazing considering how far you guys have come?
Lee Ziemba: It is. But you gotta think each year is a new year. And I think that season we had I think, what was it, at least four of those games that we lost decided by a touchdown or less.
So you gotta think about how we have come a long ways. These coaches have done a great job of rebuilding this program and getting us on the right track. And we're just happy to be where we're at.
Q. And you've played in the Chick Fil-a Bowl after your freshman year -- during your freshman year; is that right?
Lee Ziemba: Yes, sir.
Q. What do you remember about playing in a dome, because I know it will be the first game for a lot of players in a dome?
Lee Ziemba: It's extremely loud. Of course, you have the noise echoing off the walls and the ceiling and all that.
I remember practicing in the dome the first time, looking up and being dizzy. That's what I remember. Not used to seeing a ceiling above me. That's what I remember.
Q. I was just wondering, given all that's gone on with Cam, how impressed have you guys been with the way he's remained focused on the field, and what do you all do to help him, if anything, in that regard?
Lee Ziemba: Cam Newton's a rock. It's been said many times. And the way he's conducted himself on and off the field this year has just been outstanding and definitely a good role model for younger guys on this football team and people coming up in the ranks. Maybe playing college football later.
But he's a good friend to us. And we try to be as good of a friend to him as we can.
Q. Do you find yourself having to defend him at all, or do the folks you see are pretty pro-Cam anyway?
Lee Ziemba: I live in Auburn, Alabama. So, yeah.
Q. Given all the drama you've had off the field to deal with, you've had plenty on the field. Has there been a point this season when you guys shake your head and say we're living a storybook existence, how long can this go on?
Lee Ziemba: Absolutely. We don't think about how long this can go on, we just think about how blessed we are to be in the position we're in. We're just real excited to be playing this game on Saturday. And we're just going to improve this week and try to get better and see if we can't win it.
Q. Down as many times as you have been, down by as many points as you have been in so many games, amazing resilience, and yet I guess I begin to wonder if at some point do you ever think: Can we do it one more time? Or have you ever reached a point where you thought: I don't know, maybe this is too big a hill to climb?
Lee Ziemba: You never want to be down in the first place. We're going to work hard this week to improve so that doesn't happen again so we don't have to climb out of a hole, because you'd rather not do that. But, you know, if something does happen and you do get down, it's never too many points to come back from.
Q. I know you're an offensive guy, but how would you explain Auburn's defense and how it seems to play so much better in the second half compared to the first half?
Lee Ziemba: You probably need to ask Josh Bynes or Zac Etheridge that.
Q. I'll ask Josh in a second. I just didn't know if you saw anything in practice, do they get tougher as practice goes out, or I didn't know what the situation was there, because they seem to be much better in the second half?
Lee Ziemba: Usually when I'm on the sidelines, I got trouble seeing what's going on out there. We're usually working on trying to get our stuff together.
Q. What do you remember from the first game with South Carolina? This is a program that's struggled to get to the top and now it's here.
Lee Ziemba: I just remember them being very tough. Physical defense. Absolutely well-coached and definitely hard to beat.
Q. When you look at South Carolina's defense compared to when you guys played them the first time, what stands out about their improvement to you?
Lee Ziemba: Well, they're definitely playing with a lot more confidence than I think they did early in the year. I think that's due to a couple of key wins.
They're extremely physical. They're playing a lot tougher than I think they did earlier in the year. And it's going to make them hard to beat.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Zac, could you briefly talk about Auburn advancing to Atlanta and playing South Carolina on Saturday.
Zac Etheridge: It feels great. We're looking forward to playing South Carolina for the SEC championship. It's great for the school and the atmosphere around Auburn just to go back to Atlanta.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Zac, you guys had a lot of drama off the field and you've had plenty on the field. How do you keep from having one bleeding over and affecting the other?
Zac Etheridge: I think it deals with a lot of the leadership and the coaches just keeping us focused on the goal that we have set for the team.
We aren't really looking to all the stuff that's going on outside. And we just go in each week and just prepare for our opponent.
Q. Has Cam been able to divorce himself from all that? And do you guys look for him on defense for leadership also?
Zac Etheridge: You know, Cam does a great job leading this whole team. He's handling the situation very well. And, yes, he's our quarterback. So a lot more pressure on him as far as leading and stuff.
But I think the other 24 seniors lead just as well so he doesn't have to do as much.
Q. What do you remember from the first game about Alshon Jeffery?
Zac Etheridge: He was supposed to play -- he had a lot of big catches for them. He knows how to use his body very well. He is definitely pretty tall. So we definitely gotta find ways to stop him and keep him in front of us.
Q. What's the best way to defend him, if there is one?
Zac Etheridge: I mean, it's tough. You are going to have to find ways to put him in double teams and things like that. I don't think no one person in the SEC can really guard him one-on-one right now.
Q. Each week it seems like you guys start slow defensively but by the second half you guys really have it rolling. What has been the reason for that this year, considering it's happened several times?
Zac Etheridge: A lot of teams come out early and try to attack us different ways. They come out just throwing so much other, some stuff that we haven't seen, and so they get a quick jump on us.
But once we figure out what they're trying to do to us and figure out their game plan and everybody getting to reading the keys better, the game becomes slower and you are just able to play fast and build on what coach is calling on defense.
Q. When you go back over these past 12 games, Clemson was up 17-0, South Carolina 20-7, Georgia 21-7, and then what happened Friday in Tuscaloosa. What was kind of the moment where you were like we may be in trouble, was there any of those particular times where you thought we could be in for a long one?
Zac Etheridge: Not really. A lot of guys are talking halftime, hey, we've been down 17. We've been down such and such before. So you get in that mindset we've been in this position more than once. So we knew we can get ourselves out of trouble. We just keep on fighting until that last second tick off the clock. That's what we do. We just kept on fighting and we had a great outcome.
Q. Marcus Lattimore, you were one of the defenses that was able to slow him down this season. Do you think it's possible to do it twice? He seems to have gotten better as the season's gone on and seems to do that in games, too.
Zac Etheridge: It's going to be tough to stop him. I think with our defense on the line and our front seven, stopping the run is our main focus on defense. I think we've done that well all season. We've done that pretty well. So we definitely can't let him get it started. If he gets it started, then they have a balanced attack at running and throwing the ball so we've got to find a way to make the team one-dimensional.
Q. Two other guys on that offense, Garcia seems to be playing smarter than ever, making good decisions. Do you see him as an improved quarterback at this point?
Zac Etheridge: Most definitely. You turn on the tape, you can just see he's starting to go through his keys and reads very well. So we've just got to hold our D line and get to them early and put the pressure on them to try to get them rattled early so he can get uncomfortable in the pocket.
Q. You were talking about Jeffrey earlier. Is he the best receiver you guys have seen this year?
Zac Etheridge: He's up there. He definitely is in the top five of the guys. A.J. Green and him and Julio, they all have a great feel of the game and know how to use their body well. But he's definitely in the top receivers.
Q. Are you surprised to be where you are right now, if you go back two years, had a coaching change. The '08 team really faded down the stretch where I think UT Martin was your only win in your six or seven games. Is it surprising how far you've come in such a short time?
Zac Etheridge: Yeah, it is. If you look back two years ago, we didn't have a great season. But I wouldn't say we just were totally surprised. I just feel like we're just blessed to be where we are at right now with a great coaching staff, they're doing whatever it takes for us to win and putting in the extra hours of work that will give us a chance to win on Saturday and a lot of guys just buying into the -- we just bought into the new coaches when they got here, and we put all trust and faith in them and they put their trust and faith in us, and we all got on the same page and everything's been so great this year.
Q. Going back to Friday, I know Friday was kind of a historical Iron Bowl, biggest comeback in the series history and biggest comeback in school history. How long were you guys allowed to celebrate that, and do you feel like it's out of your system?
Zac Etheridge: You know, when we were on the bus, we were all talking about it. It really didn't hit home yet that we just made that comeback, because it had never been done in Bryant-Denny Stadium. It didn't really hit home.
We're kind of still thinking about it, but that's a game we have to put behind us. We know what's next. So it was a great comeback. It was great for the school and for all of us.
But when we got here Sunday, you know, the coaches was like, yeah, it was great to win but we've got to head forward and get ready for South Carolina.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Josh, could you briefly talk about Auburn advancing to Atlanta and facing South Carolina on Saturday.
Josh Bynes: Basically, we've been working hard all year. And we finally are in a position where we've been waiting for and preaching about all year, getting to the SEC championship.
Now that we're finally here, we're grateful. And we're blessed by the opportunity. We're just trying to look forward to playing them again. We know it's going to be tough, but we want to take it one practice at a time this week and just look forward to playing the game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. This year there's been plenty of drama off the field, and it hasn't seemed to spill over and affect you on the field where you've had an additional amount. How have you guys been able to separate it? And what's been the important factors in doing that?
Josh Bynes: I mean, we've been able to separate all that just like everybody's been able to separate things in their lives. There's a lot of things that go on in people's lives that you have to be able to separate and handle the job you're doing.
Things might be going on at home not too well whatever, with your son or your child or your mother, or something like that, but at the same time you go to work with a different mindset; you've got to accomplish your job and do your work. That's exactly what we're doing, that's the same mindset. We know for a fact there's a whole bunch of things, stuff going on with family members on our team, something going on, the media in it and everything like that, but we know we have to go to work and handle our job. That's all we've been doing, where we let that be to itself and that situation take care of itself.
But we know when it's time to go to work and time to show up at the job to play football and make sure we get on track with our plays and we make it a point we all handle that.
Whatever situation was happening prior to the game or prior to practice, we let it rest itself. We know from the time we go to meetings, until time play ends it's all football and that's all that matters and we account for.
Q. Did you ever get to a point during the game say the other day when you're down by 24 where you think maybe this hill's just too big to climb?
Josh Bynes: No, not at all. Because I think everybody on this team, me included, of course, have been, regardless of what situation, how many points we are down, we are able to fight adversity and come back and win.
We knew for a fact the things we did, we made a lot of mistakes defensively to get them up that many points. It wasn't really like they manhandled us physically or anything like that, we did a lot of mistakes that easily could have changed the game from just being down three points to us being up maybe more or something like that.
But the mistakes cost us early in the game. They took advantage of scoring points, 24-0. But we knew for a fact going into halftime that if we cancelled out those mistakes and played the same kind of football, because we didn't make any adjustments. People think we make adjustments all year. We really don't make any adjustments this whole year. It's been rarely, I can think of one time where we probably made adjustments all year.
The only thing different between the first half and second half, our feet are on the ground, our mindset is ready. We're going out there. We know we're going to finish the game and go out with a victory.
That's how we've been doing games all year, finishing and coming out and knowing in the second half, regardless what the scoreboard says, we'll come back and win. That's always on our mind, winning. No matter, any shape, form or fashion, as long as we know we're on top at the end of the day the scoreboard, that's what we're going to fight for and that's what we'll fight until we get there. That's what we've been doing all year and that's the kind of attitude this team has.
Q. Along those same lines, you gotta kind of feel like if you're down 24-0 in a hostile stadium, if there's anybody on that sideline that doubts that you can do it, you probably aren't going to come back. Do you feel like that, that nobody on that sideline doubted for a second that you could all do it?
Josh Bynes: Not at all. Especially not as us as players. I think we don't really care what everybody else is thinking because we're the ones out there handling the business. We're the ones that are going out there playing football. Regardless what the coaches say, what the media, attitude of the fans, we know it's up to us 11 offense, 11 on defense to go out there and show that we believe in each other, we believe that 24-0 is not nothing new for us. We've been down before. Maybe not that high of a deficit but we're going to come back and win.
Not one guy felt like that at all. And it was just early in the game to feel that way anyway. I mean, we're not going to feel that way all year, going to change just one game because we played against Alabama in their house. That wasn't going to change any mindset at all. Obviously that's why we came back and won.
Q. I hate to ask another Cam question, but that was the first time since all this stuff with Cam had surfaced that you all had to deal with the fans, opposing stadium with the fans making the noise, the PA system playing songs, making reference to it. How did Cam deal with that? Didn't seem to faze him much?
Josh Bynes: Didn't at all. You answered it already.
Q. Why do you think it does keep happening that the defense -- I mean, seeming like it takes to the second half before you guys really get going?
Josh Bynes: I think because -- I think our adrenalin keeps going. A lot of times we've got to think of something and we really just don't -- we've got to learn how to calm down in the first quarter, let things flow and play defense, play our kind of ball and not wait until the last time or crunch time to play all kind of great football. I think if we start off like that and play the first two quarters as well as we do the last two, we'll probably be one of the more dominant defenses in the nation.
But we've got to play the first quarters like the last two. It would be a lot of stuff going on, adrenalin pumping, flow of the games, some guys get called into it and missing assignments and things like that. But later in the game, you rarely see any of that. It's like guys calm down and keep the composure and take one play at a time rather than looking to the end of the game.
Q. Are you surprised that's still happening? If you look at your last two games, I think Alabama and Georgia both put up 21 points real quick.
A. I think you can say kind of sort of surprised in a way, but is it as -- it all happened. It happened fast and it happened the way it did. But you look at the fact when we actually turned around, Alabama scored three points and Georgia only scored 10 in the last three quarters.
We start off -- I'm not saying we're going to do every opponent like that because there might be an opponent we come against when we get down 21 we might not be able to come back.
I think it's a scary thing to think of. But that's why I said we're not that great enough of a football team to get down 21-0 like that and always come back, because it might be that one team to go out there and show us that when we're 21 down they're going to come out and say we gotta just play better and play complete and come out with the right mindset and our composure, rather than letting the game take over us and wait until really when we see a down, get that mind back right and all of a sudden play the kind of football we were supposed to be playing in the beginning.
Q. When you guys played South Carolina the first time, you were really able to shut down Marcus Lattimore and shut down the running game in general. What did you guys do that was so effective to stopping them?
Josh Bynes: Basically play on the other side of their line of scrimmage. We got defense lined in the back field. Linebackers downhill. Closing gaps and closing lanes and safeties sitting in alleys, things like that, stopping the runs.
When you have the whole defense swarming to the run, you get pressure by your front four guys alone by themselves, can't ask for anything more. That's the big thing stopping the run because we had guys like Zac and Nick Fairley and Antoine Carter and Mike Blanc, and you have guys on the other side.
Guys up front at the defensive line position was getting penetration and frees up the offensive linebackers to stop the run. I think that was the key, that's part of the key for any game. If you get penetration by the defensive linemen and your linebackers find a hole, I think no team can run the ball. And if you are taking care of that, you can start the run pretty easily.
Q. The South Carolina offense is pretty multiple, but Jeffrey has kind of emerged as a big play guy for them. How does he rank as a play-maker in your mind and compared to the rest of the league?
Josh Bynes: He's a really good guy to watch. He's really nice. I really like the way he plays. He plays aggressive. But at the same time he seems to look like he's humbled and not like trying to be flashy. Just go out there and make plays. I think when you've got a guy like, that it's got to be a good weapon to have on your offense.
I think we have to definitely watch out for him, because we have a lot of great receivers in the last two games. I know he's definitely one of them. He showed earlier what he can do. I'm pretty sure his last game, not last game, but the SEC championship, if we let him get free, let him do a lot of things more than he did the last game, it's going to be a lot of trouble.
We have to try to limit him as much as possible and get to the quarterback and get in throwing lanes, things like that. But he's definitely a great receiver. I mean, watching him immerse since we played them the whole year, that's all you seen him do was go out and make plays. When you got a guy like that, going out and making plays with that size and that capability, that's just something you've definitely got to keep your eye out for.
Q. You talk about Lattimore earlier. Is Jeffrey the guy you've got to stop, or is that a two-headed monster or three-headed, with Garcia?
Josh Bynes: I wouldn't really call them three-headed, two-headed monsters, it's just that we didn't key guys on the offense that make the hole. If you let them run the ball, Alshon Jeffery might not get all the passes he wants. But if you stop them from running like we did earlier in the year -- I don't know if I messed up his name -- Alshon Jeffery might get all the yards he got earlier in the year.
But I'm not really going to say we can't stop them. I mean, you can't -- as much as you want to, you wish you can, I mean, one of them -- might one of them have a good day. Just like we play Alabama, Julio had a great day. But we definitely stopped the run. You know what I'm saying? Because they knew the running game wasn't it. It was more the passing game that Alabama wanted to emphasize.
So I think the same thing earlier in the year when we played Lattimore, they couldn't run the ball, so they threw the ball, and he was the guy to throw to. It's going to go either way. We stop the pass, I'm pretty sure they're going to run the ball to Lattimore more, and he might be the guy we have to stop.
So you gotta think about it, and it's not really a three-headed monster. Depends on what works for them. If we stop the run like we did earlier they'll throw the ball. Just like any offense you go against. If we stop the passing, then you'll see the running game opening up the passing. So it could go either way, depending on how the game works out. And I think we stop the run and limit the running game earlier then they'll resort to probably passing again.
An Interview with: SOUTH CAROLINA'S PATRICK DIMARCO, SPENCER LANNING, TRAVIAN ROBERTSON
THE MODERATOR: We're going to start with South Carolina. Patrick DiMarco will be the first one on the call today. If you could give us some general thoughts on playing in the championship game this Saturday versus Auburn, and then we'll take a couple of questions.
PATRICK DIMARCO: We've got a good team. Auburn is number one in the nation, good opponent, definitely a tough one for us. We kind of slipped up there a little bit when we played them earlier in the year and had a few mistakes but we're going to go out there and be ready for them and just have a good week at practice.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Just wondering if you could speak about being a part of the signing class of 2007. A lot of you guys said that you signed with USC to do things that had never been done before at the school, and now you're kind of on the cusp of that. Could you just talk about being a part of that signing class and what you guys have been through?
PATRICK DIMARCO: All of us in that 2007 class came in here knowing -- knew the potential that South Carolina had and knew the opportunity we had at hand, building a program and everything.
And Coach Spurrier always told us our main goal would be to win a SEC championship while we're here. This is our last year, and so we've got to go out and give it our all.
Q. Can you just talk about when the first time you played, just what you remember about Auburn's defense?
PATRICK DIMARCO: They were tough. They were real solid up front. Pretty big. I mean, we didn't run the ball well against them. So they slanted their gaps good, and their defensive backs covered well. Definitely a tough challenge for us. We're going to have to get what we can at times because they're a tough defense.
Q. The South Carolina game is one of several games where Auburn has fallen behind in double digits. Their defense seems to be vastly superior in the second half as compared to how they play in the first half. Did that seem to you as well. If so, did you have any rhyme or reason why they played different in the second half?
PATRICK DIMARCO: They came out really intense in the second half, putting the pressure on us. We tried to move the ball, tried to run the ball, and get the clock going and everything. But we couldn't do it. So we had to return to the pass game and we turned the ball over a couple times in the second half. Their defense made some good plays forcing turnovers. We seem to control the ball better and not turn it over, and I think we should be fine.
Q. The championship game, just wonder how much you've watched it in the past. Have you boycotted it in the past, or is it must-see TV for you?
PATRICK DIMARCO: It's must-see TV. It's one of the biggest games of the year, besides the national championship.
Usually the team that wins that, goes and either plays for the national championship or one of the really big BCS games.
So it's always a good game, always fun to watch. It's an honor this year being able to play in it. We're going to go out there, give it our all. Hopefully come out with a win and hopefully play for a big Bowl game.
Q. As you watched it in previous years, did you mentally put yourself in that spot and wonder what it would be like to play?
PATRICK DIMARCO: Definitely. We played usually one or two of those teams that played in the SEC championship. So I kind of just picture our team out there and in that same situation. And it kind of upsets you sometimes knowing that we could be out there playing. But, I mean, it's going to be exciting this year, our first time ever going.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Nick Fairley, the defender for Auburn. You've blocked a lot of guys in your career. Where does he rank on your list of hardest guys to block?
PATRICK DIMARCO: I didn't get to hit him too much because he plays in the interior. But he gave us a lot of trouble. He's really physical, knocks linemen around pretty well.
We'll definitely have to scheme around him and definitely have to put some plays in to kind of exploit just his intensity. And we'll have to try to get around him and use his strengths to maybe use it to make them weaknesses. So he's definitely a good player. We'll definitely have to focus on him a lot this week during preparation.
Q. What do you think this means to Coach Spurrier considering all the years he's put in the league?
PATRICK DIMARCO: Means a lot. When he came here I knew he wanted to do something special. This is really special. The first time it's been done at the university. Nine wins playing for the SEC championship. Beating Clemson twice in a row.
I mean, it's a big year for us. We just need to keep building on it. An SEC title would be awesome under our belt. Playing in a Bowl game would be also awesome. I know he's proud and really excited. I'm excited to see what he has in store for us this week.
Q. Does he seem a little different in the last few weeks, considering how you clenched it two, three weeks ago at Florida? I know South Carolina a lot of times has struggled with their November schedule down the stretch. Does he seem different realizing now that the goal of winning the East has been attained?
PATRICK DIMARCO: Not really. He's still intense. I think he wants us to keep building on our win, not let us up at all. We're kind of peaking right now. We need to keep building on that and keep the intensity up and keep rolling.
THE MODERATOR: Spencer Lanning. Spencer, could you give us your thoughts on South Carolina making the championship game and facing Auburn on Saturday.
SPENCER LANNING: I think it means a lot to our program. It speaks a lot for our coaching staff and our players to really succeed in the SEC and really just to get to where we are and we're just really excited to have the opportunity to go out there in the national spotlight and play the best we can.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. I know that you're a long-time college football follower and fan. The points in the SEC are up in general this year. From your perspective, I didn't know if you had a theory as to why. Is it a cyclical thing? Or is there something to that that you can see from your perspective?
SPENCER LANNING: Are you talking about scoring points?
Q. Scoring. Across the board pretty much.
SPENCER LANNING: I think it just goes back to the offensive geniuses we have in this conference, and I don't think it has anything to do necessarily with defense.
But these offensive coaches just get out there and put together some great plans, and it all comes down to just execution from every team's standpoint.
Q. Spencer, what do you think this means going to the title game for Coach Spurrier?
SPENCER LANNING: I think it means a lot to him. I think it means even more to him in an aspect of this whole football program. And I think it means a lot to our players and a lot to our fans. And I think it means a lot to this entire nation of Gamecocks. And I think everybody is sort of anxious to see how we prepare and what we can do out there on Saturday at 4:00.
Q. He's a guy who obviously will show his emotions when he's happy and when he's upset with you guys. What's the happiest you've seen him all year, considering there have been a lot of milestones when you look at beating Alabama, Florida, beating Clemson back to back, what's the happiest you've seen him all year?
SPENCER LANNING: The happiest I've seen him probably in my career was when we beat Florida a couple of weeks ago and he was just ecstatic and all the players were excited. It was the memory of a lifetime just to be in that locker room after the game.
He was just really excited for I think the opportunities and what we had in the future for our program.
Q. They showed some of that clip on national TV. What do you remember that he said to show his excitedness from that night?
SPENCER LANNING: Just usually in the locker rooms after the games, he has a couple of positive points and has some negative points and we need to play better in this aspect and this aspect. We can't give up stupid penalties, this or that.
And after that game he said we need to get ready for Troy, get ready for Clemson and we're headed for Atlanta. And everybody just erupted. It was just an intense moment for us.
Q. When Lattimore got on campus and you looked at him and you saw him run, and he got around them a little bit, did anything jump out at you? Did you say: Hey, this guy might be it?
SPENCER LANNING: To tell you the truth, when I first spoke to him he seemed like a really nice guy. And he's very well-spoken. And you watch him in practice, you think he might be the real deal, he might not. You look at him, he's not extremely big, fast or strong. But then you watch him play against this great competition, and you just realize that he's just a grown man. And he pretty much controls his own destiny. He's probably going to be as good as he wants to be.
Q. You said he's pretty a well-spoken kid even for a freshman?
SPENCER LANNING: He's very well-spoken and very down to earth and he has his head on straight.
Q. I'm not sure how much you guys got to watch them over the season, but from the time you played Auburn to now, is there one thing that stands out about them as just the most significant improvement?
SPENCER LANNING: The biggest thing, when I think about Auburn, is the fact that, like Coach Spurrier said, they're going to move the ball and you've got to play 100 percent all game. You can't give them anything.
You expose any kind of weakness for yourself, I think they're going to take advantage of it. We're going to go out there, try to minimize our weaknesses and our flaws and just really try to put together a complete game.
Q. You played such an integral role both kicking and punting, and senior year you also had big roles in both Florida and Clemson games here down the stretch. What's this been like for you as a way to cap your career?
SPENCER LANNING: Personally, it means a lot to me, I think my family. It doesn't really mean anything right now. I think I'll look back on it after the season and really have time to reflect on it. Right now I think all of my anticipation and all of my focus is going toward Auburn just to put together a game that we can play as best we can.
Q. Is this the best you've kicked in your career? And the punt the other night that went out about the one-inch line, how much of that is skill and how much of that is luck?
SPENCER LANNING: The skill part of it, I guess, was getting it down there just to give it a chance, as Coach Spurrier said, give fate a chance. And the luck part, when I kicked it, it was one of those things, I watched it go up and I watched our head hunters running across field chasing Gilchrist and it's going to be right in the end zone and Coach Spurrier is going to be furious with me.
I saw it take a big hop. And I heard the fans down there sort of erupt. I sort of shook my head in disbelief and shrugged my shoulders. It was just one of those things that happened to work out well.
Q. The combination between field goal kicking and punting, is this the best you've kicked in your career in the last three, four weeks?
SPENCER LANNING: I've been hitting the ball well. It's just like I feel like a golf swing, you go out there some days and you hit it well and some days you go out there, don't hit well. But as far as putting it all together, I've been really trying to focus on the individual aspects during the week. And then on Saturday, game day, try to go out and put it together for a complete performance.
Q. Given the position you play, can you speak to playing this week in the dome, indoors, in a controlled environment and how that affects, if anything, what it is you do?
SPENCER LANNING: Playing in the dome, I'm really excited about it, to tell you the truth. There's no wind. There's no cold. Things that kickers and punters despise are wind and cold. The wind plays tricks with the balls. I think quarterbacks will experience that, too. Anytime the ball is in the air, it can change direction on you with how hard the wind is blowing. I'm not a big fan playing in the cold. And kicking a ball in the cold is usually a little more difficult. The ball doesn't travel as well. You take all those aspects out of it, and the things that you can control become that much more so. The opportunity presents itself for all of us to have a very good game, and I'm really excited about getting the opportunity to play in the dome.
Q. Ask you to shift gears just a little bit. From the sideline, watching the way the offense performed this week, Stephen Garcia didn't have the greatest statistical game, but in a sense in the way he managed the game seemed like perhaps one of the best performances. I know you're kind of a student of such things. What was your impression of how he ran the offense and the way he kind of controlled the pace of the game?
SPENCER LANNING: I feel like this year Stephen Garcia's in control out there. I feel like he's confident and knows exactly what he wants to do in every situation. I feel like he's done a great job of managing the game and just being in control.
And I think that speaks a lot towards G.A. Mangus and Coach Spurrier and how they've sort of created Stephen Garcia to play as well as he has lately.
Q. Anything about this game, because again, like I said, statistically, if you just look at the raw numbers, it wasn't a great performance. And yet the outcome was exactly what you wanted. Seemed like, again, that control factor of being on top of every situation.
SPENCER LANNING: I think just looking at the game and seeing how he threw some balls away and realized that trying to force the ball in certain situations and just settling to punt the ball away and play field position, I think that speaks a lot for him. And just how much he realizes that it's all about the total game, not necessarily forcing one pass at a crucial time and really exposing or giving a chance of weakness there.
Q. I know kickers have sort of a fraternity. What were your thoughts when you watched the Boise State kicker miss the two field goals, one in regulation and one overtime, in the eyes of many people cost the team a shot at a BCS Bowl game?
SPENCER LANNING: I feel terrible for him. I watched it in sort of disbelief, because as a kicker that's an opportunity, I think everybody -- as a kicker that's what you look for. And you want the opportunity to put your team over the top and put your team in a situation.
Like I said, I watched in disbelief, and I don't wish that on anybody. And it was one of those things that I think -- I don't know mentally if it wasn't there or what for him, but I'm sure he feels terrible about it. And I really can't imagine what he's going through right now. But you've got to feel for a kid like that, especially a college kid and putting himself in that position with Boise State. I have no idea. It's one of those things sort of gives me the chills thinking about. But you just gotta go out there with the mentality that you're just not going to miss. And every opportunity to present yourself, you gotta think you're going to hit it as well as you can.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Travian, thanks for being with us. Could you talk about the Gamecocks making the title game and the upcoming matchup with Auburn on Saturday in Atlanta.
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: It was always a goal for us to get there. Ever since we started summer workouts, that's what we worked for. And we're finally here and have a great opportunity to do something big.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. I wanted to talk to you about being part of the recruiting class of 2007. A lot of you guys said then, you're signing with USC because you wanted to do something that's never been done before. And now you have that opportunity. Could you speak about how you guys have grown in the last four years?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: I mean, it's been a long process for us. We lost a few players in that class, but we always stood together and tried to figure out what can we do to change the program.
And this year was the year. And we got together as captains and we talked about how we just want to make a difference. And we just, like, got great leaders and great, had great competition during all summer. We just stuck together and now we're in the situation we're in now.
Q. Going back to that first meeting, I don't know what you all knew about Cam Newton going into that game from film. Did you kind of see going into that game or did it take actually playing him to see how good and how successful he could be?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: I mean, the type of offense they run, we actually saw it. But we never had a guy that big and that fast that ran that offense until we got to that game. But the type of offense that he runs, we saw it before, but we never saw a kid like Cam Newton run and run the offense.
So it was just a matter of stopping him itself. It wasn't a surprise as far as what they run. It was just him, himself, he's a great player.
Q. Have you kind of paid attention to him as he has gone along before you all knew you were playing them?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: For a while, they went undefeated for a while, we watched a few games. We paid attention to him. But after we knew we were going to play them is when everybody, I think pretty much the whole team, started watching our competition. And it's something that we do when you know you're playing in a big game, everyone's watching the competition. So, yeah, we paid attention to him and the games they played already.
Q. I guess you guys had one of your worst days of the year against Arkansas, and I think came back just a week later and had probably your best game of the season. Could you just talk about what the feeling was after the Arkansas game and how you guys came back from it that way?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: It was an embarrassing feeling. We all know we didn't play well against Arkansas.
But we knew that we had to play well against Florida. So we just talked about bouncing back. We came together and we had a good preparation that week, and it was a bad feeling.
But we couldn't stop there. It was a loss we took, and we just had to keep going. So we knew that we were going to play for a championship game at Florida. So we just let Arkansas -- we put that behind us, and we just rallied together that week and came together and got the win against Florida.
Q. You mentioned having to adjust to seeing a guy like Cam Newton running that offense, is there some benefit to now having seen it to knowing what to expect, or do you think that will help at all?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: I think it will help. We see him -- we got film and we've seen him play. So we already know what to expect out of this offense.
We just have to take care of our part as far as stopping him and doing the best we can to get him down every chance we can, and just making up the mistakes we had the first game.
But we already know this team and this offense, so just gotta play our part and just try not to make too many mistakes.
Q. How far do you think this defense has come through the season? It's been kind of an up-and-down year. As Phillip said, you followed some bad games with some great games and gone backwards at times. Overall, what's it been like you for you guys?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: It's been a roller coaster ride; we've been going up and down. But we always tell each other, we just can't stop. If we want to go out and get the championship, we've got to keep building and learn from our mistakes. So I think the best thing we do is we learn from our mistakes. And we just try to go out and create everything we did wrong from game to game.
But I think we are climbing now. Everything's going good right now for us. So now we've just got to keep everything going on the path we are right now for the team to play well.
Q. What do you make of their offensive line? People sometimes call them finessed, because they pull a lot, they trap. They're moving around and moving parts. What do you make of their offensive line?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: I think they're very athletic, being able to run, help block for Cam, that's a great offensive line.
They're strong and powerful with the run block. And they pull them around a lot. They're very athletic. It takes a lot to keep up the block for Cam. So they're a great offensive line and one of the best we went against this year.
Q. How do you take care of some of the -- they'll double team. Can you play head up on them 5-on-5 and take away some of those double teams they like to do and just get into the A gap?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: We just have to try to outpower. They double team -- we just have to fit our gaps and play, play ball. Whatever the coach asks us to do as far as scheme-wise we just have to do it, and hopefully there to help stop whatever they got going on. But we've got to trust our coaches and their schemes. But they're a very powerful team as far as running block. We need to fit up and stay in the gap and try not to get outleveraged.
Q. Just to follow up on some of those previous questions regarding how this defense has taken poor performances and bounced back. This would be the first time you get a second look at the same team. Have you already started thinking and have the coaches already started talking about some specific things that you maybe didn't do the first time you played Auburn that they want you to do this time?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: No. We haven't talked about it. But I'm pretty sure it's going to be tackling and no missed assignments. We missed a lot of assignments when we played them the first time. We missed a lot of tackles. The main thing the players know obviously we need to work on is don't miss tackles and don't bust assignments. We already know that, but I'm sure that coach is going to repeat that and just make sure we get that through our head going into the game.
Q. I guess it goes without saying that short tackling is essential when you're playing a guy like Newton, because seems like guys get a hand on him, a lot of times, because of the sheer strength, he's able to shuck some of those?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: Right. He's a great guy. Great quarterback. He's got the size and the speed. So any opportunity we get we have to get him down. If we don't, he's going to try to make the best of it.
So our best thing is just to tackle him the best way we can and rally tackle him as a team and try to get him down. We know if we don't, he's going to put on a show. So we have to do it just the best we can to get him down any chance we get.
Q. Is there one play from the previous meeting with Auburn that Newton did that has stuck in your mind, either something saying: Boy, if I had a chance to do it over again, I'd do this? Or just something that really impressed you about his ability?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: I mean, everything. Just watching him, his attitude on the field. And from the first game, you know, going back and watching film, I probably should have did a lot of things different just to get him down. But he carries the team well. And I think everybody on the team works with him. He's just a great leader. So he's a great leader. And just everybody -- watching games he's already played in that we see on TV, he's just a great guy. But anything I can say is just when they get down, he keeps them going, he tries to keep them up. You can actually see that. That's what I see from watching the other games.
Q. Obviously Newton gets a lot of attention. But I think the first time you guys played Michael Dyer had 100 yards rushing. And McCalebb had some yards, too. Talk about those two guys, stopping Dyer and McCalebb while keeping an eye on Newton?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: We just basically have to tackle him. With 100 yards rushing, it comes down to tackling and -- obviously we had a lot of missed tackles that game. So the stop we just have to tackle and play our assignments, play football. Any opportunity we get we have to take the chance and get him down every chance we get.
Q. When you guys played Auburn the first time and faced Newton, was it just his running ability or his ability to hide the fake hand-off so well that gave you guys the most problems?
TRAVIAN ROBERTSON: I mean, he basically beat us in the running pass. With that type of offense, when you shut down the run, he would throw it and give you a run threat and throw it. And it's a difficult offense to try to stop. But just have to pay more attention and study film. You just can't go out there that day and try to play the offense. You've got to study that film, because it's very difficult with the threats of him running and passing the ball.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.